Caterham Supersport R review
You would think reviewing a Caterham would be easy. Put foot to floor, world melts, smile appears on face. That sort of thing. But there is so much more to a Caterham than excitement. This is a car that your life revolves around.
Get out of it and you will find fingers tapping and feet twitching, desperate to slide your body back into the car and go for just one more drive. In fact, we found it difficult to get out of the Supersport R, both literally and metaphorically. A Caterham offers a driving experience quite unlike anything else, both for good and bad, and this review aims to get to the core of exactly what that experience is.
First a word on the hardware. The Supersport R sits in the middle of Caterham's range, but there is nothing mid-range about it. It's mid-range if you think a cheetah is slow or a fighter jet is a casual family runaround.
The Supersport R will catapult you from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds thanks to its 180bhp 2-litre Duratec engine. Now, in reality, only the snappiest of gear stick masters will manage to get that kind of performance from the car.
This doesn't matter though, because even your grandma will manage to get back-snapping acceleration from this engine, as well as an exhaust note loud enough to wake the dead.
A word on that exhaust: being that it sits right by your ear, it engages you even more with the whole driving experience, connecting you to the car, letting you know in intimate detail when the engine is at its best, or worst for that matter.
That Duratec engine likes to be revved high. At low revs things are fairly manageable, so city driving, provided there aren't any speed bumps, isn't a challenge. Kick your foot down though and as soon as the RPM hits around 4500, the Supersport R goes utterly mental.
However, we will say that the close ratio gearbox does take a bit of getting used to. Starting cold, it takes a fair bit of force to work your way up through the gears. But once you get going, that shift from second to third under heavy acceleration is going to become among your favourite things on the planet.
For the Supersport R, Caterham has tried to bring most of the race-going tech in the more expensive models to a car which, even for the uninitiated, is totally drivable. You get a limited slip differential as well as race-inspired suspension with Supersport dampers.
It really inspires confidence in your driving and makes it very difficult to hit the limit of grip in the Supersport R. Even when you do, the amount of feedback you get from the wheel means bringing things back the right way isn't hugely difficult.
We really can't emphasise enough just how good the handling in a Caterham is. All the drama of the acceleration and exhaust are incomparable to the feeling you get when you first figure out how to drive a car like this through a corner on the accelerator pedal. This is a car that will make even the most inexperienced of drivers feel like a driving god.
The handling of the Supersport R, when at its best, makes the whole thing feel like a perfectly baked cake. The mechanical clunk of the gearbox, coupled with the feedback from the wheel and all the noise of that 2-litre engine utterly attaches you to the car. You are sitting so low and squeezed in so tight, that the car feels more like an exoskeleton with wheels.
Living with it
It is a shame to say, but the Supersport R really would be impossible to have as a car you drive daily. Things are so stripped back to focus on the pure driving experience, that literally any other action that you would do naturally in another car becomes an issue.
Take getting into the Supersport R, for example. Even once you have managed to squeeze yourself into the rock-hard bucket seats, you are then confronted with the joys of a four-point harness. What if it rains? You can put the wet weather gear up if you fancy, but prepare to experience what it is like to be cooked. Like we say, just like a cake.
Parking is also problematic. Vision is restricted at the best of times in the Caterham simply because you are so low down. Take away power steering and even a simple parallel park is a bit of a workout.
Finally we come to the question of the motorway. In a word, don't do it. It's loud, breezy, boring and the steering in the Caterham is so twitchy that even cruising speed demands a lot of concentration. Oh and finally, if you are in traffic, switch off all the electrics because it flattens the battery - as we discovered.
Anyone who takes issue with any of these things however really shouldn't be considering buying a Caterham. Just take one look at this bright yellow and black beast and you would be stupid to think a trip to Tesco in it would be a good idea.
This is a car for driving fun and nothing else. Get it out onto the B-roads and the Supersport R is going to come alive and win you over in an instant. That noisy trip down the motorway to the decent road will be forgotten. Mud on your trousers from footprints on the seats when you get in will seem a world away. All you will be concentrating on is driving this thing.
The Caterham to go for?
You would think picking a Caterham would be easy. They all look pretty much the same so surely it's just a matter of how big you dare go with the engine. But it isn't.
Any Caterham is going to be exciting, even the 125bhp Roadsport will make you accidentally go to the toilet at times. From there on up in the range it really is just a case of just how exciting you want things to be.
Having spent a fair few hours in cars like the Monaco, with its larger leather seats, we can see these as being slightly more suited to those who want three-quarters of the fun. The Supersport R however feels just right to us.
Quite frankly comfort isn't going to happen in any car in the Caterham range, not in the way your behind conventionally understands it anyway. Driving is what matters here. The more expensive R400 and R500 are so utterly bonkers that unless you know what you are doing, they might come back to bite you.
With the Supersport R you get all that fun, but just within the boundaries of sanity. So if you can afford it, we say go for it. If however price is an issue, even the "lowliest" of Caterhams is going to offer more excitement than you can imagine.
Don't forget that these cars hold their value provided they remain well kept and cared for. And that's an excuse to upgrade to a more powerful model later down the line if we ever heard one.
We adore the Supersport R. To us it feels like the perfect Caterham, just mad enough to be as fun as you need, without putting you through a brick wall if you blink.
City-dwellers might want to think of something a touch less bare boned, like an Elise say, but if it is going to be your second car then we can't see it being an issue. Obviously you'll need somewhere to put it as leaving a bright yellow racing car out in the city streets doesn't strike us as wise, even if its steering wheel does come off.
For those out in the country, you are lucky people. The Supersport R will transform your weekend. Take this thing on to the track however and it can get a lot more fun.
If you can afford it then, as a second car for the driving fan, the Supersport R really can't be more highly recommended.