"When you buy a new car you don’t often get the benefit of hours of in-depth testing, so it isn’t always possible to know exactly what you want or need. Over the last few months I’ve spent "
Caterham 620S – judge, jury, executioner… and Ocelot.
Which mad Cat should you take home?
It’s well below zero, and I find myself huddled into my door-less, roof-less blue Caterham 620S, trying to absorb as much of the heat dissipating near instantly from the pocket rocket’s small heaters. Actually, in this weather, the heat from a full-size rocket probably wouldn’t cut it. I’m miserable.
Parked next to me is Damien Cross. He is un-miserable. Perhaps that’s because he didn’t lose the back end of his less powerful and absolutely, definitely far easier to drive bright green 420R at the hairpin we just went around.
The 620 is Caterham at its most aggressive, its maddest, it’s the Caterham you buy should you have absolutely zero fear of death. It ought to be called the ‘Daredevil’, but I guess 620 will do.
My little 620S looked rather cute in its fetching Porsche-derived blue paint, but then again Ocelots look cute right up until the moment before they rip your throat out. It turns out the 620S is a bit of an Ocelot in that sense. Thanks to a supercharger, the 2.0-litre engine in the 620 makes around 310 horses, and naturally, all of those horses arrive on the ground via a smallish patch of Avon ZZR semi-slick rubber at the rear of the car. As the Caterham also weights the same as an Ocelot, the result is a power-to-weight ratio somewhere in the region of 520 per ton.
It is a remarkably exhilarating machine, but it’s a fussy bugger. Much like your friendly pet Ocelot, the 620 turns its little button nose up at performing in undesirable conditions. Conditions much like those you might find on top of a mountain range in Wales, or Great Britain either side of mid-summer for that matter.
At this point, I need to really take a break from writing this article to outline this important information –
In no way am I a good enough driver to pilot a Caterham 620 in the following conditions:
– Wet tarmac
– Icy tarmac
– Snowy tarmac
– Generally cold weather
So, what happens when you face all of the above on the same day? Well, the little Caterham 620 becomes well and truly out of my league. This is a car that requires absolute skill to drive well in anything other than perfect weather, and despite having a fair few experiences under my belt, I wasn’t really that guy. As a result, I actually can’t tell you if it’s any good or not. Yep, I know that’s sort of my job, but nope, can’t do it. What I can assure you of is that there are very few experiences in the motoring world as raw and as exciting as driving this car in the above weather. It’s all down to you, it’s all on you. Your skill, your experiences, and your efforts are rewarded, and your shortcomings are exposed, it’s a motoring judge, jury, and executioner.
It’s not the Caterham I’d buy. Having now driven just about every car in the firm’s line-up, it’s reinforced my belief that the better Caterham models sit in the mid-range, and it just so happens that our friend Damien is in the 420R, a car which stretches the Caterham power output theory about as far as it should go.
210horses in a car of this size is still supremely fast, and it’s easily the better car out of the two we brought on test, primarily because it is a far more usable car. You can let it sing a bit more, exploit the performance. The 620 needs a circuit and perfect weather to come alive, but Caterham says it still gets plenty of owners asking for even more power. Clearly, these people are mental.
If the usability isn’t enough to convince you that the 420 is the better car, perhaps the price will. At 28,910 quids, it isn’t exactly a cheap toy, but actually, when compared to the 620 it makes for remarkably good value. If you want that 620S you’ll need £46,410. That’s nearly £20,000 – or a decent small hot-hatch if you’ve got £50k and want a 420 and something more sensible for the day-to-day.
The Daredevils among you will naturally gravitate towards the 620, of this there can be no doubt. If you want a test, a challenge, and something about as fast as anything else on the road – providing you can master it – then the 620 is one helluva car to pick. But, if you want something a little more usable, a little lighter, and a little cheaper, then it isn’t even the 420 that you should take a look at – it’s the 310.
So, there we have it. A motoring writer out of his depth, cheerful Damo, and a car that has more in common with an ocelot than it does with most other machines on the road.
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