I can see their point. The CSR 260 isn't everybody's cup of tea. Many won't get it at all, wondering how £37,000 can possibly be spent on something that, despite Caterham's best efforts, still looks to the uninitiated like something cobbled together in a garden shed. There are no airbags, no side impact beams or air conditioning. Electric windows? There are no windows, period. Move along to your Mazda dealer and sign up for an MX-5. There's nothing to see here.
Still with us? Good, because now I don't need to try to sway you to the charms of the CSR 260. You already know that if you want a no compromises track day weapon, there are only a handful of small British manufacturers who will do the business, chief amongst them Caterham. The CSR series marks a radical departure from normal operating procedure for this very British manufacturer. The CSR is the first all-new Seven model in 48 years, a project initiated by the Nearn family but bequeathed to the current owner of Caterham Cars, Ansar Ali. Former Lotus employee Ali has inherited a company in rude health, the CSR stacking up over sixty orders from enthusiasts who had yet to even clap eyes on the car, much less drive it.
The 2261cc engine that powers the CSR 260 has been developed by Cosworth and despite coming from humble commercial vehicle origins, now churns out a heady 260bhp at 7,200rpm without the aid of a turbocharger. What's more, this relatively large capacity unit is a whole lot less stressed than the higher power incarnations of the old K-series engine which felt like a ticking bomb beneath the bonnets of cars like the old Superlight R500. Slog the CSR 260 off the line and you'll notch off the sprint to 60mph in a scarcely credible 3.1 seconds, running on to the prospect of a frankly terrifying 155mph. Do bear in mind that these acceleration figures are calculated with a full tank of fuel and two passengers on board. Remove the passenger and a good proportion of the fuel and there's the quite mind-boggling possibility of dipping below three seconds to 60mph. It wasn't so long ago that a sprint to 60mph in less than six seconds guaranteed entry to the premier league of supercars.
Caterhams have always been more about handling and tactility than thud and blunder straight-line grunt and the CSR offers advances in this field too. The traditional tubular spaceframe chassis of the Seven has been thoroughly revised with a resultant 25 per cent increase in torsional rigidity. A more rigid chassis means that the suspension can do its stuff that much more efficiently. Factor in a root and branch redesign to the suspension system and the result is a Caterham that handles like no other. Developed in association with Multimatic Inc, the race-style double wishbone fully independent rear suspension increases grip and handling adjustability while up front there's a Formula One style pushrod operated inboard unit. Compact and tucked well out of the airstream, this set up also offers a 50mm increase in front wheel track for added stability during high speed manoeuvres.
"Yes, the CSR 260 is a £37,000 toy. But what a toy"
Aerodynamics play an important part in the development of the CSR. For those of you that remember the lift generated by the old flared front wings, this will come as something of a relief. Latterly, the cycle-style front wings have proved far more popular and the CSR takes that concept a stage further, offering cycle wings that are mounted even closer to the tyre to reduce drag and lift. A larger nosecone and a floor-mounted chin spoiler also combine to cut front-end lift by fully 50 per cent. Couple that with the wider track and tipping into fast corners such as Goodwood's St Mary's is going to be less of what Sir Alex Ferguson famously described as "squeaky bum time." Working in conjunction with long time partner Avon tyres, the CSR sits on 15-inch rubber that benefits from Formula Three expertise. Fully ten inches wide at the rear, these tyres sit on lightweight aluminium wheels.
The cabin has also been heavily reworked, no longer resembling something from the Fifties. The traditional flat fascia has been replaced by a curved unit that wraps around an exposed tubular steel framework. The toggle switches have been binned in favour of more upmarket switchgear and alloy detailing on the dials, gearknob and handbrake also serve to lift the interior. A bespoke steering wheel and additional storage space in the centre console and armrest are also welcome touches. Based on the CSR chassis, the CSR offers a bit more breathing space for people who are always made to feel welcome in a waffle house. People like me. There are still a couple of ergonomic gripes. Although the ridiculous ignition key positioning and the infuriating toggle indicators have been ditched, the side mounted exhaust now exits on the drivers side, making getting out after a fast run a rather delicate procedure.
The Caterham CSR260 improves the marque enormously. Bigger, faster and more civilised, it adds to the Seven's reputation without compromising it in any significant way. Updating a legend isn't easy. Here's a primer on how it's done.
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