BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
Caterham Seven Ford EcoBoost review (2012 prototype)
Tiny 1.0-litre engine makes up for lack of capacity with turbo-charging. The greenest Caterham ever?
We like – It’s a great driving experience, supple chassis, low-end torque
We don’t like – Runs out of puff at 5,000rpm, not really fast enough for track use.
A key part of the Caterham DNA has always been the responsive, naturally-aspirated engines. Derived from the Lotus Seven, the Caterham Seven is light and tactile. Turbos simply haven’t figured.
Until 2012, and then two force-induction engines come along at once. First the new R600, supercharged to 275hp. Now the less extreme Caterham Seven 1.0 EcoBoost, with 125hp.
Both are based around Ford engines, with the smaller capacity car utilising Ford’s award winning three-cylinder engine that appeared first in the Focus, but is spreading as far as the new Mondeo over the coming months.
This Caterham was built simply to see if it could be done. The engine itself is incredibly light and compact, so it should compliment the sports car well.
Yet look at this prototype, and there are clearly a few issues. The engine is rather tall, so a new bonnet had to be hurriedly conjured up to cover all the pipework. Switching the engine from transverse to in-line also raises its problems.
Ford persisted, though, getting Mountune, its performance partner, to develop this Seven. MSN Cars got to drive it at Brands Hatch.
If there’s one thing you learn about Caterham Sevens, it’s that no matter the incredible power-to-weigh ratio you get even with a low-powered engine, drivers quickly want more and more power.
So 125hp is pretty much at the bottom end what you’d expect in a Caterham Seven. It’s sufficient to give this little car an entertaining rush towards the motorway speed limit, with the turbocharger helping good response from low revs.
At higher speeds, however, the pathetic aerodynamic profile of the Seven combines with a lack of top-end grunt from the engine. At 5,000rpm in fifth gear, the Seven simply stops wanting to accelerate any more. OK on the road perhaps, not the racetrack.
Ride and handling
Ah, but there are compensations. The low mass of the three-cylinder aluminium engine means the already featherweight Caterham weighs in at even less than usual.
That makes it especially pleasing on the bends, tracking into a turn as soon as the wheel is moved. The tactile feel to the non-power steering is something you simply don’t experience on modern cars.
A skilled driver can have a lot of fun
There’s plenty of grip too, though this prototype is sensibly fitted with comparatively narrow tyres to minimise the rolling resistance. When they let go a skilled driver can have a lot of fun balancing the car via the throttle and steering.
To put the handling into perspective, the Caterham was blown away by the 662hp Ford Shelby GT500 at Brands Hatch. But only on the main straight.
For the rest of the lap the Caterham could gradually close up on the frankly scary American sports car. Even though it has just 20% of the power!
A Caterham interior is as basic as they come. The flat dashboard, a few switches and dials and that’s it. It’s reasonably comfy, though there is lots of wind from every angle and the seats seem too high.
Economy and safety
There are no economy figures even for the regular production Caterhams, but our experience is the low weight makes them surprisingly light on the wallet at the petrol pumps.
This 1.0 Ford EcoBoost engine is massively efficient, so if it goes into production, the potential for great mpg is promising.
Safety is something of an unknown. Caterham Seven drivers usually concentrate on accident avoidance rather than relying on the body structure or airbags (there aren’t any).
The MSN Cars verdict
It’s a great idea, putting one of the most modern, advanced engines around into a classic British Sports car that first saw the light of day 50 years ago.
With further development it could be made to work really well, and we suspect that even now it would fare far better on the road than it did on a racetrack. The key question is this. Are Caterham drivers ready for a car that is green and economical? Or do they still want one that simply blows others into the weeds?
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