Vulture at the Wheel More power is always good, so the question is: how much better is the Caterham 270S than the Caterham 160 we reviewed a while back?
The answer is "not a lot". And the real improvement isn’t the power, it’s the gearbox and the sound. This is surprising. Caterham nomenclature is based on power-to-weight ratios, with the car estimated to weigh half a tonne. So the Caterham 160 only has a 80bhp from its little Suzuki engine, while the 270S reviewed here has a 135bhp Ford unit. You would have thought a hike in power of more than 50 per cent would make a huge difference, but while it’s nice, it’s nothing like as dramatic as you might think.
In part, that’s because the whole Caterham approach is so different to everything else. It's the Caterham experience which engulfs you in the cockpit and absolute power isn’t the most telling thing. I get to drive a 275bhp Atom 2 quite often and I prefer the arse-above-the-rear-wheels, long-nose feel of the Caterham.
This is the second rung of the Caterham ladder: the range includes the 160, 270, 360, 420 and 620. All are available in road-biased “S” or track-biased “R” versions except the 620, which only comes as a R. And all are available in the standard S3, or the wide-bodied, and longer, SV chassis. The review car was a 270S with the SV chassis for the fuller figure. The S bestows carpet, windscreen, side screens and leather seats upon the car. Caterham says you should go for the SV if you are over 6’ 2”. I’m a shade under 6’ and prefer the smaller chassis.
It’s a 1.6 Ford Sigma Ti-VCT engine. The Ecoboost is still too expensive as a crate item for budget-conscious manufacturers such as Caterham. The Sigma kicks out 135bhp, is good for 0-60 in five seconds dead and a top speed of 122mph. I briefly tried the Caterham 420R around Milbrook’s two mile bowl and decided that anything much over 100 was well outside my comfort zone. However, I was perfectly happy in the 270S at motorway speeds. I’m sure that if I owned one I’d become more comfortable, but I was told that up to the 360 you drive the car – beyond that, it drives you. I appreciate I’m not enough of a wheelman to want much more power.
The thing that really makes Caterhams – all of them – sweet, is the steering. Unassisted rack and pinion. Not only is it precise, the driving position means you can see exactly where the wheels are and I have to admit to enjoying watching them articulate over cats eyes. The front double wishbones and coil springs over Caterham Bilstein dampers let the wheels bounce independently. While the 160 has a live rear axle, the 270 and above are mounted on de Dion semi-independent suspension, with radius arms and A-frame linkage. The gearbox is nice enough in the action but a higher final ratio would be more relaxing.