2022 Caterham 170S

2022 Caterham 170S

More. But still less. Sick of big, heavy electric cars? Then may we prescribe an 84bhp, 660cc Caterham…


There’s a knack to climbing aboard the 170S, as there is with all narrow-bodied Caterhams. Your left leg goes in first, then you lean to the passenger side while pulling your right leg in. Actually driving the car requires one more step: the removal of your shoes. The close-set pedals are ideal for heel-and-toe shifting but too tight if you’re a size nine or bigger.

Still, it’s worth the hassle, especially so in the case of the 170S. An evolution of the 160 with a smidge more power, it replaces that car as the entry-level ’ham, and arguably the most Caterham of Caterhams thanks to its paucity of power, weight or grip. Weighing 466kg and making 84bhp means the 170 has the power-to- weight ratio of a flea, and rarely feels slow. Lacking out-and-out power, the Caterham’s key assets remain visceral communication and fun.

Get the 170S on a sunny B-road and driving is somehow both engaging and relaxed. The turbocharger means you don’t endlessly chase the redline, the triple instead feeling most at home riding a wave of chirping boost. You’ll want to play with the stubby shifter and mechanical five-speed ’box nonetheless.

The detachable Momo wheel is small, quick in its steering action but heavy, giving you ultimate command of the 14-inch wheels up front. It makes for an experience of purity and directness bettered only by the memories of your favourite pedal go-kart. Only now, instead of six-year-old leg power, you’ve a towering 84bhp.

The brakes aren’t powerful but they are well matched to the car’s weight, and the suspension also works well with the 170’s unique attributes. It’s not skateboard stiff, but it’s certainly communicative.

Just as well, since the absence of traction control or ABS means you really need to be able to feel everything the Caterham’s doing. Want a slightly more track-focused version? There’s also a 170R, more stripped-down and fitted with a limited-slip diff, for £1000 more. It’s a car that you feel connected with even when travelling in a straight line. Driving the 170S is about keeping busy, whether it’s flicking a switch for the wipers, manually cancelling indicators or trying to use the heater. There’s a rear-view mirror too, but such are the vibrations that’s it’s not hugely useful over 50mph. Worry not. You’ll be having too much fun to care.

First verdict

The simplest, least expensive Caterham on sale remains the perfect antidote to modern life and its overweight excesses

★★★★★

PLUS + Caterham’s single-minded approach

MINUS — The great British Summer

THE FIRST HOUR

4 minutes It’s loud, busy and communicative rather than fast

18 minutes The required extra observations and indications are like riding a motorcycle

20 minutes Only 660cc, but the turbo means you don’t need to rev it

58 minutes Still the purest form of motoring

60 minutes Autonomous driving stands no chance so long as cars like this are street-legal

  • PRICE £29,850
  • POWERTRAIN 660cc 12v turbocharged triple, five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • PERFORMANCE
  • MAX POWER 84bhp @ 6500rpm
  • MAX TORQUE 86lb ft @ 4000rpm
  • 6.9sec 0-60mph
  • MAX SPEED 105mph
  • WEIGHT 466kg
  • ON SALE Now
  • EFFICIENCY 44mpg (est), 109g/km CO2

Nope, your right elbow doesn’t get the space to join you in the car

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