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Ring Reviews

2010 Caterham CSR175: First Laps

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Magazine car reviews can really annoy me. Before picking up this Caterham CSR from Caterham’s HQ, I did a bit of background research by reading some other journalistic offerings. I needn’t have bothered. While some journos bemoaned the lack of cabin space, others praised its ‘go kart handling’. I could feel my ire rising within seconds. One feckless chap even started comparing it to a BMW M3 - a car with almost three times the weight and double the power. Idiots.

A Caterham is just not a normal car. Judging it against run-of-the-mill people-carrying automobiles is a pretty big mistake. Nobody would naturally expect to use this car everyday. And if they do, that’s their own decision, similar to choosing a bicycle, motorcycle or possibly a gyrocopter as a daily commuter. You don’t need me to use 500 words explaining that a car like this doesn’t have a radio or is bloody awkward to get in and out of.

But that’s because you don’t merely drive a car like this CSR, you pilot it. Enveloped within that exquisite hand-made steel cockpit, the controls at your fingertips, the carbon-fibre shrouded wheels tracking every bump right in front of you. It’s an extraordinary feeling to pilot a machine like this down a country road, or even better; around a race circuit. Drivers of Formula cars, open-wheel single-seaters, will know exactly what I mean. It’s a singularity of purpose that I last felt aboard a superbike.


Hand-made steel chassis forms one of the coolest car cockpits of all time. Start button hides under the handbrake.
 

This particular Caterham is the wider-track CSR175 model. Type approved for sale in Europe, its 175bhp Ford Duratec motor is heavily muffled as I unintentionally jerk the racing clutch out and head for the Nordschleife car park. With the big EURO5 silencer in position, the loudest noises come from the six-speed gearbox and the limited-slip differential that sits just behind your kidneys.

Perhaps it’s the low-slung seat or the unassisted and tiny steering wheel that fools people into go-kart comparisons. But from my first lap of the Nordschleife, I can tell this is no kart. This is a brilliant chassis. Remember a kart has no damping, only the stiffness of the metal frame can be adjusted. Driving such a device over the Nordschleife would be an archaic and blood-in-your-urine driving experience.

By comparison the wide-tracked CSR is running over the rumble strips and conflicting cambers without a single problem. Guiding the 580kg frame over the kerbs after the Foxhole at nearly 100mph, I’m half-expecting to be spat out of the other side in a massive drift. Like the high kerb might just reject the tiny Caterham and it’s impetuous pilot. Instead we float easily across the top. The old solid-axles of previous models would bounce straight off, axle heading in one direction, the chassis rolling in another. Not the CSR though, it's a magic-carpet ride of modern suspension design.


The high mirrors and extra large silencer hint at the Euro-approval. Older cars would reject running this much kerb.

The push-rod, inboard front suspension unique to the CSR chassis has so many advantages on paper - the shocks operate on a rising rate, there’s less aerodynamic drag, I could go on. But forget about paper; I’m watching the wheels bob up and down, feeling the tyres slip through the rock-solid steering wheel. It’s so incredibly precise that kissing kerbs and fighting the natural hint of understeer is an absolute joy.

The understeer? Well, that’s no bad thing. This car has to be driven by anybody and comes with a 'catch-all' setup from the showroom. A lot of the perceived understeer comes from the incredible traction offered by those huge 255 rear Avons and the Quaife mechanical LSD.

Through Hatzenbach, the car is simply awesome to control. Stamp on the seemingly unmovable brake pedal for a fraction of a second, get off it and back on the gas lightly as you steer towards the apex with only the tiniest of movements at the wheel. Too much gas, and the front steers wide as the independent rear axle just hooks up without a shudder or a slide. Too little gas and your only punishment is a lack of speed. Even lifting for a long second and a half into Adenauer Forst fails to induce lift-off oversteer.

The same antics in any other car would have you over the grass backwards, but the tiny CSR grips the tarmac like the small, very wide and four-square race car it really is. Those standard Avon CR500 tyres are designed specifically for Caterhams and offer the feel and response of racing slicks. They run at an incredibly low pressure - only 18psi (1.25 bar) cold and have a treadwear rating of 20 that makes a Toyo 888 or Michelin Pilot Sport Cup look like a Chinese long-life tyre.


Carbon-fibre 'cycle' guards make for a great view from behind the wheel. Check out the single-bolt fastner too.

In fact, the only flies I can find in this heady brew are the motor and the ‘box. The gearbox has brilliant ratios and you can use every gear on the Nordschleife.  But the shift is just a little too short. I understand that a 2-inch throw from top to bottom of the gate looks cool, but damn it can be hard to block shift in a hurry. But that’s just a minor complaint though, worse is to come.

This particular model is the Euro-4 machine, and I’m assured the Euro-5 is much better, but the motor is just crying out for a free flowing exhaust and a cold-air intake. The throttle response just seems muted, and the heat-soak on the long uphill climbs, combined with a less than ideal air-intake for speeds over 100mph, just saps power out of the torquey 2-litre motor. Keeping the fuel tank topped up with fresh, cold fuel helps, as does the home-made coke-bottle cold-air scoop you can see here. But overall, the Eurocrats in Brussels have set a hard task for Caterham. Other markets get Cosworth-tuned racing motors with nearly 100bhp more and a pedal response that sends the needle into the red if you just look at it hard. But in order for us continental Euro-types to enjoy this brilliant chassis, it seems we have to have it pushed up the hills by a motor with its testicles held in a clamp.


Home-made air-scoop got us over 160kph/100mph on the Klostertal, but that's still too slow for 175bhp.

Make no mistake, if this car was mine, I’d be pulling the clamp off any which way I could and making the most of the chassis every time the track opened. Which, considering the running costs, wouldn’t be that difficult. Using only 6 euros of 98-octane gas per lap, while the 4-pot AP racing brakes are hardly used at all, this is damn good option for those of us who like to do more than a couple of laps per night. Compare this car with a BMW M3, a car with twice the power and three times the weight and... oh shit. I'll get my coat.

Onboard video with a fully-prepared 380bhp Mitsubishi Evo 8 on KW suspension and Toyo R888s.
Check out how easily the CSR can pull a gap on corner entry and through direction changes.

2010 Caterham CSR175 Specifications

Price: €46,000
Power: 175bhp (177ps)
Weight: 570kg

Engine: Ford Duratec, 1999cc, 16-valve four cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual, Quaife mechanical LSD.
Suspension: Pushrod front, double wishbone. Independent rear multilink. Adjustable ARBs

Full specs here, courtesy of Caterham Deutschland.

Comments   

 
+1 #1 Guest 2011-04-12 13:42
That would look really nice in Estoril Blue with some Vadar seats. Possibly some 'Mr Tony' spec TSW Venoms.
 
 
#2 Guest 2011-04-30 19:25
Nice driving, but why do you tell that car to go right, wasn't it a trackday ?
 
 
#3 admin 2011-05-01 11:37
On some trackdays it's still a rule to overtake only on the left
 
   

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