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As the owner of a Crossflow powered 1998 Caterham, I found this interesting.  But I wonder if someone whose “base” is something like a 620R would feel the same way after driving an older, Crossflow Seven.






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Thats a good article and a clever comparison.


Unlike most of the other cars as they to through their generation evolution they see many changes across the board. Size/styling/suspension/features and of course more power (#1 more desired aspect). It's hard to objectively compare new model vs the old because they are entirely different cars and typically more modern features and more power tends to favor the new generation as "improvement", even it it comes at a sacrifice of more weight and possibly worse handling.


With Caterhams other than the 90's changes they stayed mostly the same and to this day you have a selection of power without many feature changes which allows a subjective comparison of whether the new high power motors in the same vehicle are actually better.


This comparison is often found in the discussion forums where people actually debate whether 620R/S is too much power and the happy medium is 360/420 or older R500.


This is similar to a debate that people have in the motorcycle world where for all intents and purposes all bikes are pretty similar, especially without the same brand and the two power options are either super fast and hardly usable (1000cc = 620R) or the more reasonable but still stilly fast 600's (420R for example). High power output is addictive but it is really on usable when we are talking about using it on streets where your average speed is 45mph on the average. 


Which is why a lot of people are drawn to slower machines with more character (Vtwins in general or Ducati's etc)


There are some upgrades that are pretty universally regarded as better. Solid rear < dedion < IRS (arguably)


Since our cars aren't much fun at high speeds and are aerodynamically l think we can all agree that the sweet spot is somewhere between 200-300hp

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Here is a comparison article I wrote back in 2008 that reaches roughly the same conclusion:

Seven Heaven


Over 50 years ago, Colin Chapman, ostensibly with a push from Hazel, gave us the Lotus Seven. After four editions of the idea, Chapman in 1973 had no further use for the thing so he sold the rights to Graham Nearn of Caterham who went back to the S3 version and nurtured it until its new owners, led by Ansar Ali, took it over in 2005. It seemed a fitting idea to take the latest Caterham, the Superlight R 400 and compare it to my 1968 Lotus Seven S3 to see where the similarities and differences were, separated by forty years of constant development.   Today I made seven discoveries about this fascinating throwaway idea that Chapman had no use for, now brought to its fullest fruition.


  1. It is less kit car and all of a piece. Until the Esprit, Lotus had a history of creating new ideas that never got fully developed, as the works was always onto the next new thing.  Caterham, on the other hand has taken a page from Porsche and finessed and fettled for 35 years on the same theme. Their Superlight R400 is absolutely true to the DNA and character of the early Seven, but bursting at the seams with improvements. There is nothing on the R400 that is not required for two people to go have fun. It is still a dual purpose machine which will be as at home on the track as on a twisty two lane road. And it still catches my eye. Other folk’s eyes too. The looks Ben Wofford and I got on a nice warm March day were priceless –so many different versions of the double take that I stopped counting. Or maybe it was the grins on our faces as we zipped through traffic on the way to the foothill canyon we were planning on strafing.
  2. It is faster, way faster. At a comfortable lope, in other words about 50% faster that the traffic norms, the R 400 doesn’t seem that quick. This is a reflection on how good the original S3 is rather than panning the R 400. But when I had the chance to run up a freeway on ramp, I got it in spades…this thing is faster than a crotch rocket! I caught one of those up the ramp that wouldn’t get out of my way. OK, maybe he wasn’t aware that it was a contest, but I still blew by him; that never would have happened with my S-3. The factory spec is 210 BHP for 0-60 in 3.8 sec. if you hit the rev limiter on each shift. And it keeps on pulling, too. While 90 is a tough maximum to reach in the S-3, the R 400 has a factory top speed of 140 which I have no reason to doubt. I briefly touched an indicated 100 and it was still pulling strongly. It is way cool to dust off a Corvette or Porsche with ease!
  3. It rides better, way better. While the old bum is less sensitive to rotational input than it used to be, it is far more sensitive to comfort. This car has a deDion rear suspension that is far more forgiving over frost heaves and ruts. It’s actually smooth! Ben was following in my car and as I rounded a very fast bend with a lateral bump in the middle, I thought “I would have jumped sideways six inches in my car over that.” So I looked behind me and sure enough the S-3 took a sideways leap that required a bit of opposite lock from Ben. A day at the track will leave you wanting more instead of wanting ibuprofen.
  4. It is precise and more direct. I rode once with a stunt pilot who could roll his plane in 45 degree increments with precision until he completed a full 360. I feel the same way about the R 400. It just changes direction NOW. There is none of the loosey goosey rubber bushing or chassis flex that the S-3 displays. If I put wider low profile tires on my Seven S-3 it still wouldn’t deliver the absolute grip or direct feel the R 400 displays. This precision is an enormous confidence builder when canyon carving as we did. 
  5. It corners better with less bump steer. Because the steering is so fast, Ben says he has to remind those who have not been in a Seven before to feed in steering change carefully. Of course I have tens of thousands of miles in my S-3, so I was just cocky enough to have too much input into the first real turn. The good news is that the car is easy to modulate and doesn’t get upset by roughness and bumps, and, of course, sticks like flypaper. It makes even me look good.
  6. It has the same cockpit and footwell feel. One thing hasn’t changed though; the footwell still requires racing ballet shoes or sox. There is just enough room to heel and toe the pedals if you have size 10 feet or smaller. Luckily, I do. But I don’t have the slim hips that fit the R 400 carbon fiber seat. The phrase 10 pounds in a five pound bag, comes to mind. Once ensconced however, I was located so well it was easy to feel like I was in a race car. All good quick cars keep the driver’s trunk well located so the driving becomes the focus. The absence of the seat form makes the bare padding of the S-3 a bit more accommodating, just a bit less supportive. Here is where the DNA is most obvious to the driver.
  7. It has bug eyes. The look of the two cars side by side reveals the most obvious difference, the new headlight height requirements. (Say that fast three times!) If this bugs you like it does me, Ben says that an individual can solve the problem with a different bracket although the car will need to be registered with full compliance. Since this is primarily a daytime use vehicle, I guess I would endorse that very enlightened, illuminated approach.


So, what is the verdict? Firstly, I must admit to an extreme bias toward the simple dynamic elegance of the original. Having said that, it seems the lads at Caterham have kept the best and updated the rest. It is amazing enough that this 50 year old design can post the numbers that it does, yet what is more amazing is that it is just as fun to drive at a more sedate pace. Then, when they least suspect it, Superlight R 400 jumps out of the phone booth, cape flying, and leaps tall Porsches in a couple of gears. As for me, I’d have to save it for the track and I wouldn’t license it for the street. I need my driver’s license to get to work, the bus service stinks out here and I’d lose it within weeks if I had this car.

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I’m sure that I would appreciate more power than I have currently, but I think the point is that with a Seven, it’s all sweet. 

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That's a pretty extreme comparison: you can have a more modern powertrain and enjoy the benefits of EFI without compromising on aesthetics and sound! By that I mean the massive 15" wheels and my biggest peeve: the lowered headlights. Slap a set of ITBs on a Duratec and I think you'd be hard-pressed to say it sounds crap compared to the X-Flow. I really can't get over the new headlight position. The first time I ever sat in a Seven, it was the original headlights that defined the look of the car. The new location is awful, in my opinion. I would have a X-Flow on skinny tires over a 620 any day of the week.

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Thanks and thanks a lot.  That was a nice read, as expected from A.F.  So now I have yet another email article coming in weekly.  Must find more time.

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