We had something rather interesting in the T W White & Sons car park last week: the new 2013 Caterham Seven 160 powered by Suzuki.
The latest addition to the Seven family uses an 80hp 660cc Suzuki three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine designed for Japan’s stringent ‘kei car’ emissions and taxation rules.
Not the engine you’d immediately think to put in a little two-seater sports car, but boy, is it good.
The motor and gearbox actually comes from a Japanese-market Suzuki Wagon R Stringray, while the live rear axle is also used in the Japanese firm’s Carry pick-up. Humble components that give amazing results.
It’s the engine that dominates, too, despite its relative lack of power. Having to carry only 490kg of mass around, the tiny turbocharged engine pulls very hard indeed.
In fact, the Caterham Seven 160 accelerates from 0-62mph in just 6.5 seconds. It makes a great noise, with the typical bassy, parpy three-cylinder sound overlaid by a whooshing turbo that chirrups as you lift of the throttle.
With 79lb ft of torque on offer, you don’t need to rev the motor out all the time to make progress, either. It’s quite happy cruising along, relying on the tiny turbocharger to supply a healthy slug of motive force.
The whole Suzuki engine package is wonderfully calibrated, helped by work undertaken at Caterham Technology and Innovation. Together the two companies have taken a rather regular three-cylinder unit and turned it into something very special indeed.
The same can be said of the transmission. The engine is mated to Suzuki’s five-speed manual gearbox, which is a lovely unit. The throw is short, and the action perfectly weighted and very precise – it’s a joy to use, snicking between ratios.
Thanks to the little force-fed Suzuki engine, the 160 is amazingly efficient, too. It’ll return 57.6mpg combined with 114g/km CO2 emissions, meaning this sports car that will out accelerate a 250hp Ford Focus ST costs just £20 a year to tax. Amazing.
The engine works brilliantly with the lightweight ethos of the Caterham Seven, too. It proves you don’t need massive levels of power to have fun.
Combined with accurate, communicative steering, a nimble, agile chassis and strong brakes, the 160 would keep much more powerful and expensive machinery honest down a stretch of twisty British B-road.
Best of all, it proves that there’s a future for performance focused Suzukis thanks to the firm’s clever use of engine downsizing.
Maybe 660cc is a little small for the next Suzuki Swift Sport, but a 1.3-litre turbocharged three-cylinder offering even more performance than the current car with even less emissions? Don’t rule it out.
Working closely with Caterham on the Seven 160 project, Suzuki has proved it’s still investing heavily in the future, with technology that can benefit its range of road cars.
If the firm’s future powertrains are anything like the engine in the 160, we can’t wait to try them.