Not so intimidating!
Updated: Jan 21, 2019
I think the most appropriate way to start this blog entry is to say a huge thank you to Tom and Simon from Oakmere Group. Although I think it’s fair to say the entire team at Oakmere once again excelled in terms of customer service. So thanks to all the team there! Both the Pauls from Parts and Service for sorting my Trofeo tyres at short notice, and Vicky for adding the polish at the customer service desk!
Why then have I chosen to start this, the first blog in quite awhile thanking Oakmere Group.
Well this last week I’ve been to the UK to collect my Lotus Exige Cup which I’d left in the UK following a rather wet track day in April. Bringing the car back at the time wasn’t possible as the normal boat used on the ferry service was removed leaving only the Manannan fast craft which isn’t Cup ride height friendly. I therefore opted to leave the car in the UK at the in-laws. A bit of a mistake considering the amazing summer we are having. Mind you, writing this blog on the return ferry it seems the summer might be over as the rain is pouring down the ferry’s windows.
Collecting the car I of course couldn’t help but squeeze another OpenTrack track day at Oulton Park, followed by a visit to Oakmere Group to have the Lotus Exige undergo it’s annual service. Apart from another set of rear Trofeo R tyres the Exige is doing a stunning job of reliably thrilling with modest running costs.
Whilst the Lotus was in for its service I cheekily requested a Caterham 7 courtesy car from Oakmere. I figured 1/2 a day with a 7 might help abate some of the frustration being suffered from being in the middle of the ‘long wait’, waiting for the kit does seems like something from a fantasy movie. An arduous wait an intrepid explorer must endure before a movies final act!
I’d bought my 7 through Tom at Oakmere, and so had gone back to Tom when making the request for the courtesy car, which he’d willingly sorted. On the day however Tom wasn’t in and the 7 he’d arranged actually went out on hire. Possible issue, nope! Tom’s colleague, Simon greeted my wife and I and casually said “So you’re taking the 620”. My wife and I look at each other and both responded “Really!”. Simon responded by expressing confidence in our driving based on experience with the Exige Cup and happily provided a 620 S (S3) for the remainder of the morning. Wow!
The loan car was a stunning green demo 7, sorry not sure of the official name, although very similar to Lotus Motorsport Green, which was a close second place when placing my 7 order.
Other than that, I’m not sure of what options were on the car. It looked stunning though!
Before I get onto the obvious topic of performance, I have to say I was amazed how comfortable I found the ride and seats. I’m not sure whether my experience in the Exige has influenced my view, but I found the seats amazingly supportive and comfortable. The ride whilst ‘sporty’ was also completely acceptable. After 2.5 hours of driving I felt fine, quite the surprise.
I was surprised however about how small the pedal box was. In truth I didn’t drive an S3 before placing my order. I choose an S3 based on external factors, size of my garage, looks and a few other factors. I’m 5”10, so figured I should fit, oh and I’m a size 9 shoe too. As mentioned it was a bit of a surprise, initially I took a pair small trainers, but even those were slightly large, but drivable. A quick pit stop later at our digs for the week and I swapped out for my track day / rally shoes, a pair of bright yellow OMP race boots. Problem solved, not only that downshifting with a subtle blip on the throttle was now a complete joy.
So let’s talk power.
First off I’d like to add some context to future comments, I’m no Sterling Moss, I’m competent to pedal my Exige around a track at modest pace, but I’m sensible. In fact I don’t even try in the wet, I’m that cautious. I’m no last of the late brakers, I see a track day as fun, not surrogate racing. Through this approach my ability to control a car has improved, and I can now confidently catch the rear of Exige, should it break away, again though I’m not Chris Harris :-) Anyway those Trofeo tyres are too expensive for any tyre shredding carry on.
Was the 620 power impressive? In truth I don’t know. I drove the car with respect and consideration for the public highways and in a manner reflective of the fact Oakmere had loaned me the car. I’d not just landed a new job as Caterham’s test driver, and I wasn’t out to test the limits of the 620.
Was the car intimidating, as per its reputation? No, absolutely not. I’ve seen so much content online which built the car up to be a complete animal, some from Caterham themselves. In truth I found it completely manageable, the throttle wasn’t spiky, it wasn’t wayward and nor did it ‘bite’.
Progressively increasing throttle use provided natural and manageable increases in urgency and power delivery. I’m sure launching the car in 1st gear would be completely different, but that’s not real life, nobody does that to their own cars, and I wasn’t going to do that to this 7 either.
Considering the fact I probably only saw a maximum of 3 amber shifts lights I didn’t experience the full potential of the 620s 310BHP. You could argue I don’t truly appreciate the 620’s potential, and I’d agree. Maybe my experience was more akin to my future 420 considering how I drove the car. I guess for me that is the underlying sentiment, the 620 was incredible fun and I loved every minute, even when driving sensibly on country roads. The 620 wasn’t wayward, could be driven easily, but sure in the right environment and right hands, it probably is an animal. A short twisty track with lots of run off would make an amazing arena for the car. Oulton Park with its narrow fast track next to unforgiving barriers is probably not the right environment.
When returning the car to Oakmere I did consider whether I should have purchased a 620. For me the first issue is the lack of kit build option. Personally the kit build is critical to the
process, without which I wouldn’t have purchased a Caterham. Secondly is the extra power worth the extra cost? That’s an incredibly personal call and influenced by everything from driving style, use and of course budget.
I think the more interesting question for me is whether after a couple of years of 420 ownership I’ll look towards a 620 for more power and added track day fun? Could a 620 replace my 2014 Exige Cup? It would be cheaper on tyres for sure! Such a discussion is years away if at all.
This week has provided an exciting additional sample of ownership and I’m even more eager to get my hands on my 420 R.