Our previous experience with Caterham’s 485 wasn’t, erm, very positive. Put simply, we didn’t feel the driving experience justified the substantial $116,990 price tag.
However, we’re re-visiting the 485 as there’s been a notable change to its standard specification, as well as the opportunity to run it down the strip to try and validate Caterham’s eye-widening 3.9sec 0-100km/h claim.
The crucial component in question is a limited-slip differential and it promises to be an important piece of the Caterham puzzle. Whereas previously power could be fizzed away by the unloaded inside wheel, now the 485 can be steered almost entirely with the throttle, particularly in the streaming wet conditions of our track test.
It takes a lot of concentration, as with no electronic aids of any kind – not even ABS – you’re completely on your own in a car that will easily wheelspin through the first three gears and can be tricky to catch when it does slide. The corollary of this, of course, is the buzz that results from knowing you alone are in control.
It’s up to the driver to correct every locked brake and spike of oversteer; no other car offers the same connectedness as the lightweight, unassisted 485. It’s hard work, but very rewarding and would undoubtedly be easier on a dry track.
Or a dry, warm track, at least, as performance testing the 485 at a dry but cold Heathcote drag strip was heart-in-mouth stuff. With the highly tuned 177kW/206Nm four pushing just 675kg (sans driver) the Caterham fires off the line like it’s been stung, but continues to slither and slide all the way to the top of third gear.
The bad news for Caterham, however, is there is simply no way a 485 is going to do 0-100km/h in 3.9sec, let alone the 3.4sec claimed for the smaller, lighter UK cars. With a clean launch and a 63kg driver, the buzzing Brit clocks 0-100km/h in 4.8sec and a 13.1sec quarter mile; the latter particularly impressive given it includes four gearchanges.
The thing is, though, a 13-second run in a 485 is much more thrilling than an 11-second run in a 911 Turbo, which sums up the whole Caterham experience. It’s madly compromised and expensive, but it’s a car every enthusiast should try at least once. With less power and grip, it might even be more fun. Stay tuned.
3 OUT OF 5 STARS
Engine: 1999cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v
Power: 177kW @ 8500rpm
Torque: 206Nm @ 6300rpm
0-100km/h: 3.9sec (claimed)
Like: Old-school raw driving thrills; LSD now standard; novelty
Dislike: Price; practicality; quality issues