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Caterham Seven 485S SV: Light makes right

By Ghaith Madadha - Dec 12,2023 - Last updated at Dec 12,2023

photo courtesy of Caterham


Undiluted, uncomplicated and unburdened by excess or frivolity, the ultra-lightweight Caterham Seven 485S is a distilled driving machine. First launched in 2013 as an export variant of the iconic and long-running Seven, the 485S subtly wears its engineering prowess under the skin and delivers direct, dynamic and super-car humbling thrills. With razor sharp reflexes and performance set to a crackling and barking open air soundtrack from its individual throttle-body engine and exposed side-mounted exhaust, the go-kart like Caterham is as raw, intimate and connected as driving gets.


Lightweight legacy


Still going strong a decade later, the Seven 485S remains Caterham’s fastest and powerful naturally-aspirated model, and a champion of petrol-powered purity, even as the small British sports car manufacturer prepare to soon launch its ambitious all-new electric-powered Project V model. The product of continuous development and incremental improvement since Caterham purchased production rights to the Seven from Lotus in 1973, the 485S’ styling, lightweight construction and uncomplicated design remain true to the 1957 original in spirit and engineering essence, if not exact specification.

No mere exercise in nostalgia and far beyond a legacy model, the current 485S’ lightweight recipe is instead that of a highly developed, honed and modernised ports car stripped down to its core characteristics. Built using a light space-frame chassis and aluminium body, it light and low form follows function, with near perfectly balanced front-mid engine and rear-drive weighting, and wide track, dictating its narrow rearwards cabin and long snouty bonnet, exposed suspension and side-mounted exhaust. The optional wide-body SV version meanwhile more comfortably accommodates larger occupants.


High-strung thrills


The Seven’s lightweight philosophy is self-perpetuating, where less weight allows for less complication and lighter and fewer components. With lightweight body and creature comforts limited to optional heater and carpets, the Seven also does without power steering assistance or brake servo-assistance, while modest 195/45R15 tyres provide necessary grip and low un-sprung weight. Weighing just 575kg, the road-oriented 485 “S” variant features some lightweight carbon-fiber body and cabin trim. The ‘S’ includes detachable reinforced leather doors, clip-on soft-top and a windscreen, while the track-focused “R” instead features a lighter wind deflector.

With revised cylinder head, high 13:1 compression and electronically-actuated individual throttle bodies, the rear-drive 485’s version of Caterham’s EU6-compliant Ford Duratec 2-litre 4-cylinder engine develops 237BHP at 8,500rpm and 152lb/ft at 6,300rpm. With over 412BHP per tonne on tap, and 3.4-second 0-97kmh acceleration, the 485’s performance rivals pricier and more complicated exotic supercars. Its dry sump oil system meanwhile provides continuous lubrication through hard driven high lateral g-force corners. Aggressively geared and with dated aerodynamics, the 485S tops out at 225km/h, but is nevertheless reassuringly stable at speed.


Fiery finesse


High-revving, high-strung and driven through a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip rear-differential, the 485S’ throaty growls coalesce to raspy barks and screaming wails — interspersed with crackles and pops on throttle lift — as it urgently rips through to its 8,500rpm redline, and is just a responsive winding down. With a precise short-throw gear lever and light intuitive clutch biting point, the 485S launches instinctively from standstill. Rewardingly revvy with peaky maximum torque and power, the featherweight 485S meanwhile eagerly and flexibly sprints away from low- and mid-range.

The 485S’ long-legged rev range allows swift and sweeping acceleration, and precise and nuanced throttle control to balance rear slip and grip when exiting a corner on throttle. The more road-oriented “S” version is fluid, fluent and forgiving over imperfect roads, with its low un-sprung weight, and inboard front, and De Dion rear, suspension. With finely-tuned suspension and light, forgiving tyres suited to its low weight, the 485S delivers an untiring ride, direct handling and taut body control to contrast and complement its crisp clarity and eager handling agility through switchbacks.


Alert and unassisted


Direct and distilled, the 485S is a highly connected drive with sharp reflexes, immediate responses and layers of chassis feel as it pounces through winding roads. Flat through corners, it nimbly but sure-footedly pounces out, with its limited-slip rear-differential distributing power to the wheel best able to use it. Its low weight allows for quick, well-weighted and precise 1.93-turn unassisted steering that is exacting, uncorrupted and nuanced for textured feel and feedback. Unassisted but highly effective brakes, meanwhile, require firm inputs, but deliver accurate pedal feel.

Viscerally raw yet sublimely attuned, the 485S connects man to machine like little else, and instills focused confidence and attentively self-responsibility with its exposed cabin and absence of electronic nannies. Spartan inside with a rollover bar for safety, one lowers into low-slung body-hugging seats, and sits upright and alert with ample legroom. Buckled into a race-style four-point harness, the 485S’ dash-mounted buttons, stubby gear lever and small steering wheel fall easy to hand and require small succinct inputs. It meanwhile also features thin-padded leather upholstery and limited storage under a button-down tonneau.


  • Engine: 2-litre, in-line 4-cylinders
  • Valve-train: 16-valve, DOHC
  • Bore x stroke: 83.1 x 87.5mm
  • Compression ratio: 13:1
  • Configuration: Front-mid engine, rear-wheel-drive
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual, limited-slip rear-differential
  • Gear ratios: 1st 2.69:1; 2nd 2.01:1; 3rd 1.59:1; 4th 1:32; 5th 1.13:1; 6th 1:1
  • Final drive: 3.64:1
  • Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 237 (240) [176.5] @ 8,500rpm
  • Specific power: approximately 118.5BHP/litre
  • Power-to-weight ratio: 412BHP/tonne
  • Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 152 (206) @ 6,300rpm
  • Specific torque: approximately 76lb/ft/litre
  • Torque-to-weight: 264lb/ft/tonne
  • Redline: 8,500rpm
  • 0-97km/h: 3.4-seconds
  • Maximum speed: 225km/h
  • Fuel capacity: 36-litres
  • Length: 3,250mm
  • Width: 1,685mm
  • Height: 1,115mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,305mm
  • Track, F&R: 1,463mm
  • Kerb weight: 575kg
  • Steering: Rack & pinion
  • Lock-to-lock: 1.93 turns
  • Suspension F/R: Double wishbone / De Dion axle, adjustable anti-roll bars
  • Chassis: Tubular space-frame
  • Brakes, F/R: Ventilated discs / discs
  • Tyres: 195/45R15
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