The Caterham Seven 620R is a ferociously fast machine. On cold semi-slicks it can feel downright scary, what with its supercharged 2.0-litre so savagely providing its 310hp to a rear axle unburdened by anything as dreary as mechanical grip. Nobody who's driven the most exhilarating Caterham presently available has ever requested more power - it spins in third for crying out loud - yet once upon a time the British sports car manufacturer gave RS Performance the green light to produce something with twice the 620R's punch.
RS Performance's Seven SV-based Levante nestles a 2.4-litre V8 within its snout to produce a staggering 550hp. But the compact nature of the motor, which has its origins in bikes and weighs just 90kg, and an increased focus on weight saving means the car's kerbweight stands at just 520kg - 90kg less than the 620R. That gives the Levante a power to weight ratio of 1,024hp per tonne - just over double what Caterham's current highest-spec Seven offers. Even the old Superlight R500 'only' had 552hp per tonne.
That, unsurprisingly, means driving the Levante can be a violent experience. Such is the motor’s high state of tune and the operation of the motorsport-spec Sadev six-speed it comes mated to, that even pulling away is a major, somewhat clumsy challenge. In fact, the Levante can feel a little silly at low pace in general, like a proper thoroughbred racer. It takes getting used to, although owners have claimed to master the technique after a few dozen miles. Something tells us the Levante is unlikely to ever become a ‘pop to the shops’ candidate, though.
Release it on the open road, however, and the car’s dry-sumped V8 reveals an endless ability to haul the horizon closer as the foreground becomes a smudge on your pupils. While a small capacity V8 that revs past 10,000rpm will never provide much low-down grunt, the Levante’s feather weight means it’s never short of being rapid. All the warp speed fun is to be found at the top end of the rev range, yes, but the Levante’s urgency means you must remain focussed no matter the angle of the accelerator.
The transformation of the Seven base extends past the mechanicals, of course, with Nitron three-way adjustable dampers and enhanced ventilated brakes all round, ensuring handling is appropriately sharp. There’s also carbon for the wings, rear arches and spoiler, while the cabin gets Kevlar seats and a carbon dash, helping to give the car it’s almost unbelievably low kerbweight. But there are still several recognisable Seven features, including a De-Dion rear suspension setup and the SV’s widebody shape remaining largely unchanged barring the addition of RS Performance roll hoops and a slim front wing.
This is not a car for the faint hearted, obviously, but for those after the ultimate thrill on four wheels, what else is there at this level? Just eight Levantes were made by RS Performance back in 2008 and 2009, each priced at £115,000, so they’re special for far more than just the performance on offer as well. Yet the one that’s on sale on PH is up for a fiver short of £80k, with only 700 miles on its odometer. You can buy a lot more car (physically speaking) for the money, yes, but when it comes to pound for pound excitement, the Levante has to be the pick of the classifieds and then some.
SPECIFICATIONS – CATERHAM SEVEN LEVANTE V8
Engine: 2,400cc, supercharged V8
Transmission: 6-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@10,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 300@8,500rpm (limited)
0-62mph: Under 2.5 secs (est)
Top speed: Courage dependent
Price new: £115,000
Yours for: £79,995
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