Though the turbocharged M3 scorches away on the start-finish straight, it’s no indication of the insane battle that’s coming. Yes, the Bimmer’s got the edge in sheer power—444 horsepower and a scintillating 406 lb/ft at 1,800 rpm—but he’s up against a phlegmatic Brit in one of the Queen’s finest track toys: a Caterham Seven 485. The featherweight Seven might only chuck out 240 horsepower from its 2.0-liter Ford Duratec engine, but that’s enough shove to get it to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds.
Who are we kidding? These cars are never really valued on their straightline ability; it’s how they scythe though any curved piece of road thrown at them that’s earned their keep. The capable Seven and its equally-impressive driver show no worry or concern when cornering at harrowing speeds; the whole package seems beautifully composed—a sub-1,200 pound weight can do that.
Even when turning in early, the inherent nimbleness of the Seven allows for wonderful, effortless rotation, and the 15″ alloys at the rear, shod in their Avon CR500 tires, put down all the power without a hiccup. In fact, the only time the rear steps out is on entry, but that’s why it’s such a brilliant car: it’s a scalpel on the circuit and a high-revving motor helps put that power down cleanly.
Thanks to electronically-actuated throttle bodies, a revised cylinder head, reprofiled cams and a different compression ratio, that Duratec revs to a sonorous 8,500 rpm, and while it’s not the most forceful of powerplants, it sounds the business and helps this little rocket scoot confidently away from the M3. Let’s be honest—the Bimmer never really stood a chance, even if Sabine was driving.