Caterham 620S

The hardcore soft option it’s STILL insanely quick. Some stats: Caterham’s 620S has a supercharged 2.0-litre Ford engine that puts out 310bhp at 7700rpm and it weighs only 610kg. So it will sprint from rest to 60mph in 3.4 seconds.

But while the S inherits the R’s engine, it mates it to a five-speed manual gearbox (from an Mazda MX-5, in place of the R’s six-speed sequential transmission), wraps it in the wide-boy S5 body (room for the broader of beam) and comes with a windscreen and weather gear. Suspension is revised from race spec to sport spec, and the price comes down by five grand to £45,000 or so, depending on options.

There’s a sting in winter’s tail-end on the day I take the 7 out around the Surrey Hills and South Downs, a few miles away from Caterham’s sales HQ in Crawley. So I’m pleased that the test car has been fitted with optional heated carbon buckets, worth every penny of the £1000 they add. There are four-point harnesses too, so the S still feels more track-worthy than most roadsters. And the roaring, grunting soundtrack, clonks from the transmission and bonks from the rear axle add to that impression. This isn’t much of a soft option at all, merely a concession that the R really is so track-focused that it’s almost impossible to drive fluently elsewhere.

Although the torque figure of 219lb ft at 7350rpm makes the 620S sound peaky, in fact there’s just masses of energy right from the off. Nail it in the first couple of gears and you’ll jerk your way up the road, but use all of third gear – it will wind the whole way round close to 8000rpm – and you’ll be grinning like an idiot. There’s enough time to enjoy all that thrust before you either back off or shift up.

After meeting a few too many slowcoaches on twisting lanes, I get my kicks on a stretch of dual carriageway punctuated by several roundabouts. Yes, call me a yob, but going hard keeps you smooth: you need to be assertive with your inputs. They’ll be small inputs, mind, with less than two turns lock-to-lock of that tiny wheel, and the sweetest shift this side of an Mazda MX-5 (yes, I know…).

Surprisingly, the ride is bearable, yet, even so, just occasionally I end up aching for the feedback of a skinnier-tyred yet slower 7: this is not an especially delicate experience. But if pure, intense and unadulterated speed across country is what you’re after, why hanker for a supercar? It’s handsome beast!