Since 2009, VT Holdings was the Japanese importer for Caterham Cars. The Japanese dig themselves an old-school lightweight English roadster, the previous entry-level Caterham 160 said to have been requested by VT to feed local demand. At the end of March this year, VT Holdings bought Caterham outright, not only safeguarding the flow of product, but getting more products tuned to Japanese tastes. That’s partly how we’ve got the new Caterham 170, an entry-level flyweight jitney at just 440 kilograms (947 pounds) in its lightest 170 R form. It earns the honor of being the lightest Caterham of all time, 50 kg (110 pounds!) lighter than the 160, and on top of that, the dimensions have shrunk ever so slightly thanks to new front and rear fenders over thinner tires, making the 170 comply with Japan’s Kei car regulations.
There two-trim range starts with the 170 S, the relatively luxurious version, and ends with the paperweight 170 R. Both are powered by a new generation of the turbocharged 660-cc three-cylinder Suzuki engine from the 160, making 84 horsepower and 86 pound-feet of torque. The resulting 170 horsepower per English “tonne” provides the model’s name. As one expects of a Caterham, one must take to the skies of rpm to achieve max output, all the horses not loosed until 6,500 rpm, torque peaking at 4,000 rpm. A five-speed manual gets power to the rear wheels. Speaking of which, rolling stock is 14-inchers on 155-section Avon ZTZ tires in front with disc brakes, 165-section in back with drums. The 170 R will hit 60 miles per hour in 6.9 seconds and max out at 105 miles per hour.
The 170 S enjoys a full windscreen, adjustable leather seats, doors, roof, carpets, and a heater, which are defined as opulence in the Caterham dictionary. The 170 R wants all the hardcore, swaps in air deflectors, fixed buckets and a carbon fiber instrument panel. To suit its trackier nature, there’s a four-point harness, Momo steering wheel, a height-adjustable suspension, and a limited-slip differential on the live rear axle replacing the open diff in the S.
Elect to build either Caterham yourself, the 170 S will cost you £22,990 ($30,100 U.S.) in the UK, or you can pay Caterham £2,395 ($3,276 U.S.) to put it together for you. The 170 R tacks on another £1,000 ($1,368 U.S.) to get less, which is the way of things when adding lightness. Reviews of the 170 lineup lean toward the S being the best balance of sacrifices and giggles. We drove one of the Ford-engined Caterhams, finding it a vehicle that confirms you don’t know how many senses you have until they’re all being tickled and taxed, so you probably can’t go wrong with either 170.