The CT03 features a number of carry-over elements from last year's challenger, but Abiteboul believes Caterham had to get its processes right first before being more aggressive with its design.
He promised a major redesign of the car during the course of 2013.
"We cannot satisfy ourselves anymore from being the best of the new teams," said Abiteboul, who took over the team principal role last September.
"We need to be doing better than that - and we need to say and demonstrate that we can do better than that.
"It is about finding the right balance between what, given the level of resources, we can put on the car for the first test, what will be on track for race one and how we will be able to develop the car for 2013 keeping an eye on 2014.
"Everything is about efficiency: where are we most efficient using our resources because we are operating on limited resources like everyone.
"The philosophy was to start from something we know and push in the areas where we knew we were a bit week.
"There is a little bit of carry-over, there is no doubt about that, but having said that everything that is there is making a difference.
"From where we are, we will be able to afford something totally new, a new concept, along the course of the year."
Abiteboul believes the benefits of Caterham's windtunnel partnership with Williams, allied to progress on its own simulator development, should help deliver improvements over the course of the campaign.
And although well aware that the team has challenges, especially with the 2014 regulation overhaul on the horizon, he says it is not going to forget about delivering this year.
"Yes, it is a transition year but we are not writing off this year," Abiteboul said.
"You hear some people saying it is a transition year and let's meet next year, but I don't want to have any accountability for this year by saying it is a transition year.
"It is a lot about consolidating the platform. Making sure that we understand what we do, making sure that we have the right people in place, the right processes in places, the right driver line-up to keep building for the future.
"So that is the transition. It is part of a step, part of our growth, and part of our development."