£30,905 - £40,000 Price range
The Ariel Atom is a bonkers track car that can, in theory, be used on the road. If you think of it as a motorbike instead of a car then you’ll be able to get your head round the concept much more easily.
Every motoring journalist in the world loves ‘em, and there are four to choose from: a 245bhp version, a 270bhp Mugen-tuned model, a 300bhp option, or the utterly insane V8 475hp limited edition. No matter which one you choose, you’ll be grinning like an idiot for weeks afterwards!
The interior is, to be blunt, basic. There is no air-con, heated seats, and certainly no cup holders. So what do you get for your money?
Well, the two seats are comfortable and provide plenty of support in the corners, which you’ll appreciate given the high G-forces the Atom can generate. The driving position is excellent and you can watch the road rushing by beneath you, which adds to the sense of speed. The latest iteration of the Atom also has restructured lattice work on the chassis which improves elbow room, too.
Whilst there isn’t much of it, the interior – like the rest of the car – is meticulously well screwed together. Despite the simplicity, it never feels like a kit car that was built in next door’s shed.
The Ariel Atom is bonkers, insane and many, many other adjectives, none of which are derogatory. A typical quote from testers is: “an intoxicating experience on the road: raw, visceral, and above all involving in a way that even its supposed closest rivals can’t match.”
The steering feel is telepathic, and the suspension gives “it brilliant body control, and allows terrific feedback and adjustability.”
Some testers warn that the track-focused suspension “doesn’t take to poorly surfaced roads too well” and “it’s still a car you’d get very tired of driving anywhere other than a circuit, for any longer than an hour or so, and in anything other than perfect conditions.”
There are few cars, if any that combine such an open experience with such performance – and everyone who gets into one remarks on the exquisite engineering, which doesn’t come cheap. This is a hand-built race car for the road, designed, built, and tuned by British craftsmen.
You can buy it with an optional windscreen that keeps the flies out of your teeth, and in the opinion of most motoring journos, improves the looks, too.
The four engine options just mean that the more that you pay, the faster you go and the wider your grin!
The least powerful engine available is a tuned version of the unit you’d find in an old Honda Civic Type-R. Here it produces 245hp, and in a car that weighs a smidge over 600kg, this ‘entry level’ Atom will still hit 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds. It still “delivers crushing performance and nimble handling closer to a superbike than any other road car”, while the Mugen-tuned version is surprisingly civilised and easy to drive at city speeds.
The V8, put simply, is insane. The 3.0-litre unit produces 475hp at a spine tingling 10,500rpm. Thanks to the extensive use of exotic materials, the whole car weighs just 550kg, which results in a power-to-weight ratio not far shy of a GP2 race car. Ariel claims that it will launch from 0-60mph in a stunning 2.3 seconds. For reference, that is 0.1 seconds quicker than the 1,184hp Bugatti Veyron Supersport…
This would lead you to believe that it would be an intractable, track-only exercise in engineering compromise but it’s not. Testers praise the car, saying that it has “real feel, finesse, communication and subtlety to it, too.” And speed, of course. How could you forget?
If you’ve got the money – and can find one for sale – the V8-version is the one to buy as it will deliver a driving experience that is unavailable anyway, at any price.
The ‘basic’ normally-aspirated engine comes from the Honda Civic Type R and revs to an amazing 9,000rpm!
Despite its relatively modest output it’s still powerful enough to propel the featherweight car (600kg) from rest to 60mph in 3.2 seconds, which will be plenty for most drivers. The top speed of 150mph will be attained by only the most resilient of drivers.
This engine isn’t about outright power; it’s about poise, and finesse and delicacy: “Hearing the intake next to your head suck in fresh air before the exhausts spit it out is a thrilling soundtrack” as one tester put it.
Some claim that this is the best engine in the range, saying “overtaking is comically easy, and whilst more power is always nice, in truth the 245 is probably a nicer package than the 300.”
The 300bhp version of the Honda Civic Type R engine is pretty much the same as the lower-powered one – but has a supercharger bolted onto it, giving “explosive” performance! This raises the power output to 300bhp, which reduces the 0-60mph time from 3.2 seconds to a mere 2.7 seconds, which is ridiculously, unbelievably fast.
It’s a free-reving engine and “such is the staggering rate of forward motion that the gearchange lights on the rev counter seem to blink constantly. “ Even experienced motoring journalists were astonished at the pace when they tested the 30-70mph and 50-70mph increments. As one put it: “Such is the brutality of its performance, we found ourselves holding our breath until the figures were recorded!”
The supercharged engine is a fine unit that turns the Atom into “a unique experience” on the road.
There are few road tests of the Mugen-tuned Ariel Atom, a 270-bhp, track focussed (rather than road and track, which is what Ariel claim the 245-bhp and 300-bhp versions are) car that storms to 60mph in 3 seconds.
The track-oriented machine features the V8-engined Atoms springs and dampers and digital dash alongside four-pot dampers and a limited slip differential (LSD).
The engine is lumpy at low revs and only really comes alive at 4,000rpm, which isn’t surprising as this is a racing engine designed to be thrashed to 8,600rpm, where it develops peak power.
One tester preferred it to the more powerful, supercharged 300-bhp engine, saying, “its engine is peachy, with a ridiculously loud induction snarl right by your left ear making it preferable, for me, to the supercharged car. Keep it in its powerband and it's absolutely epic.“ It is, apparently, the best of the three smaller-engined versions to drive hard on a track.
The V8 engine displaces 3.0-litres and has been so extensively developed by Ariel that it now wears their nameplate. It develops 475-bhp in road-going form (500bhp in racing form) and its placement in such a light car (the Atom weighs 550kgs all in) prompted one tester to write: “once the V8 hits its stride, the acceleration is too much for your brain to compute” For those who prefer figures to fancy words the 0-60mph acceleration takes under 2.5 seconds and 0-100mph is only 5.4.
This fierce acceleration is due to an incredible power-to-weight ratio of 864bhp per tonne, double that of an F3 car and also beats that of a typical superbike with 700 - and even a Bugatti Veyron, which makes do with a mere 525.
If you can afford one then the V8 Atom is unique, with a level of performance that few will ever master.
There are one or two alternatives to the Atom out there. The ever-popular Caterham 7 is available in many guises, and each is almost universally praised by writers. Prices start at significantly less than the Ariel, but that is because the entry level engine has a comparatively tiny (yet still hugely entertaining) 80hp.
There is also the KTM X-Bow, which is expensive, and some say a little too refined for what essentially is meant to be a race car for the road. If you want something incredibly driver focused (or you have no friends) then the single-seat BAC Mono is one of the few cars on sale that can compete with the Atom on a circuit.
The Ariel isn’t cheap by any means, but the price can be justified by the incredible performance and bespoke feel that few others can offer.
It is an immensely impressive car that is flexible enough to be used on the road as well as for track use.
It’s beautifully designed and built and you won’t be losing any traffic light Grands Prix any time soon. Put simply, it is very difficult to buy a car that is more fun and/or thrilling, at any price point.