Ariel Atom 4
WE SAY: NEW FROM THE GROUND UP, THE ATOM 4 IS THE SAME... AND YET VERY DIFFERENT
Let me give you a full rundown of which parts Ariel has carried over from the old Atom, so you understand just how new the new one is – pedal box, fuel cap, steering wheel, first six inches of steering column. And we’re done. It’s the most thorough overhaul of the Atom in its 20-year history.
Those who know the Atom only from what it did to Jeremy’s face won’t spot what we will: the new air intake, wider stance, thicker tubes, new dash, seats; they won’t understand why we’re nervous about it using a turbo engine and they won’t care about the small, invaluable tweaks that make it not just great to drive, but easier to live with than any other lightweight.
They won’t know this because the basic package is unchanged. The Atom is still a rearengined, RWD lightweight with two seats and less weather protection than a handkerchief. But it now uses the turbo 2.0-litre motor from the latest Honda Civic Type R, and mates that to a chassis that has been fully developed on
CAD and CFD, to improve not just the dynamics but the aerodynamics.
Better aerodynamics not only improve airflow and cooling, but also top-end acceleration. Ariel says it’ll hit 100mph in 6.8secs. There’s no question about its speed – it’s the response that concerns us.
And with one small caveat, the news is good. As the Atom 4 is light, the engine delivers instant response before the turbo even gets in on the act. And when it does, it comes in smoothly and progressively. Keep the revs high and the turbo is always there, ready to pin you back into the seat. It’s the mid range, the bit you use in normal driving, that is our only hesitation – the engine is half a heartbeat behind the throttle. It doesn’t quite have the precision of a nat-asp or s’charged engine.
But actually this lazier, effortless thrust only serves to give the Atom a broader bandwidth. You can have it all top-endy and frenetic, or you can relax and just motor about. This is possible because the suspension has been transformed. Broadly speaking, the Atom’s chassis hasn’t changed much since day one, the steps small and evolutionary. But now there’s been a revolution – the geometry is entirely different and it’s made the car far calmer and more settled.
Now, you might not think these are characteristics a lightweight needs, but before reaching that conclusion, you’d need to drive the new Atom. Only then would you realise you don’t need to feel as if you’d been strapped to one of Wile E Coyote’s rockets to have a good time in a small, non-weatherproof car. The Atom 4 makes its predecessor – and just about any other lightweight – feel jittery and snatchy. It’s more like a Lotus, filtering the road and giving you only what you need. At first you miss the constant suspension jiggle and steering kickback – it’s less immediately talkative. But then you realise how planted and stable it is, how it’s editing the road, how accurate and precise you can be with your inputs without fear of bumps knocking the car off course.
This is a lightweight that’s grown up. Just look at the thought that’s gone into it: it has strong headlights, the new dash is brilliantly logical and easy to use, the fit and finish is immaculate; there’s an auto-immobiliser that never needs to come out of your pocket; it’s tractable around town. This is a more complete, polished and capable car, a new level in lightweight.
1996cc, 4cyl turbo, RWD 320bhp, 310lb ft n/a mpg, n/a g/km CO 0–62mph in 2.8secs, 162mph 595kg
VERDICT: Ariel has moved the whole lightweights game on. This is not only a deeply fast car, but also a much more usable one too.