Ariel Atom 4

Ariel £39,975

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - OL­LIE MAR­RIAGE

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.

SPEC­I­FI­CA­TION

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.

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