An Ariel Nomad that has been supercharged or, put another way, the kind of product that would result if a design team comprising Billy Whizz, Jim Carrey’s alter-ego in The Mask and Mr Edward Hyde sat down to design a really crazy sports car.
More specifically, Ariel has bolted a new supercharger to the side of the Nomad’s 2.4-litre, four cylinder Honda motor (an entirely different unit better at liberating low down torque than the blower used on the supercharged Atom), which raises its power from 235bhp to 290bhp. Less impressive on paper but more significant to the way the car delivers its performance is the hike in torque from 221lb to 251lb ft at what feels like idling speed.
The car also comes with an uprated clutch but it is down to the owner to decide whether to opt for bigger brakes or more sophisticated damping than standard, and which wheel and tyre option to choose.
Even in supercharged form and with a 0-60mph time of close to 3sec on the right tyres, this is no high speed track weapon intended to obliterate lap records while pulling fighter plane G-force at the apex. Indeed, instead of posting its performance at the outer limits of road car endeavour, as certain versions of its Atomic sister do, the Nomad tackles the challenge of providing pure driving pleasure from completely the opposite direction, and never more so than with a supercharger whistling away in your ear.
On standard soft suspension (the front springs are rated at just 200lb each) with hybrid on/off road tyres, instead of finding the limit of adhesion a long term goal to aspire to, in the supercharged Nomad you don’t even have to look because very quickly it will find you.
This is the key to what it does. This is a Nomad that will break traction at any speed in first, second and most of third gear. If the road is damp you can also add all of fourth. There’s not much grip, which in a car like this is usually a good thing, because it means not only does the fun start at speeds fully consistent with the retention of your driving licence, but also you don’t need to be a genius behind the wheel to enjoy it. Whereas driving an Atom on the limit requires private facilities, a steady hand, some nerve and no small amount of skill, in the Nomad you don’t need much more than a clear, quiet and open bend and a prod of your foot.
Most of the time the results are uniformly hilarious. Despite its mid-engined configuration and relatively short-wheelbase, so long as the car is under power, the back end is deliciously controllable. It will understeer just a touch on turn in, but as soon as you’re on the gas, the supercharger provides what is for all intents and purposes a bottomless pit of performance for you to draw upon. Of course those brought up to rely upon traction and stability control systems, sticky tyres and a rather more orthodox ratio of power to grip will need to learn this car’s ways before getting safely stuck in.
There are issues, however. There are times when its dearth of longitudinal grip can irk: given the softness of its suspension and location of its engine, it should be a traction monster in the wet but it’s not – even in the dry there are times you’d like to be able to use more of the power than you can at low speeds. Also, the car is too willing to lock its rear brakes at track speeds when trying to slow and turn at the same time. Winding the bias forward, as all Ariel cars allow, diminishes - but does not eliminate - the trait. And on fast undulating roads it’s merely very good at soaking up the bumps and humps, whereas its configuration suggests something other-wordly might be on offer.
Despite the reservations above, there is no doubt that for most people most of the time the supercharged Nomad is Ariel’s most entertaining product yet, a feat achieved amid stiff competition.
Yes it could be better still, but I suspect that simply paying a little extra for the more sophisticated adjustable dampers that are available for the car and a rather more road-oriented tyre would iron out almost all its issues at once. Even as it is, the supercharged Nomad is one of the most entertaining cars we have encountered in years.
Ariel Nomad Supercharged
Price £36,000 (approx) Engine 4cyls, 2345cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 290bhp; Torque 251lb ft; 0-62mph 3.1sec; Top speed TBC; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 690kg (est); Economy NA; CO2 NA