The Nomad may have been born from a simple idea – to give the Atom a sibling capable of all-terrain driving – but in the making, it has taken on rather more of its own identity.

Ariel’s intent was to retain as many carried-over items as possible, which is eminently sensible. But in the end, although it unmistakably looks like an Ariel, only the floor panel, instrument pod, pedal assembly and steering column and rack have been retained. Even now, Ariel is thinking about offering a slower rack than the current one, which has two turns from lock to lock.

Everything else is different from the Atom. Most noticeable, evidently, is the chassis, which is still built by Arch Motor & Manufacturing and still skeletal in appearance but is now stiffer and heavier. It’s beefier to cope with the rallies or competitions that, Ariel estimates, 50% of buyers will undertake with their Nomads.

It feels curious to call the Nomad an off-roader, but ostensibly that’s what it is, so it has stronger double-wishbone suspension than the Atom’s and a greatly increased ride height. There are three damper options: the regular Bilstein units of our test car, adjustable Bilsteins or adjustable Ohlins. All offer dual-rate springing – softer at the top of the suspension’s travel, to easily absorb small lumps and ruts, while becoming firmer as travel increases to retain fine body control. We’ll come to that later.

The engine sits transversely behind the driver and is a four-pot Honda unit, just as with an Atom. Ariel’s store of 2.0-litre Type R engines for its track-biased car isn’t in danger, though, because the Nomad gets a torquier 2.4-litre unit, as used in the Civic Type S in the US.

It develops 235bhp and 221lb ft in this naturally aspirated form, although Ariel being Ariel, a supercharged version is likely to follow. It drives through a six-speed manual gearbox and there is no traction or stability control here. Likewise, the steering is unassisted and the brakes are ABS-free, but the front-to-rear brake bias can be adjusted, even on the move.

Top 5 Lightweights

  • Ariel Nomad
    Ariel Nomad is powered by a tweaked 2.4-litre normally aspirated Honda engine

    Ariel Nomad

    1
  • Morgan 3 Wheeler
    The new Morgan 3 Wheeler is a characterful, evocative and terrifically fun car to drive

    Morgan 3 Wheeler

    2
  • Caterham Seven
    The Caterham Seven is the essence of a stripped-down sports car

    Caterham Seven

    3
  • Ariel Atom
    The Ariel Atom is superbike-fast, and as exhilarating as cars get

    Ariel Atom

    4
  • Zenos E10 S

    Zenos E10

    5

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Ariel range

Driven this week

  • Audi S5 Sportback
    First Drive
    19 January 2017
    The Audi S5 Sportback is more bruising GT than practical sports car, but it makes sense for those wanting a fast executive saloon in coupé get-up
  • First Drive
    18 January 2017
    Despite receiving a cosmetic and mechanical refresh, Lexus's compact executive saloon still fails to provide much driving involvement
  • 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 5h review
    First Drive
    18 January 2017
    Big-selling plug-in SUV gets a light refresh in the face of new challengers to offer decent economy but only average driving dynamics
  • Mini Countryman Cooper S
    First Drive
    18 January 2017
    All-new bigger Mini continues to make a curious, flawed crossover hatchback, though it’s more compelling to drive than some and more practical than it used to be
  • Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid
    First Drive
    17 January 2017
    Plug-in petrol-electric Panamera makes a better case than ever to supplant the diesel best seller, but it still appeals more to the head than the heart