Nine years ago, the Ariel motor company unleashed its most unhinged lightweight track special to date. We just had to get one in for a full road test. Here's how it performed:
Since its introduction, the Ariel Atom has been well represented in this magazine, dominating 0-100-0 contests, appearing in features, group tests and long-term reports, and has even found homes in the garages – dreamed and real – of our staff. But we’ve never road tested one – an oversight we’re righting with this extra-special, £150,000, V8 version.
When it comes to the Atom’s design, function is king. No other production car puts raw engineering so blatantly on display. Chassis maker Arch Motors bronze welds all areas of the spaceframe on the V8 model, whereas lesser Atoms get electric TIG welds in the engine bay. Unequal-length double wishbones are used front and rear, with pushrods all round activating adjustable coilover spring/damper units. The car’s fully fuelled weight as tested was 650kg.
The engine that lends the car its moniker is a Hartley-designed unit from the US. Power is a sensational 475bhp at 10,500rpm in road trim (500bhp at 10,600rpm is an option). Peak torque is only 268lb ft at 7750rpm. The gearbox is a six-speed Sadev sequential.
If you’re passing 30mph on full throttle, this car will hit 70mph just 1.9sec later. In third gear, it will dispatch any 20mph increment between 50mph and 100mph in no more than 1.5sec. And that’s with two occupants on board.
After hitting 60mph in 3.02sec precisely, the car takes 5.7sec to reach 100mph, after which the aerodynamics start to take control. Nonetheless, the Ariel is a scintillatingly fast car, but not in the same way as a hypercar. You’re acutely aware of its lack of inertia and there’s no build-up of thrust: you just think yourself down the road.
Compared with the ‘regular’ Atom, the V8’s spring and damper settings are stiffened in its baseline factory set-up so as to be better on a circuit than on the road. On a bumpy road, the regular settings can leave the car skipping around a bit, but one of the joys of this car is how it responds to being adjusted; for tyre pressure, ride height and damper setting. It’s hugely communicative.
It’s a struggle to get heat into the lightly loaded Toyo tyres and there’s a bit of steady-state understeer to work through on a track, but the steering itself is brilliant, with terrific road feel.
Verdict - 4.5/5 stars