Cars are inanimate. They do not have personalities. That’s why suggestions in magazine stories that you’re about to read a grudge match between sparring protagonists is, on the whole, utter drivel. The cars don’t care, because they’re unable to. They’re just cars.
The people who make cars, though? Now that’s a different matter, and there’s form here. The sleeker of the two cars you see here is a Zenos E10 S. It’s new from the ground up, as is the company, but in co-founders Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards, there is a back story.
They were, respectively, CEO and COO of Caterham Cars, which makes the fact that a Caterham Seven 360R sits alongside the E10 a particularly interesting proposition. There are closer mechanical matches to the E10: a Lotus Elise has a more similar layout, but Lotus couldn’t arrange us a car and, besides, we’re happier for this story to have a little edge.
Edwards and Ali were executives at Lotus, too, and the Zenos is built in Norfolk. So perhaps it’s no surprise that there are similarities in layout between the Zenos and Lotus. The E10, like an Elise, has its engine in the middle and is a two-seat roadster with double wishbones all around and unassisted steering.
There’s aluminium in both, too, but less in the Zenos. Instead of an extruded and bonded aluminium monocoque, the E10 has an aluminium central spine – not unlike the early Lotus Elan. But to add stiffness, Zenos has specified a carbonfibre-reinforced plastic composite for the passenger tub. Sounds expensive.
But here’s the thing: it’s made from recycled carbonfibre – offcuts from virgin carbonfibre production, in effect. They lose the large-sheet stiffness but retain 70% of pure carbonfibre’s strength, at only 10% of the cost.
And cost is at the core of everything Zenos does. There are plenty of would-be manufacturers who have made a pure and brilliant sports car. But the maker is the only one who ever wants to own one and the price is off the scale. The Zenos isn’t like that at all. It’s built to its price, and Ali and Edwards are unashamed about it.
In its middle, then, is a 2.0-litre Ford Ecoboost engine, turned around from its Ford application to drive the rear wheels. The six-speed gearbox is the same; the driveshafts, too. It even has Ford wheel carriers.
At the front, things are simple. The suspension is mounted directly to the central spine, so there’s no front subframe assembly to add cost. That makes the wishbones long, so there are pushrods and inboard dampers, reducing unsprung mass a bit and protecting the dampers from damage.
There isn’t a great deal inside: two seats, a conventional handbrake and a neat twin-screen set-up. The one in front of the driver does the essentials: road speed, revs and a warning light. In the centre of the dashboard is the rest – stuff that’s important but which you don’t need to see all the time.
The driving position is good. It’s low and straight, although you’re sited quite low relative to the gearlever. Truth be told, that’s fine. If it were a sequential ’box in a race car, that’s where they’d put it. It’s just unusual to find an H-pattern ’box there.
Meanwhile, fit and finish are okay but no more. Zenos has built this car to a price where it thinks there’s a market, remember. The base price is £24,995, for a 200bhp version. The E10 S tested here brings with it, among other things, an additional 50bhp, for £5000, and other options, and on-the-road costs take the total of this car to £36,135.
More, but not disastrously so. Caterham is no stranger to an options list, either. The Caterham 360R is the mid-point of Caterham’s recently revised line-up. It has a 2.0-litre engine, again from Ford, but a Duratec naturally aspirated unit making 180bhp.