To its eternal credit, Ariel won’t accommodate speculators – if you return your car to Crewkerne to
sell, the maximum they will seek to charge is what it cost brand new – but the firm knows that a few have changed hands beyond its doors and for substantially more than people originally paid. That’s the boon of a 14-month waiting list and an impatient customer base – one that has typically proven more moneyed than the track day enthusiasts who typically seek out the more savage Atom.
The R26.R, introduced in 2008, was aimed at precisely that audience, albeit one who enjoys front-wheel drive and the fuzzy appeal of staying bone
dry. Based on the Mégane F1 Team R26 (the car built to commemorate Renault’s triumphant 2005 season), the special-edition version had 123kg subtracted from its already fairly trim payload – a far-reaching extraction of heft that included the removal of trifling inconsequentialities such as the back seats and passenger’s airbag and went so far as to swap some
of the glass for plastic and relieve
the car of its presumably blameless headlight washers.
Its parsimony deserved instant cult status – and was accorded it by industry observers – but Renault Sport picked the worst possible moment in recent history to launch
a £21,999 hatchback that traded its few niceties for a polycarbonate boot and an incessant fight with a six- point harness. As the world teetered on the edge of financial ruin, the company initially struggled to shift the 230 examples it imported into the UK. Only more recently, buoyed by a resurgent used market, has the car’s rarity and reputational grandeur qualified it as a hot hatch idol.
Despite the R26.R’s notoriety
as a hardcore window rattler, the
car feels comparatively civilised almost 10 years on from its debut. Its spring rates were mildly softer than standard, and on uprated dampers and optional Toyo Proxes R888 tyres, the R doesn’t present as mindlessly stiff or antagonising. Sure, you’ll be made painfully aware of potholes, and there’s no stereo to cover up the clatter of suspension on road, but air-con is standard and the padding of the Sabelt seats is sufficiently merciful to make driving from London to Crewkerne a non-tortuous affair.
The Nomad, of course, like a bivouac on the Eiger, does have a habit of making almost any alternative seem richly hospitable. Ariel’s employees, lithe millennials
almost to a man, tend to bound aboard like oily macaques, but if you’re carrying a bit of timber
and only use your hamstrings
for climbing onto bar stools, it
can be a bit of a scramble to get
in. Once there, comfort is only relative: there is no cushioning
nor any escape from Ariel’s ruthless concept of lumbar support. Back pain is in the post, on Amazon Prime’s timescale.