When you buy an Ariel Atom, you’re buying a machine hand-assembled by a single technician. This process hasn’t changed much from the days of the first-generation car. However, as you’ll now discover, the design and hardware for the new Atom 4 is markedly different from that of even the Atom 3.5.

The core principles remain: the exposed exoskeleton acts as a basis for aluminium double-wishbone suspension controlled through adjustable pushrod coilover spring-and-damper units. Bilstein dampers are standard, though our car uses optional adjustable suspension struts from Ohlins with remote damping reservoirs that are specially made for Ariel. The car’s unassisted steering survives, likewise its mid-mounted transverse engine that drives the rear axle through a six-speed manual gearbox, and an optional mechanical limited-slip differential if you want one. Our test car had the latter, as well as an optional AP Racing brake upgrade kit, adjustable traction control electronics and a turbo boost controller with which to limit (or unleash) the propulsive potential of the new forced-induction powertrain, more on which in a moment.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Attractive pushrod-actuated spring-and-damper units can be seen through the Atom’s steel exoskeleton. Our car uses optional Ohlins hardware, which, with yellow springs and gold casings, is particularly eye-catching

Though made from steel, the tubular chassis builds on what Ariel learned with its experimental titanium chassis of 2014. The bronze-welded tubes are therefore wider in diameter than before, which helps make the car 15% stiffer than its predecessor. There’s also now greater leg room and better protective properties in the event of front impact, though the car’s dynamic behaviour is also said to have benefited from new suspension geometries (and these are not simply tweaks – there are fresh pick-up points, plus anti-squat and anti-dive measures), and a staggered wheel set-up now an inch larger at each corner. Stability should also have improved thanks to a fractionally longer wheelbase.

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The car’s new turbocharged engine comes from the current Honda Civic Type R, meaning you get the rather marvellous K20C oversquare 2.0-litre four-cylinder i-VTEC engine with 316bhp and 310lb ft, so long as you’ve got the boost control in its highest mode. Ariel estimates kerb weight at 595kg in running order, depending on specification: roughly 20kg heavier than the Atom 3.5, but still ranking the car among the very lightest on the road. Our test car weighed in at 680kg with a full tank and in running order, with plenty of options equipped.

At only 162mph, the Atom 4’s top speed highlights the designers’ considerable battle with drag, though improvements have been made. All the car’s panels – most of which are available in carbonfibre – are new and the old roll hoop is now neatly enclosed with the air-intake bodywork. Never before has the Atom sat so low and wide on the road.

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