You need to keep both hands on the small, perfectly placed, Alcantara suede steering wheel of the Atom 4 to guide it confidently, even at everyday speeds. The rim is quite heavy – but it feeds back information from the front contact patches in a wonderfully lucid and meaningful way that’s the perfect introduction to the deliciously involving, analogue driving experience you’re diving into, fingertips first.

The car’s steering ratio doesn’t feel particularly direct, rather very intuitively paced, and is well-suited to a small, light, naturally agile car. It also communicates load brilliantly as you add lock, giving you supreme confidence as the front sidewalls begin to flex; and letting you know, as that load ebbs and flows, whether the grip level underneath you is rising or falling. Come good weather and bad, then, you’ll always know where you are with this car.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
For me, the Atom’s so brilliant to drive because of its flaws, not in spite of them. It rolls and pitches that little bit more than the average wing-tastic, mid-engined track missile – but also communicates so much better, and has masses more dynamic charm

Ariel has evidently calmed the propensity of the Atom’s steering to kick back over bumps and to tramline slightly, and so only at low speeds and over particularly sharp edges do you feel the need to tighten your grip on the wheel. And yet, whatever speed you’re travelling at, the sense of intimacy with the Atom’s lightly loaded front wheels remains truly striking. On track, as the tyre temperature builds, it’s almost as if you can feel the carcasses warming in the palms of your hands.

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For our track testing, the adjustable Ohlins suspension of our test car was set fairly permissively for compression and rebound damping – by Ariel itself, we should add – but a little experimentation proved that, even if you crank up the dials, this remains a dynamically characterful car with a centre of gravity that’s quite high by lightweight track car standards. It likes to move around on its suspension springs a little bit, and to master it you need to learn to manipulate its mass not unlike you might that of a sports bike or even an old Porsche 911.

That’s a process you can begin on the road, as you develop a sense of the Atom’s rearward weight bias and its surprisingly rangy gait over bumps; but it becomes really absorbing and wonderfully vivid on track, and one to savour for every delicious moment.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

Even with those adjustable Ohlins dampers set to a more track-biased configuration, the Atom’s primary ride exudes a level of compliance that, at first, seems at odds with its hardcore ethos. It takes undulating surfaces in its stride with sophisticated suppleness, and successfully rounds off the edges from sharper, more sudden compressions without any great compromise to its otherwise excellent vertical body control.

Comfy-riding or otherwise, though, you wouldn’t call the Atom relaxing to drive even when touring and, because of its size and all-round vivaciousness, you remain very aware of any imperfection in the road surface that’s passing beneath the Atom’s open wheels, and ready to react to each. Thankfully, only at low speeds and over the worst lumps and bumps will you find that you really need to; generally, the car tracks straight and doesn’t seem particularly highly strung by the standards of its peers.

Now much more physically draining than the car’s dynamic temperament is how exposed to the elements it leaves you. There’s no heater: your own warmth will depend solely on the weather and how well dressed you may or may not be for it. Some physical effort is required at motorway speed to keep your head steady in the wind, which quickens the onset of fatigue.

Then there’s the noise. At idle, our microphone returned a reading of 74dB, and shot to 92dB at a 70mph cruise – which is definitely earplugs-within-a-helmet sort of refinement.

The seats are comfortable at first, if a bit unforgiving over distance. Most of our testers agreed they did a good job of holding you in place, though the lack of lower back support proved a minor issue for some. In short, you probably wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour in an Atom without a break – and most owners won’t plan to. Imagine using it like a superbike and you won’t go far wrong.

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