So what’s new?
S’obvious, innit? No? Oh. Well, this is the new Ariel Atom ‘3’. Can’t tell the difference? No, nor us in pictures, so when Ariel came to demonstrate the new car to us, they brought the ‘old’ Atom ‘2’ along with it as well. And still we couldn’t really tell.
So they pointed out the changes: every single frame in the chassis is new. It’s torsionally stiffer than before, but that’s not the significant bit – the old chassis was pretty stiff anyway.
No, the significant bit is that the latticework between the top and bottom sections has changed direction to give more shoulder room in the cockpit, which is wider overall too: 100mm in all. That’s allowed the seats to change too: you can spec two different types, one slightly more sculpted than the other, but both allow the driver to sit lower than in the old car.
The other big difference is that the new Atom uses the new Honda Civic Type-R motor. Now, I know we’ve all said that the latest 197bhp Civic Type-R engine is the same as the last one, and it virtually is, but there are a few detail differences.
The block’s largely unchanged but some ancillaries are bolted to different places and, crucially, the engine mounts are different. Ariel’s new mounts are much more pliable than before, which is meant to get rid of some of the vibration that the old car suffered. As standard it comes with 245bhp, but whenever we try one, we inevitably get to try the supercharged, 300bhp version.
Elsewhere, the exhaust has two exits rather than just one, the intake and fuelling has changed, the throttle map is different (and, as we drove it, was still being finally tweaked), and there are two small but very important options: first is ten-way adjustable dampers, which we tried on an Atom 2 on a few weeks ago (and it made a heck of a difference to the car’s ride and on-limit handling).
You can also now spec small wind deflectors: Ariel has tried a number of different bubbles and canopies in the past, none of which with huge success. These are a just couple of very small pieces of Perspex bolted to the dashboard: simple, but they cut a hell of a lot of wind noise and buffeting.
What’s it like?
Unless you’ve climbed straight out of an old Atom, it’s hard to tell that the new seat is lower, but the seat back feels more upright which, given the wheel is un-adjustable, is no bad thing, and you’re aware of the extra cabin width, which will be handy for rapid wheel-twiddling.
The gearshift on the six-speed box is more positive, too: the six-speed Honda ‘box is the same, but the linkage is from a different supplier. Otherwise, mechanically, it’s much the same as before.
Dynamically, the difference is far more marked. Not in terms of outright performance: the Atom is just as ridiculously rapid as ever, especially with a supercharger bolted to its motor; according to Ariel, it gives around 320bhp (even though the quoted figure is only 300).
No, the difference is in overall refinement. The old Atom’s engine would fizz and rattle through that school-chair-plastic seat constantly, but particularly at 3000-4000rpm. Meanwhile. Ariels not on the latest dampers didn’t ride particularly well. The constant buffeting was a bit of a headache, too. Driving one was a bit like having sex on the top of a train; not necessarily unpleasant, but there was always an awful lot more going on than just the job at hand.