The Atom V8 is pretty much the fastest-accelerating production car ever
The V8 is as tame and docile as Ariel claims – should you want it to be
The Atom is a car that will show even a proper bike its tailpipes, not just in braking or cornering
Ariel hopes the Atom V8 will reach 0-60mph in comfortably under 2.5sec and 100mph in 5.4
We haven’t had the chance to throw the Atom V8 down a very long straight yet, but we will
Traction is very strong. At the moment it’s set up to understeer until the front tyres are warm
The finish is exquisite; and the cost of development and the parts must be frightening
The Atom V8’s kerbweight is 550kg, so all done it makes 864bhp per tonne
You need the clutch to pull away but, thereafter you can leave the left pedal alone
Suspension geometry is largely unchanged from the Atom 300
There will only be 25 of them; 21 are already sold
After a few minutes the performance of the Atom V8 starts to become approachable
What is it?
It’s the fastest road car I’ve ever driven. Come to think of it, it’s pretty much the fastest-accelerating production car anybody’s ever driven.
It’s the Ariel Atom V8 which, in place of a Honda-sourced VTEC engine at its back gets, as its name suggests, a V8 motor; of 3.0-litres. The engine started life a few years ago in the States with Suzuki bike internals but has been developed to the extent that it now wears Ariel branding.
It develops, oh you know, just the 475bhp in road trim, as tested here (500bhp in racing form). Even this trim has a good 175bhp more than the supercharged Atom – which I already thought was about as fast as you’d want one of these cars to go.
The Atom V8’s kerbweight is 550kg, so all done it makes 864bhp per tonne. For the record, an F3 car has about half that; a typical superbike will make over 700; a GP2 car will sneak over 900.
And a Bugatti Veyron? Previously the fastest-accelerating road car I’d driven, it has a mere 525 or so.
You’ll notice some serious aerodynamic addenda on the Atom V8, and carbon sidepods, one which houses the oil cooler, the other the air reservoir for the pneumatic gearshift. Yep, a pneumatically operated gearbox as you’d usually find on a Super 2000 rally car; it’s said to push upshifts through, clutchless, in somewhere between 20 and 50 milliseconds.
So the Atom is going to be terrifying, right? Not according to the blokes at Ariel, who say they’ve made it perfectly driveable. We’ll see.
What’s it like?
Absurd, of course; but, quite seriously, the V8 is as tame and docile as Ariel claims – should you want it to be.
It idles a touch lumpily, but throttle response is manageable. The low speed ride was also a touch grumbly on our test version but the engine pulls cleanly at all revs. You do this for a while – at least, I did – because you want to get used to it; you want to feel comfortable before you unleash the full 800-plus bhp per tonne.
You need the clutch to pull away but, thereafter, so long as you’ve got around 10 per cent of throttle applied, you can leave the left pedal alone and pull through a super-fast, super-smooth upshift via the diddy, carbonfibre paddles behind the gearlever.
And when you do give the Atom V8 the beans? Really, there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s a cliché to say a car is ‘superbike fast’ – even for very quick road cars like a Murciélago or the Atom 300. Bikes weigh so little they’ll also have an acceleration advantage. Except here; the Atom is a car that will show even a proper bike its tailpipes, not just in braking or cornering, but in straight-line acceleration, too.
Ariel hopes the Atom V8 will reach 0-60mph in comfortably under 2.5sec and 100mph in 5.4; and I believe it. First gear runs to over 60mph and upshifts are just stupendously fast – there’s no noticeable let-up in torque to the wheels; you’d swear it was a twin-clutch gearbox if you didn’t know better. The noise (it has a flat-plane crank) is electrifying, too. Gearing has recently been changed to make the top speed 170mph, at which point the V8 will run on its limiter.
I drove the Atom V8 on Millbrook’s hill course, which is a superb closed circuit and pretty representative of a British B-road.
We haven’t had the chance to throw the Atom V8 down a very long straight yet, but we will. By gum, we will.
Even around the hill route, though, the Atom puts down a whole new set of parameters of what I thought a road car could do. You can only use full throttle for the odd burst – a few seconds here, half a second there, but it flings itself out of corners at a pace I didn’t think was imaginable.
Traction is very strong. At the moment it’s set up to understeer until the front tyres are warmed through – and on a skippy road surface, stopping frequently for pictures and video, the fronts never get truly hot. The rears do, because with every run to 10,500rpm (where it makes peak power) they’re converting 475bhp into forward motion.
Suspension geometry is largely unchanged from the Atom 300 (though you’ll note aerofoil-section wishbones). Springs and dampers are multi-stage and multi-way adjustable; firmer here than on the 300. Ariel says the 300 is a road car that’s good on a track. The V8 is a track-biased car that’s pretty handy on the road.
Around the hill route, then, it’s agile, nimble, with lovely unassisted steering and a limit that’s governed predominantly by the front end and the fact that the suspension is a little firm for bumpier Tarmac. On an extended run on a track you could warm through the front tyres and exploit the adjustability.
As it is now, you run to where the front grip runs out, then get back on the power to straighten the line; and get blown away, yet again, by the performance.
The good thing, though – the really great thing – is that after a few minutes the performance of the Atom V8 starts to become approachable.
To say you get used to it isn’t quite right – every burst of full-throttle acceleration is an absolute sensory buzz – but you learn to appreciate that it’s there. You just think yourself 500m down the road; as soon as one corner is done, you’re on to the next one. The intimidation disappears. It’s not nearly as scary as you might think it’s going to be.
Should I buy one?
Yes. Yes, absolutely by crikey yes. There will only be 25 of them, 21 as I write are sold and, yes, I know, £150,000 is a lot of money for a car with no windows, but there might never be anything else quite like the Atom V8. And Ariels do hold their value very well.
Ariel wanted to bring this car to market at £100,000, but that it has ended up 50 per cent more expensive is not because it’s being greedy. The finish is exquisite; and the cost of development and the parts must be frightening. The gearbox alone (without the shift mechanism) costs the best part of £15,000.
But the real reason those remaining four deserve to be snapped up immediately is not because they’re rare or beautifully finished. It’s because the driving experience is utterly, utterly addictive. As I write, I gave the keys back just three hours ago, but I’d walk the length of the country for another drive of one.
I was worried the V8 would be an Ariel too far – too fast, to firebreathing, too monstrous and borderline un-driveable. Whisper it, but Ariel thought it might be too; a car just to keep the lunatics satisfied. But it isn’t; the Ariel blokes don’t know how to make a bad car. The V8 is brilliant to its core.
As soon as the opportunity arises, we’ll put the Atom V8 through a full Autocar road test. Expect fireworks.
Ariel Atom V8
Price: £150,000; Top speed; 170mph; 0-60mph: 2.3sec (est); 0-100mph: 5.4sec (est); Kerb weight: 550kg; Engine: V8, 3000cc, petrol; Power: 475bhp at 10,600 rpm; Torque: 268lb ft at 7750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd sequential manual