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.