Ariel admits the handling on early Atoms was a bit twitchy on the limit. But the latest Atom, is now a very well sorted sports car, with excellent steering and a well resolved balance of ride and handling.
The ‘regular’ Atoms ride surprisingly well in every form given the car’s menacingly hardcore looks. This is because of the carefully tuned dampers, which take the harshness out of the ride: light cars typically don’t cope well with bumps, but the Atom now rides them as well as any rivals.
The 3.5R spring and damper settings are stiffened in its standard, factory-fresh set-up, so as to be better on a circuit than on the road. However, it’s very adjustable. The dampers adjust three ways, the springs four ways.
On a bumpy road, the regular settings can leave the Atom skipping around a bit compared to the lesser powered versions, particularly on the lightly loaded front. However, even this is still a good road car, with some compliance and decent enough ground clearance, so you’re never conscious that you’re driving a track refugee.
Also, one of the joys of the Atom is that you can play around with the settings and tyre pressures to suit your favourite road or track, or find a generic set-up that suits it best. And the Atom is very communicative; through the seat and the steering wheel, you feel every millimetre of what’s going on beneath those tyres.
Handling is a strong point, too. It gently, predictably nudges into understeer, which can be kicked through under power or dialled out with a quick lift of the throttle. While the handling is perhaps still not quite as well-resolved as a Caterham or 2-Eleven, but it’s very, very good, and a lot more approachable than before. Steering is brilliant, offering up terrific road feel.