What is it?
In the 1990s, there was a highly strung 125cc two-stroke sports bike called the Cagiva Mito. “It’s got seven gears,” said a review at the time, “but they all do the same thing.”
I’m reminded of this by the new Ariel Nomad R. It has a sequential six-speed rally-spec gearbox whose ratios are so close that you could happily be in sixth gear at 25mph or first gear at 50mph. It doesn’t really matter which when you put your foot down.
To recap: the Nomad was introduced in 2015 as the Atom’s ‘mucky brother’. “You drive down a road,” said Ariel, explaining where it was pitching the two cars, “and turn left onto a race track in an Atom, or turn right into a field in a Nomad.” A supercharged Nomad variant arrived in 2016.
A proper Nomad v2.0 will arrive at some point but, in the interim, and I think just for the fun of it, there’s the Nomad R, an expensive, limited-run special that is “as close as we can make it to a Tarmac rally car”, says Ariel’s Nomad development manager, Henry Siebert-Saunders.
There will be just five Nomad Rs – two are still unspoken for – powered by a supercharged version of the old 2.0-litre Honda Civic Type R engine, rather than by the Nomad’s usual 2.4 Honda unit, or the new 2.0 turbo from the Atom 4 (and surely destined for Nomad Mk2).
Mounted transversely behind the occupants, the supercharged engine makes 335bhp at 7600rpm and 243lb ft at 5500rpm and drives through a Sadev six-speed ’box, a bit like in the old Atom 3.5R and Atom V8, but in beefier specification here. It’s rear-wheel drive with a limited-slip differential. The gearbox has straight-cut gears, dog rings, there’s an auto blip on downshifts and, once you’re rolling, pneumatic shifts mean you can largely forget the clutch.
Some of the Nomad’s wet credentials have been sacrificed: the gearchange air compressor and other gubbins are in the central tunnel, so you probably shouldn’t wade beyond wheel-centre depth. Not that you’d really want to go too deep in a regular Nomad but, if you had to, you could carry on until the engine, or you, stopped breathing.
There are two damper options – our test car rode on optional adjustable Ohlins ones – and wheels are 18in alloys with Yokohama A052 high-performance road tyres. All quite racy. So, yes, think of the Nomad R as Tarmac rally car, or maybe a supermoto motorbike. And quite expensive, at £77,400. (I know, but it’s usually someone’s fifth car, and they don’t depreciate much.) A curious thing, then, but it is Siebert-Saunders’ favourite Ariel, on account of it being “the most pointless one”.