Latest road-legal Radical isn’t as usable or as well-mannered as some lightweights, but still ought to be spectacular in its track-day element

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On a chilly country road without a number, a rider of a pinto-patterned horse waves by the driver of a Day-Glo-coloured track car with a politeness undue to someone with vastly less business to be where he is than she.

It’s five degrees above freezing, it’s December, and we’re a few miles to the south of Silverstone: neither the time nor the place you’d pick to introduce yourself to a brand-new road-legal track car. But when have minor hurdles like that ever stopped us?

360bhp in something so light makes for no-prisoner-taking outright pace but also drivability good enough that a pilot equally unfamiliar with car as track can enjoy several wet laps without accident

The Rapture is the latest road-legal track-day special from Peterborough-based racing car builder Radical. A successor for the old Radical SR3 SL, it is ostensibly an SR3 spaceframe prototype that’s been adapted to pass road safety homologation rules not just in Europe but elsewhere in the world also. While it may be road-legal, however, it’s still primarily track-intended; the sort of car designed to be drivable to and from a circuit but not used on many other occasions – and whose existence in Radical’s showroom range allows the firm to sell cars to customers without motorsport licences in countries where you’re simply not allowed to buy a track car without one.

Around the Rapture’s FIA safety cell and all of the lightweight tubing of its chassis, then, sits plastic composite bodywork. At the front and rear are double wishbone axles with fully adjustable suspension. Further still towards the car’s extremities are expansive, angry-looking aerodynamic surfaces, with the car’s front splitter in particular having been reprofiled for greater downforce under heavy dive.

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Doing the driving, meanwhile, is a longways-mounted 2.3-litre Ford Ecoboost four-pot turbo engine retuned by Radical to produce 360bhp and 320lb ft of torque, which feeds the rear wheels via a six-speed sequential paddle-shift gearbox and a Quaife limited-slip diff. This is Radical’s £90k ‘junior’ road-legal option, then – but still one with nearly 500bhp per tonne.

You don’t so much step in as hop over the Rapture's broad sidepod, and drop down into a fairly tight cockpit that substitutes a windscreen for a tiny lip of a wind deflector, and offers only four-point belts and a pretty perfunctory arrangement of secondary switchgear controls as creature comforts.

Instrumentation is via a smallish colour LCD display mounted centrally on the dashboard, and underneath that you'll find the line of buttons controlling the car's headlights and heater. Material fit and finish is pretty poor; the upper and lower extremes of our test car's fascia panel wobbled like a cardboard sandwich box, although the parts of it that supported buttons seemed well-enough secured. It would, in short, be a challenge to get as excited about this driving environment as you might the one in a Dallara Stradale. Then again, Radical owners are well used to vehicles whose value is defined squarely by what they do rather than how they look or what they are.

The cockpit's certainly accommodating enough. At 6ft 3in, I was on the outer limit of leg-room provision in the car, and was a little short on outboard elbow room too – although in neither respect was I beyond the bounds of comfort.

The engine fires after rotating the battery isolator and ignition keys and then prodding the starter button. Dry sumped, it needs a few minutes to warm through before it’ll run in anything other than ‘limp’ mode. Even when warm it’s pretty raw and unruly on part throttle, rocking back and forth on its rigid mountings every time you tip into the accelerator pedal travel, and making the gearbox shunt and thrash and whine a bit at low revs.

Suffice it to say that low revs and everyday speeds are pretty plainly not what the Rapture’s powertrain is intended for. Likewise its chassis rides tolerably well on the road but it tramlines around bump and camber in a way that can makes it feel lively indeed on B-roads. Handily, the chances of your concentration dwindling at just about any time when driving this car are rather low.

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The Rapture's even livelier on a wintry, wet race track, albeit differently so. 360bhp in something so light makes for no-prisoner-taking outright pace but also, I’m pleased to report, drivability good enough that a pilot equally unfamiliar with car as track can enjoy several sets of wet laps without accident or incident.

There are no electronic aids here, and so handling predictability and control feedback matter greatly. Even in the wet and at reduced speeds and lateral loads, plenty of both are provided.

Steering is quick but weighty and feelsome, communicating load and ebbing grip level clearly. Handling agility is very high; and although outright grip level, on Radical's standard-fit Yokohama performance road tyres and in the wet, was pretty low, the car wasn't unforgiving beyond the limit, and didn't struggle unduly either for traction or braking power. Brake pedal feel and progressiveness inspired plenty of confidence, too.

To properly gauge the Rapture's driver appeal is a job for later; for a day of warmer, drier track conditions, when driving up to its limits would be a starkly different, musculature-challenging experience, I'll venture. How much the car appeals on the road seems of little relevance. This isn't an Ariel Atom or a Caterham Seven, and you wouldn't use it like one. The fact that it would be safe, fairly comfortable and drivable enough to and from a circuit is all that matters on that score.

My bet, remembering its predecessor fondly, would be that the Rapture will reward big track-day commitment in vivid style. The SR3 SL was a car you could drive around the outside of Porsches and McLarens at corners like Copse and Stowe - in the dry - in a way to make richer men wonder how much they’d pay to be that little bit braver and more unhinged.

And, simply put, the Rapture feels like the car that Radical devotees will hope it might be: an even faster, more drivable, more unhinged SL - and I expect it'll deliver those inimitable kicks even more successfully than its predecessor.

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Owning one might be a bit like owning a ‘dangerous’ dog, it strikes me. Some will think you’re irresponsible and will no doubt tell you as much. Others that you’re totally, scarily bonkers, and will cross the street to avoid meeting your gaze. It wouldn't take an out-of-body experience to understand why they might. But those few who recognise it, and understand what it takes to look after it and exercise it well, will nod and approve greatly at the sight of your snarling, angry menace. And, frankly, stuff the rest of them.

Dogs are just dogs, aren't they? And cars are just cars. There are plenty of both that you're better off not taking on the school run. Overwhelmingly, though, it’s the idiotic owners we all need to worry about.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.