From £27,9959
We sample a development prototype of the new, more powerful and track-focused Zenos E10 R

What is it?

If every new sports car project that came along succeeded, we'd need to double our server capacity just to keep up. Sadly, most new projects don't succeed, but you could see the Zenos E10 S was special when it first arrived; that there’s something about it, something credible, that the people in charge had a plan: make a car people want to buy, not just the car you want to build.

By the end of the year, then, 80 Zenos E10 Ss, lightweight, two-seat sports cars with no roof, will have exited the factory gates at Wymondham in Norfolk, with founder Mark Edwards – co-founder Ansar Ali has taken a back seat but remains a supporter and shareholder – predicting that 120 cars will be sold next year.

Currently production is sold out until April, and by the end of January’s Autosport International Show he’d like orders for well over half of the year.

So who’s buying E10s? And what do they come out of? Edwards says there is no typical buyer. Some have had motorbikes but now have families, some flit between other lightweight brands with no particular loyalty, some have big collections.

But what has surprised Edwards is that the E10 S, a 2.0-litre, 250bhp car with no weather gear, isn’t necessarily the preserve of track-day enthusiasts.

We’ve found it rides pretty well, with a flow and lightweight agility not unlike an early Lotus Elise. Maybe that’s part of the appeal for road-based drivers, but ditto too the fact, I suspect, that it’s priced from an entirely attainable £29,995 – the purpose of the Zenos exercise in the first place being to bring a new but also relatively affordable car to market. It’s possible that track enthusiasts want something a little more hardcore and are prepared to pay for it.

As if by magic, then, here is one, the Zenos E10 R. At least, a development prototype. It’s the “fastest, most focused and most thrilling model yet”, according to the press release and, you suspect, a car that Edwards and the team just quite fancied building. They think that perhaps 20 or 30 of next year’s production will be this R model, which features a 2.3-litre Ford Ecoboost engine and significantly more power than the E10 S.

The glib way to look at it is that it’s the Ford Focus RS motor. Which is not entirely accurate. Yes, it’s the same base unit, sourced through Hendy Power, one of Ford’s approved engine suppliers. But instead of the Ford-specific Focus state of tune, Zenos gets its 350bhp at 6000rpm and 349lb ft at 4000rpm via a Specialist Components ECU.

Given a dry weight of 700kg, that’s enough for 500bhp per tonne, alhough in road trim it’ll work out a little less than that.

Other changes between E10 S and R have been born through choice rather than necessity. The car needs no more cooling ducts so the bodywork remains entirely unchanged – essential when your ethos is keeping costs lower – although the 2.3-litre engine comes with a bigger intercooler that’s 40% more efficient.

Other than that, Zenos has fitted lighter wheels (saving 2.5kg a corner), a six-speed gearbox (the S gets a five-speed unit, with the six-speed ’box available as an option) and the S’s uprated brakes, plus composite seats with four-point harnesses. Pricing stays with a fairly clear structure: the S was under £30,000, the R is £39,995. 

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Performance? Zenos reckons that, taking advantage of the traction offered by its mid-engined layout, 0-60mph will be possible in three seconds, with a top speed of 155mph.

Zenos e10r 2015 uk 0040

What's it like?

Well, none of those claimed figures are in the offing during this test, because although we’ve had a fairly gentle autumn so far, Bruntingthorpe in November turned the corner and became the kind of bitter, cold and rain-lashed day I’m expecting to see quite a lot more of until next March or so. No, the E10 R isn’t fitted with the optional windscreen (although the vast majority of E10s being ordered are, with few drivers ever taking them off again).

Still, the E10 is much better than, say, a KTM X-Bow at pushing the draft over your head; it’s more like an Ariel Atom with wind deflectors in that there’s no buffeting, although you’re aware your head is at the forefront of things. You’d have to wear a helmet, really.

And if not for the wind, you have to because of the noise. That the airbox is behind your head and the turbo is right there spooling and whooshing makes the E10, even in 2.0 form, a loud experience. Add the bigger, 3.0in-diameter exhaust of the 2.3-litre motor, and a higher, 1.4bar boost and the R is certainly no quieter.

It has great performance, though. Straight line traction, even in these conditions, is good, and a full-throttle burst from idle in third, at what must be 20mph, through to the other side of 100mph, reveals a strong, linear power band with no flat spots. It spins to 6800rpm but there’s no need to wring out the last few hundred revs: it’s a track-focused car, but, like the S, the R can be surfed around on the throttle.

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The gearlever is 18mm lower than previously, gets a bespoke ball rather than the Ford one and, thanks to some tightening of other links, is a slick mechanism.

As yet there are no changes to the suspension, but Zenos’s head of development, Chris Weston, anticipates that spring rates will probably go up by about 10%, although he’s not unhappy with the R’s ability to put its power down already. 

The fear is that, relatively compliant that it is, the Zenos will roll mid-corner until an inside rear tyre spins the power away, necessitating a limited-slip differential that Zenos would rather not have to fit. But given that, even as it stands, the R has decent traction, the extra spring stiffness should see to that. And the S has compliance to spare, so should allow the R to remain a bearable road car.

Not that there’s any chance of getting enough lateral load into the car to trouble an inside wheel today - it’s just far too wet. This is the first time I’ve driven a Zenos in these conditions, but it shows how forgiving the chassis is.

The Avon ZZR rubber finds reasonable grip, but there’s earlier and more obvious understeer, which you can drive around, and then quite a lot earlier – partly the weather, partly the boost – oversteer. But the E10 remains a forgiving car that’s pleasingly adjustable just a few degrees either side of your chosen line. Even in these conditions, the R just liberates, rather than overwhelms, what’s an exceptionally capable chassis.

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Should I buy one?

The first 15 Rs that arrive next spring will be in this trim: Drive Edition models, in this grey, with an anodised black chassis, removable steering wheel, carbonfibre seats, removable wheel, adjustable dampers and six-point harnesses. At £43,995, it’s six grand’s worth of kit for four grand, but more than that, it's the kind of introductory symbol that creates a ripple of interest as it lands. Encouragingly, it looks like Zenos remains as savvy about selling cars as it does about creating them.

After that, 'the standard' E10 R will cost from £39,995. On the basis of this test, the success story is set to continue.

Zenos E10 R

Price £39,995; Engine 4 cyls, 2261cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 350bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 349lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Dry weight 700kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-60mph  3.0sec (est); Economy 21.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band na

Zenos e10r 2015 uk 0047

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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