From £27,9959
We've tried the E10 on track as a prototype; now it's time to see if the production version works on the road

Our Verdict

Zenos E10 S

Does the Zenos E10 have enough to oust Caterham and Lotus off their throne

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    2015 Zenos E10 R review

    We sample a development prototype of the new, more powerful and track-focused Zenos E10 R
Nic Cackett
19 March 2015

What is it?

No other country on earth props up a national car-building cottage industry with the enthusiasm of England. Beneath the larger firms you’ve definitely heard of - Caterham, Ariel, Lotus - there are dozens more tinkering and imagining and kit-creating in an oil-stained niche of splendidness. Few, though, threaten to break the big time.

Zenos is different. Its story we’ve told elsewhere, but the bare bones are that it was started by old hands and known faces, both well weathered from years of toil in Surrey and Norfolk. Crucially, they began with a clear vision and concrete bottom line. The E10, in its more powerful S guise here, is what has popped out 24 months down the line.

Built around an innovative ‘backbone’ of aluminum - with a carbon-composite tub and an extruded rear subframe to house the engine - the car is a mid-engined, rear-driven and track-enabled but also road-focused two-seater. There are no doors and there is no roof. So we’re talking strictly second car, summer fun adventure here. But we’re talking a lot of it, with power coming from Ford’s 250bhp 2.0-litre Ecoboost unit.

We’ve already had an introduction to the E10 on circuit, in prototype format. Now, with the model moving into the manufacturing stage, we get a chance to try it out on the road for the first time - which is where Zenos expects the majority of its customers to spend most of their time. Served up without race dampers but with the optional six-speed manual gearbox (over the standard five-speed), uprated brakes and heated windscreen, the car is very much as the initial 100 or so buyers have reportedly chosen to spec it, too. 

What's it like?

Important to characterise the car’s innards first, because - rather pointedly - they’re quite unlike anything else currently on offer at this price bracket. Where the Elise is all extruded aluminum and sharp edges, an Atom scaffolding and a Caterham the 1950s, Zenos has moulded a thermoplastic tub of clever angles and miniature TV screens. Not only does it feel like something born in this decade but it also fits together with the kind of harmony that suggests it was considered integral to the car’s appeal from the outset rather than merely somewhere to sit and steer. 

No, it’s not put together with a McLaren’s tolerances, and there’s a bathtub flex to some of the panels, but that’s to be expected. Likewise the parts-bin gear lever and indicator stalks. But the driving position is near perfect. The readout in front shows revs, speed and gear - so all you’ll ever need, then. Crucially, the right arm - cramped in an Elise; virtually the crumple zone in a Seven - slots onto the windowless sill with an at-homeness normally the preserve of a Range Rover. 

The ergonomic finesse is no coincidence. Despite an obvious lack of shelter overhead, Zenos has sought a tremendous degree of usability from the E10. As standard, the car comes with an aeroscreen, but the full windscreen seen here was conceived very early in the design stage and therefore tallies perfectly with the styling. It also affords a decent amount of protection: there is wind in your hair, but not of the teeth-shattering potential you’d equate with a doorless Caterham. 

There is noise, however. A huge amount of it. While Zenos may have (sensibly) left the engine tune alone, the Ecoboost’s turbocharger has been rendered a gulping, hissing, Group B-emulating monster. And because Ford has it come online so early, even gentle throttle inputs will have it sucking the oxygen from beneath your eardrums. In a helmet, it’s a phenomenal soundtrack. Without a buffer, it’s just phenomenal - although your drowned-out significant other may conjure up a different adjective. 

The noise, of course, signals the E10's defining party trick: an almost lag-free industrial bungee rope of torque. The S has a torque-to-weight ratio well in excess of that of a Porsche 911 Turbo. However, the thing to get all incredulous and giddy about is the way that this manifests at the back axle. The mechanical grip and traction levels summoned up by the chassis (and some sticky Avons) is startling. In the good weather we were afforded, on the public road, the quality of adhesion makes full throttle exploits endlessly manageable. 

That confidence is crucial because, with speed limits restricting the amount of pace you can legitimately carry, fierce acceleration is second only to handling on a featherweight wish list. Happily, the E10 has the latter covered, too. The steering, a massive wrist-straining effort at low speeds, is more Caterham than Lotus - and although not quite as quick as the former, I’d take the Zenos's communicative and very direct brand of heft over the latter. 

Conceivably, the unassisted connection to such a surfeit of grip may have rendered the car a little too benign on the road, but the sense of supreme balance - the mass at the midriff, you rotating around it - is unmistakable in something 150kg lighter than an Elise. It’s a more elemental experience, too, that early whiff of understeer and subsequent straightener tweak of oversteer being more pronounced - if short of the kind of kart-like adjustability you get from an Atom. 

Comfort-wise, it doesn’t quite manage the counter-intuitive, magic carpet ride you’d get from the Lotus. But on its more congenial street dampers, the E10 S manages to be something engagingly in between its mid-engined rivals. And you rather feel that’s the point. Attached to the supreme tractability of the engine, and the mass-produced simplicity of its six-speed gearbox, the car’s resistance to intrusive bumps and wayward tracking makes it equally capable of something approaching mellow. With ear plugs, that is.

Should I buy one?

Zenos, in just two years of fettling from clean piece of paper to production model, has landed its first go with laser-guided accuracy. At the one end this is the Lotus rival we imagined; born of Norfolk, by people imbibed in the same culture, meaning it rides well enough for its owner to consume mile after mile, and steers well enough to remain totally engaging while doing so. 

But, equally, it feels as though those same people have been free to express themselves in the wider experience. Ideas that have clearly been percolating for years have been brought to bear. It therefore aims slightly away from the Elise, at a patch of open market space begging to be filled with something supremely fast, usable, exploitable and, crucially, affordable. It may very well be the English sports car hundreds of us have been waiting for. 

Zenos E10 S 

Location Bedford; On sale Now; Price £29,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 250bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 725kg; Top speed 145mph; 0 60mph 4.0sec; Economy na; CO2 and tax band rating na

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Comments
10

19 March 2015
£30K for car that you can't drive in the rain......in England!!
Hope there's a lot of rich enthusiasts out there who can afford 2 sports cars, one for the wet and one for the dry.

A34

19 March 2015
reckless fox wrote:

£30K for car that you can't drive in the rain.....

Windscreen wipers imply some expectation of usage in precipitation conditions. Presume it has drain holes too.

But really yes this is a Summer blaster or track day fun car, more hard core than an Elise. Presumably the first 100 customers will be funding the development of a canvas top for the next 100...

19 March 2015
To my eye it looks old-fashioned, even against the venerable Elise. And what's with the black body parts? Looks like its permanently wearing a camouflage.

19 March 2015
I guess they've done there Market research and reckon there's a gap in the Market for it,but,there's more Track Market isn't there?,if they'd done a Road car too?,might have to be a few grand more,but, for the performance,that's not a lot to pay.

Peter Cavellini.

19 March 2015
fell in love with the team and the concept from day one - and they say they have a hundred orders so good luck to them. Me? Not in a million years. What do you do with it? There appears to be no luggage space so that's the dirty weekend market out. No roof so that's most weekends out in the UK. You'll stopped by every cop in the land so goodbye going to the pub or the golf club. And there's competition - iconic Caterhams, bonkers Ariels. And for £30k you could get a Mk 2 Boxster! Really hope I'm proved wrong as UK needs these brave guys who've sweated blood to get to this stage.

jer

19 March 2015
It's not a boxer and the engine is less likely to go bang. Caterham sell and it's cheaper than a Lotus. I don't see a problem especially if they don't depreciate. Some static shots make it look fine the motion shots less so stance a bit weak.

19 March 2015
I don't doubt that underneath this car is as good as Autocar say it is but, it looks like a cheap, poor quality kit car and not like £30,000 worth.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

19 March 2015
Gosh it's no good cos it might rain? So motorcycles are a complete waste of time and nobody buys them? I am squinting at the pictures and trying to imagine all one colour, possibly less latest thing but more good looking.

TBC

20 March 2015
So, imagine it as a rival for the Atom, for those that don't wish to be quite that exposed to the elements or public gaze. And yes, if you're tempted to compare this to a Boxster, then you're definitely not in the market for one...........

20 March 2015
I don't get all the naysayers on here. This is a stunning-looking minimal sports-car, designed and built from scratch - no mean feat, that doesn't look ridiculous, and has real performance at a pretty reasonable price. It looks like a hardcore MX-5, really well-designed. The only thing that totally lets it down for me is the ridiculous gear-shift; appears to be from a Sierra. Couldn't they find a short-shifter from somewhere??

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