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.