From £27,9959
Extra power and purpose bring even greater heights out of an already cracking sports car. Simple, great value and huge fun

What is it?

The Zenos E10 R: the new ultimate version of the lightweight British sports car introduced by Caterham ex-pats Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards in 2014. We drove it in prototype form late last year, but now the chassis tune is signed off, the ink on the order forms is dry, and we can find out what the finished article is really like.

This is one of the more tempting track-intended two-seaters on the market right now for two very good reasons: it’s powered by the same 2.3-litre turbocharged engine you’ll find in the blockbusting new Ford Focus RS, and it’s priced at less than £40,000. So it’s got more power and torque than Caterham’s new 620S and costs £6000 less: and an even greater amount less than Ariel’s excellent Atom 3.5R.

The most important mechanical changes away from the 40% power hike have been made to the car’s running gear – as you’d expect. The Avon ZZR performance tyres are the same as those offered as an option on the E10 and E10 S, but lightweight OZ forged alloy wheels save 2.5kg of unsprung mass per corner, while the car’s spring rates have been increased by 10% at the front axle and 20% at the rear.

The car’s Bilstein dampers have been uprated, with even firmer 10-setting adjustable items made available as an option. For stopping, the car uses enlarged front discs and Alcon four-pot calipers as standard, and there are enlarged hydraulic master cylinders available as an option too. Finally, some extra toe-out angle at the front wheels promises to bolster stability mid-corner and under hard braking.

The overhaul isn’t huge, and deliberately that way in order that it can be retrofitted to existing Zenos owners’ cars, for those that would rather upgrade than replace. Which is just another example of this clever little British start-up putting its customers first.

What's it like?

Even on a wet and slippery Castle Combe circuit on a grey March morning, it’s very good indeed: much better than it’s got any right to be given how little it costs, how short a time Zenos has had to develop the car, and how short its track record is compared with its rivals.

Dry grip levels are impossible to gauge for the time being, but based on previous track experience of the E10 S on the same tyres, we’d say they’re likely to be assuredly high. The Zenos we road-tested last year had a big surfeit of grip, and felt exactly as if a slug of extra power and some added body control would bring the best out of its chassis in the dry. And the E10 R certainly provides much more pace, involvement and reward in wet conditions than the E10 S ever really approached.

That the 2.3-litre engine would transform the car’s outright speed was predictable, but not that it could seem so crisp and flexible as well as hard-hitting. The E10 R goes a lot harder than its siblings: in 4th gear, from 80mph onwards, massively so. By a hair’s breadth it’s perhaps not quite as rapid in a straight line as an Atom 3.5R or Caterham 620R, but the difference is small enough to make little difference to your fun factor. On most tracks and on the road, this Zenos will go as fast as you’re ever likely to require – plus a bit more just for giggles.

And the smartness and consistency with which the boost builds as you flex your right foot is quite special. This is a turbocharged engine that feels crackling and lively, and will respond swiftly to just an extra quarter-inch of throttle pedal when you want it to. It doesn’t have the crazed vivacity of some of its naturally aspirated and supercharged competitors, but it’s more characterful than the 2.0-litre Ecoboost engine that Zenos has used thus far, and is objectively very hard to fault.

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On handling, Zenos’ tweaks have conjured flatter body control and a more directionally responsive front axle from this E10, as well as even more deliciously positive and informative steering. All that while preserving the E10’s excellent on-throttle stability and natural cornering balance. Thumbs up all round, then.

We’ll have to wait to find out if the car’s on-road ride is as outstandingly supple as that of any other E10, and whether Zenos’ biggest gamble – passing up the chance to fit a mechanical limited slip differential – makes for any dry-weather traction issues. The E10R certainly struggled a bit for traction and for tyre temperature in the wet and, though still poised and very engaging, wasn’t quite as throttle-adjustable as some of its peers.

Should I buy one?

Certainly. If you like what the Zenos represents, the E10 R feels like the definitive version, and at under £40k, is still a bargain by any relevant measure. The Ariels, Caterhams, Lotuses and Morgans it’s up against probably have a shade more charm and established desirability, but they could offer nothing to conclusively beat the Zenos’ handling balance and purity, nor its huge performance value.

More than anything else, the E10 R is evidence that this fascinating little sports car outfit knows its customers, listens to criticism from the likes of us, addresses it where it can, and most importantly has the kind of ambition likely to take it forwards – and at quite some pace.

Zenos E10 R

Location Castle Combe, Wiltshire; On sale now; Price £39,995; Engine 4cyls, 2261cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 350bhp; Torque 349lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerbweight 700kg; 0-62mph 3.0sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy na; CO2/tax band na

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.

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