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.