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.
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.