We needed an Ariel Atom this week. Logistically, I mean (spiritually, we need one all the time).
Normally, as a circuit is often involved in such things, the car appears at the allotted time and place aboard a truck. But as our dalliance with it is longer this time, and mostly road based, I delivered myself to Somerset; partly to save Ariel the bother and partly to spend more time with the 245 – the non-supercharged and therefore entry-level version of its spartan track-smasher.
The firm’s HQ is situated slap-bang in West Country heaven, a stone’s throw from the kind of villages that you usually only encounter on the lids of shortbread biscuit tins.
There’s nothing quaint about Ariel’s facility, though. Not for it the stereotypical disarray of the cottage car industry, either – in conspicuously well-ordered redbrick buildings, the Atoms are hand-assembled on vigorously swept tiled floors, and could hardly look cooler or more cutting edge if they were Apple-branded moon buggies.
Tom, Ariel’s general manager and all-round good egg admits that in fact most of the workforce are beavering elsewhere on the new bike – very recently revealed, and set for its public debut at Goodwood this weekend.
The company will be there in force, with the also very new Ariel Atom 3.5R set for its first outing, too. I’m due aboard the 350bhp model for a bit of early morning uphill terror on Saturday so the chance to get reacquainted with the slightly more sedate ‘starter’ car was particularly welcome.
Of course ‘sedate’ is a relative term for Ariel. It may be 100bhp or so down on power, yet the 245 still possesses the kind of indecent zero-mass pluck that could make a Lotus Elise feel portly.
Inevitably it’s in the VTEC’s famously placid low range that the absence of the supercharger is most felt, but in reality (ie on the road) this just gives you half a second of the three and a bit required for 60mph to get your head round the still massive surge on offer. On song, with every change-up light lit, the lowliest Atom never feels anything less than utterly breakneck.
Back down the A303, it minces up overtakes and splatters bugs against visor as quickly as you’d conceivably want, all the while treating you to a massive rhythmic wumpf of induction noise through its eye-level intake.
A long motorway journey tends to dial out the fun in something as openly hardcore as an Atom, but even with the adjustable dampers set to ‘very forgiving’ there’s no mistaking the sweetness of the steering or the fleet-footed, joyous handling at the end of it.
All the time Ariel devoted to improving straight-line stability in the latest 3.5 generation pays off on this kind of journey as well; the wheel doesn’t need to be grimly held onto at a steady cruise and there’s less of a tendency for it to track wildly between bumps.
Relaxing would be a drastic overstatement – especially considering the unique brand of torture the Atom’s one-piece seating enacts on my spine – but at least the 245 rewards restrained long-range driving with something approaching docility.
Chances are that’s not a characteristic that will apply to the 3.5R, which has had its boost pressure upped from 7.5psi to 11. Or from ‘Good Lord’ to ‘God, help me’.
The cheapest Atom spent yesterday at Cadwell Park making everything else in its £30k-ish price bracket look decidedly slow and silly (more on that in the magazine next month) but the idea of using it to acclimatise myself to Ariel’s latest pace-setter might have been about as worthwhile as sparring with my three-year-old niece ahead of a world title fight. Guess we’ll see.