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Thomas Mallett2012-06-05 16:00:12

Extreme Motoring Part I: Ariel Atom

The Atom's extreme looks create high expectations with regards to performance.

I have wanted to drive an Ariel Atom since it burst onto the scene in 1996 at the British Motor Show at the NEC in Birmingham. It caught my imagination then as a 10-year-old and 16 years on it remains one of ‘the driver’s cars’ on sale.

The Atom is one of the most striking cars currently made for one particular reason: It has an exposed tubular chassis and very little bodywork to cover its innards. If you are going to make that kind of statement as a car manufacturer it better be good. The good news is that it is very good indeed, and it provides a challenge when flat-out, which as someone who enjoys track driving is a major benefit and adds to the pleasure.

After 20 minutes all I wanted to do in the Atom was go back onto the circuit and find the time that I was losing, it was there but I was not on top of the car yet. It also must be pointed out that the Atom is a car you can enjoy at low speed due to the fantastic feedback from its steering and, in part, from the fact that you can see the suspension working as you drive, it is quite an experience.

The Atom, as I suggested, has a more complex side to its nature, and that is no bad thing. Due to its mid-engine configuration the car’s balance is on much more of a knife-edge than the typical front-engine rear-wheel-drive sports car. This means that the Atom enjoys precision, and to get the best out of it you have to remain neat and tidy on-track.

And indeed, the Atom is exciting, however, not easy to drive

And indeed, the Atom is exciting, however, not easy to drive

© photo courtesy of: Ariel

I discovered to my own blushes the Atom’s wild side under braking for a 90 degree left hander. The left-hand corner appeared after a fast and nearly flat-out fifth gear chicane and despite the high levels of grip available and the quite superb brakes, a combination of two downchanges, an unloaded rear end under brakes and me not having the car quite straight led to a lurid 90mph spin.

This Atom was the 245bhp ‘standard’ car with a paddle shift gearbox which I would normally have expected not to be my favorite version. However, and Autoviva is yet to try another Atom, this combination worked very well. The paddle shift ‘box worked well on track and felt accurate and fast, light years away from single clutch paddle shifters of old.

It is also worth mentioning that the brakes again as they are superb, with plenty of feel and immense stopping power. I was repeatedly reminded how much more performance was left in the car in this particular area as I missed braking points and still made it round the corner.

Ariel has done what so many find impossible; it has created a brand out of nothing, and succeeded. Many manufacturers struggle to produce a car that is well enough built, reliable enough and provides something genuinely different to what is already on sale from the more established players. Pagani and Koenigsegg have managed it with their supercars and Ariel has crashed the track-car party in a similar fashion.

That the Atom could handle more than 245bhp is not in doubt, but it would take a long and wide circuit like Silverstone to enjoy the extra power that the 300bhp Supercharged Atom.

Whether this iteration is the best Atom is a question that we are yet to be qualified to answer. What we can say is that even the base engine is still very fast and that the drivetrain is very good. The most important bit is the chassis though, and that too is brilliant. A word of warning though, if you are going to drive it flat-out then keep it neat and tidy and your wits about you.

Atom Gen.3Atom Gen.3
Atom 3Atom 3
Straight 4
122 cu in
Top Speed
155 mph
6, Manual
Maximum power
245 hp @ 6100 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined)
$ 41.535
* based on United Kingdom prices
annual ownership cost
$ 913


One of my favourite concepts of recent years, fantastic driver's car
06.06.2012 @ 12:10
yes, it really is great fun, and tough to master - anyone can enjoy it at normal speeds but the pro can have great fun at 11/10ths too
07.06.2012 @ 21:02


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