Review: Ariel Atom
When Ariel Motors ran into some financial problems a while back, they got a sort of bailout, but it wasn’t from the government. It came from Jay Leno, who was such a fan of the company that he negotiated a deal for Atoms to use a GE Eco boost motors that gave more torque and higher RPMS (and cost less). Those were fitted into Atom 2s. They got back on track and the new Atom 3s have a K20 Honda Motor in it, which is out of the Civic Type R. I have an Atom 2.5, since it’s an old chassis, but a new motor. And it’s a phenomenal machine. Without body panels, or any of the extras cars typically come with, like ABS brakes or a windshield, it’s essentially a roll cage that happens to have a motor attached to it. I like the exposure. Somewhat because you can see the suspension working when you’re cornering, somewhat because you can see your apexes easier without doors. But mostly because without all that extra weight, it’s lighting quick. While it’s only 300 HP, it’ll do zero-to-sixty in 2.8 seconds, if you can shift fast enough.
How does that combination translate on the asphalt? I was at a track and there was another guy there in a race-ready 458 Italia, and clearly he was faster. He had all the aftermarket exhausts and tuning. On the straights, the Ferrari would creep away, but it didn’t run away. By turn three, he was behind me. During the last straight, he’d get in front and he’d get me for 2/3 of that straight, but he was in my mirrors again by turn two.
As for the handling, I thought I was on the edge of oversteering. But the car helps you out. The rear tires will turn two to three degrees. If you’re taking a hard right corner and inertia is pushing you out, the chassis responds by steering the right rear wheel in and the left wheel out and helps you bring it back around. It only happens when you’re pushing it so hard, you feel like you’re going to bite it. It feels like the start of a drift when the back end starts to turn before I got more comfortable and left my foot on the throttle. I got around the laps noticeably faster that way.
Typically when you get up to this level of car, they don’t like to go very slow. They have race cams, they idle lopey and they don’t want to ride around in first gear. Not the case with the Atom. It’s as happy at two miles per hour as it is at 150. Also, it’s American made, assembled in Virginia (even though it’s a British company) so there’s no real maintenance to speak of. I rarely have to change the tires, nothing ever breaks down, and I’ll go a whole track season on one set of brake pads.
The only downside is that it’s not a fun car to drive on the road. It’s only street legal in a few states, though. I once had to get it from a track to our Classic Car Club garage in Lower Manhattan, and I’m strapped into this uncomfortable fiberglass seat, headed south on Riverside Drive. An NYPD cruiser, a Crown Victoria, was coming towards me. Suddenly, the cop throws on his lights and motions for me to stop. I lifted my helmet visor and he asked how fast the car would go. I said ‘faster than yours.’ He told me to turn around at the next light so we were facing the same way. He flicked on his lights and took off. I gave him a three second lead then floored it. I smoked him. He wasn’t even in the rear view mirror when I glanced back. That’s my best Atom street memory.
Model: Atom 3
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder
See more of the Ariel Atom here