Driving the Ariel Atom


4y ago

Ariel Atom (European Specification)
Engine: 2.4 liter 4 cylinder, supercharger, 310 PS, 162 lbft.
Transmission: Six speed manual, rear-wheel drive.
Acceleration: 0-62 mph in 2.7 seconds.
Top speed: 164 mph
Weight: 1047 lbs
Dimensions (length/height/width): 3410/1195/1798mm
Price (Sweden): $42 610 USD (As tested: $65 358 USD)

Pretty much all cars out there are compromises, compromises which have been reached as a consequence (or result depending on how you look at it) of increased safety regulations, emission regulations and a bunch of other demands in an effort to control the automotive industry. Just like laws are compromises in order to make society work, all regulations within the automotive industry are there so people do not die like insects. There are however some manufacturers who produce cars which are more-or-less compromise-free. They have been developed with focus on a singular thing as opposed to trying to be good at everything. When was the last time you saw a move which was sad, funny, scary, aesthetic, action-filled and documentary-like all at the same time? A car which produces cars for those who love driving more than they love their own children is Ariel. They build cars with the sole purpose of ensuring that the driver has a constant smile, bleeding ears and a face vandalized with insects. It is a pure-bred car which makes the BMW M2 feel like a sumo-wrestler. Let us find out how raw a car can be in today’s regulation-based climate by setting off in High Velocity and reviewing the Ariel Atom.

An Ariel Atom has to make do without doors, windows and looks a lot like a hybrid between scaffolding and a formula car. Test driving one a cold October morning (in Sweden) is therefore the smartest thing you can do if you want chronic hypothermia and feel like amputating some body parts. Our meeting place for our test drive was Ariel Sweden’s base – the race track Mantorp Park. As you probably can understand, Ariel do not have press cars available to test for a week, instead you will have to make do with a few hours. We arrived at Mantorp in a car which is the complete opposite of the Ariel – an Audi S8 Plus. “Too heavy” thought Jonas Larsén, Ariel Sweden’s boss. Over a cup of coffee it became obvious that Jonas is a true enthusiast. He had a genuine passion for Ariel. The version we were going to drive was equipped with the “mid-range” engine developing 310 PS (there is on model with 245 and one with 350 PS) and did 0 to 62 mph in 2.7 seconds; faster than a Tesla Model S P90D.

“You break it, you buy it” was basically what was stated in the contract and with 310 horsepower powering a tad over 1000 lbs, it is not really an approachable car. After having stumbled over the side of the car I was given a scarf and glasses to protect my eyes. I pressed the starter button and heard the 2.4 liter Honda-sourced engine scream to life. “You set off in second” Jonas said. Just like the PDK-gearbox in a Porsche in other words. The Atom got the power down through a six speed manual gearbox also sourced from Honda and if there is something you should praise Honda for, it is their gearboxes. I started freezing before we even set off and I imagined myself being revived in the future after having been turned into a block of ice.

The clutch was sharp, light but aggressive which at first made it seem like I had never driven a car with a stick shift. At every touch of the gas pedal you heard the supercharger scream and through the steering wheel you could feel every pebble on the road. Unassisted steering makes from brilliant feedback which in symbiosis with all the car’s components being visible to the naked eye assures that you become one with the car. It is more like putting on a piece of clothing as opposed to getting into a car. Every single input from the driver is given a response from the car with either a sound or a twitch. It is constantly alert and follows your every move.

After having driven a route consisting of a large back road, a small back road and a few small towns, we went back to Mantorp and were let loose on our own (Jonas and I were tailed by the S8). After having experienced a polar bears lifetime in only a few minutes, it did not feel clever to get back at it. However, my feelings for the Ariel prevailed. The gas pedal has a long way to travel before you reach maximum throttle which means that you at first are filled with skepticism – is this all it has got? Although, you quickly realize that you are only pressing down the gas pedal a few percent.

In order to describe pedal to the metal in an Ariel Atom, more hyperboles than the amount of grams of Co^2 HV emit each year are required. According to Jonas at Ariel the fastest way to get to 62 is by setting off in second and then changing gears like a Finnish rally driver. Pressing the gas pedal all the way down results in the same amount of explosive power as the shock waves from an atomic bomb. Just like Lucky Luke the Ariel Atom is quicker than its own shadow. In addition to the surge forwards (which leaves you breathless) the whole experience is magnified since you literally have no protection from the outside world. It is vital to dress appropriately unless you want to simulate a storm on the top of Mount Everest. Moreover, the fact that the car weighs a third as much as an Audi TTS (which has the same amount of horsepower) means that it feels more alert than a cocaine-infused Red Bull-fanatic. The screaming supercharger cause your ear drums to slowly deteriorate and mashing the throttle has the same impact on your hearing as sticking your head into a jet engine.

With all these factors playing their part in order to make the experience as animalistic as possible you get stuck in a sort of trance. The fact that you are freezing to death, becoming deaf and sitting in something which has the ability to give you whiplash injuries just from acceleration is something you merely ignore. You are simply astounded by the brilliant steering, you are shocked by the unbelievable performance and you constantly develop new perspectives. You form a new idea of what is physically possible and how alive a car can feel. On top of that it is possible to completely adjust the car you your own personal preference. Driver and machine go hand in hand when it comes to sitting behind the wheel of an Ariel Atom. The Ariel Atom – because driving is a drug.

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