While it has been 18 years since British maker Ariel introduced the first version of its skeletal Atom sports car, the fourth-generation model, as unveiled at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed, looks almost identical. Yet it's not, with the company stating the only components that have been carried over from the outgoing third-gen iteration are the brake and clutch pedals and the fuel-filler cap.
The reason for the familiarity is that Ariel has hit on a winning formula that it sees little need to change. This Atom, like its predecessors, uses a lightweight welded steel spaceframe that makes a virtue of its lightweight construction and is powered by a Honda-sourced inline-four (some U.S. cars were fitted with General Motors four-bangers) located behind its minimalist passenger compartment. The most significant change is a switch to a new powerplant: the same turbocharged K20C engine that is fitted to the Civic Type R, which generates 320 horsepower, 10 more than the supercharged version of the Atom 3. Given that the Atom is said to tip the scales at just 1312 pounds in its lightest configuration, that translates to a supercar-rivaling power-to-weight ratio. Ariel says the new car is capable of a 2.8-second zero-to-60-mph time, a 6.8-second zero-to-100-mph time, and a top speed of 162 mph. Torque is delivered to the rear wheels through a Honda-sourced six-speed manual gearbox and a limited-slip differential.
The biggest visual difference is a switch to larger-diameter steel tubing for the chassis-claimed to result in a structure that is 15 percent more torsionally rigid-and a new roll hoop structure, now effectively hidden behind the raised air intake for the engine. There is more space between the seats-previous Atoms had occupants sitting close enough to trade cooties-as well as a redesigned dashboard layout incorporating a digital instrument panel and switchgear that is a model of minimalism and clarity. At the rear is a new streamlined engine cover and a high-mounted rear exhaust with a single outlet. Extensive CAD modeling has improved the aerodynamic performance, with Ariel saying that the new car is capable of producing downforce for the first time.
While we can't yet tell you how it drives, the new engine produces far higher peak torque than its predecessors: 310 lb-ft from just 3000 rpm, a 75 percent increase over the naturally aspirated Atom 3. The Atom 4 will come with both traction and launch control plus the ability to vary turbo boost pressure according to road conditions. The car also gains the option of a quick-ratio steering rack, with Ariel saying it improves on the leisurely turning circle of its predecessors. The standard braking setup uses 10.9-inch front discs and 10.0-inch rears, with an optional 11.4-inch front upgrade including four-piston AP calipers. Buyers will also be able to specify carbon-fiber wheels, which are claimed to save a total of 35 pounds. It also gets a larger, 10.5-gallon fuel tank which should translate into a range of at least 300 miles on road, when you aren’t flogging the turbo engine.
As with previous versions, the new Atom will be produced on both sides of the Atlantic-at the company's Crewkerne headquarters in the U.K., and also under license by Ariel North America in South Boston, Virginia. The company has only released U.K. pricing-translating to about $44,000-but this Atom will continue its predecessors' ability to offer huge performance to those willing to sacrifice such niceties as practicality and weather protection.