Ariel Atom 4: probably your most exciting speeding ticket

Aivaras Grigelevičius

Aivaras Grigelevičius

With a distinct car culture that emphasizes fun-to-drive vehicles, it’s no surprise that the UK is home to unusual vehicles, built to escape the joy-throttling grip of rising emissions, fuel prices, and the monotony of daily life. The Ariel Atom 4 is a perfect example.

It would be very easy to define Ariel Atom 4 as an expensive track-day car, but that would be insulting. Expensive track-day cars typically have doors, a roof, and silly things like a stereo or two airbags. No – this is the opposite of a contemporary, safe, and easily manageable supercar. Ariel Atom 4 has old-school flair and simplicity, but with a modern twist for those who appreciate a pure and unfiltered driving experience.

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Ariel Atom – from idea to creation

Great ideas are usually born in the most unexpected places. And in the Ariel Atom’s case, the idea of a lightweight sports car with the performance of a motorcycle was born in the mind of a student – Niki Smart.

Niki Smart began designing the Ariel Atom together with Simon Saunders (the boss of the Ariel Motor Company) whilst studying at Coventry University. With the help of Saunders, Atom drew exceptional attention from the British automotive industry, including British Steel and motor racing team Tom Walkinshaw Racing, who assisted in the development of the first Ariel Atom.

The first version of the Ariel Atom was equipped with the old but well-known 1.8-liter petrol engine from Rover. Ariel could have used any other engine, but the Rover K-Series engine was widely-used in the UK – it was just a sensible solution.

Although the maximum power output of this Rover engine ranged from a mere 120 to 190 horsepower, it was only outpowered by a few competitors. When you combine a 190 horsepower engine with a body that weighs only 456 kg, you get a car that offers a power and weight ratio better than the most expensive supercars.

And this unusual concept was the modest beginning of a new era. In more than 20 years of production, Ariel has produced eight different generations of the Atom, each time generating a tremendous rush of awe, adrenaline, and untold joy.

Ariel Atom 4 – the most powerful

The new Ariel Atom 4 – the most modern and precise-handling Atom – was unveiled in the summer of 2018.

This was the company’s first all-new model, helping the manufacturer usher in a new era. Compared to its predecessors, it grew bigger, more muscular, and more adept at pushing the car to the cornering limit.

While the Ariel Atom 4’s silhouette remains unchanged, it now features a titanium chassis that is 15% stiffer. The vehicle is also slightly longer and heavier. The Ariel Atom 4 weighs 595 kilograms, which is 20 more than the previous Ariel Atom 3.5. Fortunately, this is offset by the larger tires, which are better suited to the Honda-supplied engine’s power output.

Bilstein dampers come standard with the vehicle. However, buyers can choose to equip the Atom 4 with Ohlins adjustable suspension struts that have remote damping reservoirs, designed specifically for Ariel.

The unassisted steering is also standard on the latest Ariel Atom 4, as is a mid-mounted transverse engine driving the rear axle through a six-speed manual gearbox.

If that wasn’t enough, Ariel also provided Atom 4 with various other options. This includes a limited-slip differential, an AP Racing brake kit, adjustable traction control electronics, and a turbo boost controller, which helps limit or unleash Honda’s powertrain. It just keeps getting better.

The Atom was powered by various engines throughout the years – from a Rover 4-cylinder, to a 300 horsepower Chevrolet engine, to a massive 8-cylinder unit. However, after a series of experiments, Ariel decided to continue using the trusty heart from Honda, which produces 321 horsepower and 420 Nm of torque.

As you would expect, the car’s dynamic performance is simply stunning. With Honda’s enormous boost, the Ariel Atom 4 can reach 100 km/h in just 2.8 seconds and 0 to 160 km/h in just 6,8 seconds. There is only one way to travel faster: by jumping out of a plane.

The Ariel Atom 4 is a breath of fresh air

Many UK sports car manufacturers emphasize low weight and pure driving pleasure. However, few of them have the qualities of Ariel Atom 4. Only several cars can beat it in a straight line or even on the racetrack. If you want to buy a vehicle that can reach 100 km/h faster, you’ll have to part with a six-figure sum right away.

Meanwhile, the Ariel Atom 4 almost perfectly embodies and extends the philosophy of Lotus founder Colin Chapman – simplify, then add lightness. And in the case of Ariel Atom 4, it’s "simplify, then add lightness and power."

Ariel Atom 4 specifications:

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Aivaras Grigelevičius

Article by

Aivaras Grigelevičius

Aivaras has been excited about cars since he was a little kid. Later, this passion for drivable objects (and everything that surrounds them) grew into work as an automotive journalist. Since then, Aivaras has written for several different magazines, covering anything with an accelerator pedal. He has a soft spot for cars with an Alfa Romeo badge.