When's it going?

You may not know what an Ariel Atom is, let alone that the Atom 3 is about to land. Trust me: if you have ever seen an Atom, you would never forget it. The new Atom has a new engine, more interior space, better suspension and all the usual things that car manufacturers claim. Except that the Atom is not a car in the conventional sense.

What's good about it?

Absolutely everything. This car is the very essence of driving distilled to bare minimum, and proves that you don't need much to have the maximum amount of fun. It is essentially a see-through car with a tubular framework and a few composite panels, which reduces weight and allows easy access for the adjustment of most settings. Developed in a wind tunnel to generate front and rear downforce, with special attention paid to underbody airflow, the bodywork provides stability and precise steering. It can accomodate two large adults in safety. The suspension is derived from current single-seat race cars and can be adjusted for road or track use.

The original Atom used a standard Rover 1.8, and its power-to-weight ratio was better than a Porsche 911's – basically, it is really, really quick. In most cases, you'd need to spend a six-figure sum to get near the experience offered by this little car. It beats the £800K Bugatti Veyron from 0-60mph, achieving this in just 2.8 seconds. Against tough opposition, the Ariel Atom again came first in Autocar's yearly 0-100-0 challenge. On a cold day with conditions going from dry to pouring rain, the Atom went from 0-100-0 in 11.35 seconds, taking first place by nearly a second. In Autocar's words: "Beside it, even cars like the GT3 and Gallardo Superleggera feel pedestrian... Not once in at least 10 runs did it so much as miss a beat." On the day, just to demonstrate that it was a standard Atom with no tweaks or special parts, it was driven to Bruntingthorpe and back. No transporters, no trailers, no tools – brilliant. Quite simply, an Atom is all the car you will ever need – especially if you haven't got a motorcycle licence.

What's bad about it?

Like the bodywork, nothing.

How much?

If you want to buy an Atom, you can go to only one place: Arielmotor.co.uk (or call 01460 78817). Their used cars are mostly Atom 2s, and they have a 2004 example that has done 2,500 miles for £28,995. Although Firebox.com claims that they could get an Atom 1 for £19,995, I have the strong feeling that this figure is wildly out of date.

Any snags?

No. Honda engines, in particular, are very reliable. Most cars rarely cover more than a few thousand miles, so they are likely to be immaculate. If not, it's been crashed on a track day, probably.


Launched: 2001

Engine sizes: 1.8 Rover, 2.0 Honda

Performance (1.8): top speed 140mph, 0-60mph in 3.4secs

Economy: 35+ mpg

Safety: NCAP n/a

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