AMG’s mission to Drift Mode All The Things continues with 400bhp mini-wagon
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£64,800 when new
Strange to think that the Ariel Atom - the best thing to come out of Somerset since the A303 - is now 14 years old. In car years, that’s beyond pensionable, but the Atom doesn’t look or feel ancient. Such is the advantage of a car without bodywork, a scaffold bolted with ever-upgradable components: in fact, all that remains of 2000’s original Atom on this latest 3.5R is that tubular frame concept. The rest is new and very, very punchy. The 3.5R is a track-focused version of 2012’s 310bhp Atom 3.5, featuring the same 4cyl supercharged Honda, but raising power to 350bhp. In place of the 3.5’s manual transmission, there’s a close-ratio, rally-spec Sadev 6spd sequential ‘box, operated by wheel-mounted paddleshifts. You’ll also spot new sidepods that provide cooling to the engine and transmission, and - if you’re especially eagled of eye - adjustable Öhlins dampers all round. The result? Probably the fastest Atom yet: quicker around twisty tracks, says Ariel, than even the deranged 500bhp Atom V8, thanks to a broader spread of torque from low revs. Zero to 62mph officially takes 2.6 seconds, but even that absurd stat can’t describe the furious, screaming, mass-free manner in which the 3.5R gathers speed. This Atom is such a massive assault on the senses that you spend the first few full-bore bursts of acceleration caught in a strange emotional limbo, simultaneously cackling in delight and whimpering in terror. [node:field_inline_gallery] The sequential ‘box is a beautiful brute, too, firing changes faster than you can think, the merest microblip in power before the next gear hooks up and batters you through the scenery. Downshifts are accompanied by an absurd, Richter-scale blam from the Atom’s exhaust, a double-barrelled shotgun blast that’ll have birds scattering from trees five miles distant.
The 3.5R isn’t actually all that scary. There’s no on-the-limit twitchiness: it corners neutrally rather than flicking into snappy oversteer. It’s a car that lets you go faster than you ever thought you could. And despite the mad, supercharged engine and the race-grade sequential ‘box, when you’re taking it slowly this Atom is as docile and easy-going as a drugged puppy. There’s no low-speed jitteriness, a broad spread of torque throughout the rev range, and even the crunching changes of the straight-cut transmission can be ironed out with a quick dip of the clutch. Not that it could ever be described as a daily driver: the 3.5R is too hardcore. But for a car that’ll ferry you to a circuit and then embarrass everything short of a McLaren P1, the Atom remains king.