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Ariel Nomad

Overall verdict

The Top Gear car review:Ariel Nomad



What is it like on the road?

The Nomad is different. Different to anything else on British roads. It moves differently, behaves differently, drives differently. You knew this just by looking at it and will now be convinced it’s utterly daft and, if you’re in the market for a lightweight, should immediately go back to looking at the Atom. Or a Caterham.

But if you’re driving mostly on roads – or off-roads – the Nomad makes much more sense. You feel more secure in it, the long travel dampers are barely ever stressed, it sits happily and calmly at speed. It has (provided you tick the right options boxes) a windscreen, high profile tyres and footwell panels. I’m not saying no mental adjustment is needed, but the Nomad is more usable, comfortable and adaptable than you think. Just wrap up warm. And probably waterproof too.

A lot is dependent on set-up. You can choose from different suspension kits to have your Nomad either more road or off-road orientated. For full amusement, spec the Fox shocks and slacken them off so the Nomad heaves and leans like a galleon in a gale. It will do remarkable things in the rough. It’s light and nimble, so treads lightly in heavy terrain. Approach and departure angles are stunning, and with 65 per cent of weight on the rear axle traction is only a problem if you choose to make it one.

It’s lovely to just crawl slowly about in, to let the car feel its way over obstacles, to be so in touch with your surroundings. The places the Nomad can get to will astonish you, as will the manner in which it does it. It’s wonderfully supple and confidence inspiring. Just watch for mud arcing up and over the windscreen to splatter you from above.

But it’s how well it works on road that’s so refreshing. Now, if you’ve specced it with big, heavy tyres there is a drawback: they compromise wheel control, exacerbate steering kickback, and there’s significant tyre roar above 50mph. Go intermediate is our advice – the 15-inch wheels with Geolander tyres that work everywhere. Not much grip, but an approach to corners and roundabouts that’s amusement personified – quite frankly the Nomad is among the most enjoyable, exciting, daft-as-a-brush cars any of us has ever driven. Although it rolls, it scampers through corners at a rate that has to be experienced to be believed, and ideally not from the sweaty seat of a Porsche 911 charged with keeping up. The Nomad, both in a straight line and around bends, is way quicker than people expect when they clock a dune buggy in their mirrors.

Up to a point. Aerodynamics become very significant at motorway speeds. It’s a heck of a sprinter up to 60mph, but beyond that things are harder won. The engine – a high-revving Honda don’t forget – is best kept on the boil, torque isn’t its strong point, so pressing go in sixth on the motorway will have you dusted by diesels. The gearing is long (70mph is 2,400rpm) which helps economy, but the 2.4 doesn’t get into its stride until torque peaks at 4,300rpm.

So you’ll be wanting the supercharged one, won’t you? Not that simple actually. It depends how you’ve got your Nomad set-up. If, broadly speaking, you’re more biased towards track days, humbling ‘proper’ sports cars and fast road driving, have the supercharger. Team it with low profile rubber and harder suspension. If you’d have your Nomad loose and languid, for off-road larks and roll-y road driving, have the nat asp one. You may have to row the gearlever about more, but – like the rest of the drivetrain – that’s from Honda as well. The shift is an absolute belter.

The combination of soft suspension and supercharged torque is something you get the feeling could become a handful very quickly. Bucking broncos spring to mind. The supercharged car is faster and has that helpful extra torque – 251lb ft, delivered lower down, but it’s also a lot thirstier. You’ll be looking for fuel after around 160 miles where that point in the nat-asp car comes after 240 miles.

There are familiar Atom traits of course: gales up your right trouser leg, delicious induction noise by your left ear, a view out over tubing. It’s not quite such a whipcrack on the road of course, but it trades that for a feeling of almost total point-and-shoot invulnerability and a happy, gambolling character. It’s just massive amounts of fun.