First Drive: Elemental RP1 Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Subscribe to Top Gear magazine
Sign up to our Top Gear Magazine
Saturday 23rd September


  • BHP


  • 0-62


  • Max Speed


What on earth?!

The Elemental RP1, the brainchild of a handful of ex-McLaren employees. Think more extreme Zenos E10 S or maybe two-seat BAC Mono. Or Ariel Atom. Or Caterham. You get the idea. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

What’s it powered by?

This one contains Ford’s 2.0-litre Ecoboost that the Elemental boys thought developed about 280bhp. Only when popped on a dyno a couple of days back, it churned out well over 300bhp at the wheels. It weighs about 620kg. Production versions should be about 40kg lighter.

Is this a prototype then?

It is. Elemental hope to have the production car on sale early next year, and besides the 2.0 turbo, it’ll also be available with the 1.0-litre three cylinder Ecoboost unit, which will develop 180bhp and 236 lb ft of torque, rather than the 320bhp and 332lb ft of this one. I think I’d be happier in the lesser-powered one. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

What! Why?

Because this one is bananas fast. The turn of speed is absolutely unreal, and is available in pretty much any gear at any time. There’s the merest hint of delay while the turbo whistle builds, and then you’re off, away, clinging on, wearing a look of alarm and praying it’ll stop soon. This is clearly good fun, but it’s also rather unnerving. Personally I prefer engines that you have to work with a bit, that save a bit of the special stuff for the very top end, but this one blows like a good ‘un anywhere north of 2500rpm. 

The claimed figures are 2.8secs to 60mph and 6.4 to the ton. Yep, that fast. Even the 1.0 is expected to turn in times of 3.2secs and 7.8. See why I said I’d be happy with that?

How does it hold itself together?

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

Unsurprisingly - given at least half the squad used to work in F1 – carbon fibre plays a major part. The RP1 has a central carbon and aluminium tub, with the four cylinder, longitudinally-mounted engine and Hewland six-speed sequential gearbox as semi-stressed members helping to support and reinforce the rear subframe as much as it does them. Suspension is by in-board push-rods, and, rather neatly, you can adjust the camber by adding or removing shims if you unbolt each wheel. Good for track days.

Yes, this is very much a track-only car, isn’t it?

Elemental say not. They point to the two separate 100-litre luggage bins - one ahead of each rear wheel (where the McLaren F1 had them, only these are not quite so elegantly accessed) - the footwell heater and generous 46-litre fuel tank, as evidence it can be used for trips to Le Mans and the like. They’re currently debating whether to include a cup holder, of all things. Despite that, I’m not sure I agree with them. The RP1 still has no roof, no doors, and you’ll need to wear a helmet to avoid potential mishaps with road debris, given there’s no windscreen either.  

Any USPs?

As it happens, yes. It has a raised feet driving position, y’know, like an F1 car. This is more comfortable than it sounds – as are the unpadded carbon seats (Elemental’s own design). It feels different when you get in it, the position of your feet emphasizing how low you sit in the car. Lifting the driver’s feet up was necessary because it enabled technical director John Begley and his team to use the space under your calves to generate front end downforce. Another USP. And yep, front diffuser tunnels are something the Elemental has in common with Nissan’s mad LMP1 Le Mans car. Can’t think of anything else that has them.


Emphatically not. Above 60mph it feels like Nellie the invisible elephant has parked her behind on the bonnet. The RP1 has the most planted and positive front end of any lightweight car I’ve ever driven. You feel the steering weight up, so you turn in a bit harder, and then just keep turning, marvelling at the wonderful sense of security, weight, accuracy and feedback. And grip. Masses and masses of grip. 

Unfortunately, the rear downforce isn’t fully sorted yet, and when you team that with the hilariously impactful power delivery, it does feel as if the back end could become… lively. Put it this way, understeer is never going to be an issue, but oversteer might well be. 

Is it intimidating then? 

Slightly, yes. But then so’s a supercharged Ariel Atom, or a Caterham R620. It’s good to have a bit of fear. Having said that, on the whole the car is very easy to drive. You only need the clutch when you come to a stop and pull away, apart from that the sequential gearbox would rather sort the shifts out itself. They’re pretty much instantaneous, popping home with ‘ssch-tik’ of pneumatics. There’s practically zilch corruption or kickback through the steering and the basic chassis balance is well sorted – the weight distribution is 46:54. 

Is it different enough from its rivals?

I think so, yes. It does feel, with the seating position and front downforce, that it’s trying to do things differently. It certainly feels different to drive than any other lightweight I’ve driven, and different is good. It feels like the lightweight car market is picking up post-recession, with the likes of Zenos, BAC and Elemental arriving to join Ariel, Caterham, Ginetta, Radical and Lotus. 

Speaking of Lotus, it’s going to be very interesting to see how the RP1 fares against the newly-announced 450bhp, 900kg 3-Eleven – they feel like natural rivals, have very similar power to weight ratios (500bhp per ton for the Lotus plays 550 for the Elemental) and a similar ethos behind them.

How much will it cost?

How much do you think it will cost? Go on, guess now before you read any further. 

Done that? Good. When I first saw it, I thought about £50,000 – top end Atom and Caterham money. The launch price is actually £75,750. Steep, but then I learned about the carbon tub and sequential gearbox and clever underbody aero (it looks really cool when you stick your head underneath), and drove it and had no cause to doubt the claimed performance figures and then £75k seemed more acceptable. Provided, of course, that Elemental gets the fit and finish up to scratch. And by scratch I mean BAC Mono standards. They’ve got a few styling tweaks to make, some ergonomic touches to sort and a lot of quality issues to deal with. However, I don’t doubt the production versions, with full carbon bodywork, will look properly purposeful. And drive that way, too. 


2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 320bhp, 335lb ft, 0-60mph in 2.8secs, 0-100mph in 6.4secs, 165mph, 580kg

compare car finance
Powered byZuto Logo

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5