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£29,995 when new
If you’re keen to throw hot-hatch money at something altogether shorter on practicality, and even a roof, you’ve never been lacking choice. A Caterham Seven provides heritage. An Ariel Atom promises a good dose of thrills. And if you want carpets and a stereo optional, the Lotus Elise hasn’t made its 20th birthday without good reason. But now there’s another way, and it’s a curious cocktail of those three, with a sprinkling of KTM X-Bow for good measure. Meet the Zenos E10, driven here in its sprightlier, turbocharged S form. There’s the roofless, mid-engine layout of the Atom – the men behind it have years of experience at both Caterham and Lotus – and its construction centres around a carbon composite tub, not dissimilar to that X-Bow. It differs by sitting atop an aluminium spine, which houses the engine in its rear extrusion. It’s all designed to mix lightness with strength, and with a driver and fluids, the E10 S weighs around 850kg. Tasked with propelling that lot is the 247bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine from the Focus ST, driving the rear wheels through a regular, three-pedal manual ’box, also from Ford – the company’s six-speeder. And, just like the ST, value is a real Zenos forte, too. The £29,995 that buys the 247bhp E10 S can’t even snare you a 134bhp entry Elise, while the range starts at £24,995 for a 200bhp, naturally aspirated E10. An option the vast majority of Zenos’s 100 or so customers thus far have overlooked in favour of its quicker sibling, we must add. With roughly 600 fewer kilos to shift than the already pretty rapid Focus, it should be no surprise to learn the E10 S is quick. Punch through the gears, and you’ll quickly build up a real lick of speed. But being turbocharged – unusual in a speciality sports car market known for its N/A and supercharged output – it doesn’t ask for big throttle inputs or furious revving to unleash the bulk of its power. The engine does seem rather boosty in its delivery at times, a feeling exacerbated by all the whooshes and hisses you hear, thanks to the thin barrier between the engine and your ears. And you’ll need to exert care if you’re keen to avoid upsetting the rear axle with too much torque upon corner exit on an inevitably cold and grimy British road. Equally, the E10 S encourages you to explore its balance. Feeling a world away from an Atom or a Seven with equivalent power, it’s a friendly and approachable car, despite its complete lack of electric nannies. And, when the road is dry, grip is abundant. For a punchy mid-engined car, the E10 S feels very cocooning, and allows you to build up your confidence levels – and therefore your pace – very swiftly. Your mettle will have strengthened the moment after you’ve awkwardly clambered over its side sills (no doors, see) and shuffled down into its bucket seat, though. The steering wheel is suede-wrapped and sits in front of a simple, legible screen displaying speed and revs. You sit low enough not to feel exposed to the elements – particularly if you’ve optioned the £1,695 windscreen – but the driving position is not intimidatingly buried or horizontal. There’s even a rest for your clutch foot. The non-assisted steering is almost perfectly weighted and dripping in feel, and while the double-wishbone suspension can brutally telegraph low-speed ruts, it flows very nicely indeed over bumpy, twisting A- and B-roads. The E10 is designed as a road car first and foremost, and its do-all standard suspension stands up to scrutiny. A wealthy options list includes all manner of things, including track-biased steering and suspension set-ups and a limited-slip differential. While most customers have eschewed complication and gone for ’screen-equipped, road-orientated cars, it seems important to assess the E10’s track-day prowess given the rivals in its sights. On Britain’s second-best-known airfield circuit, Bruntingthorpe, it feels strong, majoring on stability, with confidence levels even higher than on the road once sufficient warmth is in the tyres. The frivolity of a Caterham, which dances around corners without much provocation, is missing. But then the Zenos appears proud to be something else: a car with track talents and cornering speeds that doesn’t require oodles of skill, bravery or silliness to extract them. As a first product, the E10 betrays the sports car know-how that Zenos has poured into it and the experienced hands it has on deck. It doesn’t make us giggle quite like some of its better established rivals, but the flipside is it’s not immediately lairy and scary. And with Ford’s EcoBoost engine at its core, you can always call Mountune, should you feel you’ve mastered the E10 S a little too quickly. What’s also pleasing are the foundations it lays down. More habitable models (with actual doors!) will follow, an E11 convertible and E12 coupe due by 2018. Zenos may be a new name in the British sports-car industry, but our hunch is that it will be sticking around for some time yet.