Ah, Zenos. In the A to Z of the British sports car cottage industry, we definitely know where to find this one.
Alphabetically, yes. But barely a few years into its existence, this little start-up is doing just fine, and after five or 10 minutes behind the wheel it’s easy to see why.
Well, for want of a better description, the Zenos E10
is what the Caterham Seven would have morphed into if it hadn’t been kept in a state of – admittedly highly amusing – suspended animation.
Given that ex-Caterham (and Lotus) figures Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards set Zenos up, this isn’t a total surprise. The E10’s chassis uses a single aluminium extrusion and has a tub made of recycled carbon fibre – it’s supplied by a company near Peterborough called Bright Lite Structures – with a thermoplastic core.
The result is something with a sufficiently eye-catching USP to allow Zenos to take its place alongside the likes of Ariel, BAC, Caterham, Ginetta, Lotus and Radical. Alphabetically or otherwise. It’s even properly pretty, especially from behind.
Is there really room for another adrenalised Brit tiddler?
There is if it’s as good as this. The E10 R is the raciest Zenos, powered by Ford’s 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine, turbocharged to produce a nicely matching 350bhp and 350lb ft in a car with a dry weight of 700kg.
Do the sums and you’ll uncover a power-to-weight of 500bhp-per-tonne. Other R mods include stiffer spring rates (by 10 per cent up front, 20 per cent at the rear), new brake pads and brake master cylinder, with the promise of improved brake feel, a reworked engine map, and carbon composite seats with a four-point harness.
The entry-level, 200bhp E10 is £26,995, the supercar-bothering R starts at £39,995, or £43,995 for the early adopters Drive Edition we tested. That bundles in adjustable Bilstein dampers, special graphite ‘charged’ body panels and a detachable steering wheel, amongst other things.
And unless your idea of fun is skydiving out of a Eurofighter Typhoon over a shark-infested portion of the Pacific, prepare to be thoroughly entertained.
Is it all pure speed and madness?
That’s the weird thing: no. Yes, it’s hilariously, almost comically rapid, a sensation that’s neck-snappingly intensified by the absence of a windscreen.
But the E10 R is surprisingly rounded. Full disclosure: this is the first Zenos I’ve actually driven. It’s also the first time I’ve visited Blyton Park, a new(ish) purpose-built track near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire (well worth the schlep, by the way). Although there’s plenty of run-off, I don’t fancy a faceful of rapeseed or a chat with the local farmer, so the first few laps are mildly exploratory.
If nothing else, at modest speeds you can at least appreciate the E10 R’s excellent driving position, well-spaced pedals, and twin pod instrument layout. You just plug yourself in, and play. As much as I love the Caterham, its ergonomics pre-date the term ‘ergonomics’, and the Zenos has a generally less daunting mien than the Radical. There’s no wi-fi hotspot, though.
But isn’t a certain amount of intimidation part of the deal with a car like this?
Get the turbo spooling and the E10 R grabs your attention in a way that really
grabs your attention, if you see what I mean. The turbo chumpfs and whooshes away behind your head somewhere, and if you’re wearing a helmet (and you will be), the violence of the acceleration is enough to pin the top bit of your body firmly into the seat.
There’s a bit of lag, but round this track – where third and fourth gear are all you need – the R has easily enough torque to keep things very much on the boil. It’s wearing super-sticky Avon ZZR rubber, and with the exploratory stuff dispensed with, it’s clear that this fabulous little car has more grip on a dry track than you know what to do with.
It’ll slide if you absolutely hoof it out of a second gear hairpin, but otherwise you have to lift a bit and bung it in to get the rear rotating. Even if provoked, the chassis set-up is remarkably benign, and confirms the guys’ decision not to fit a limited slip diff. It simply doesn’t need one.
Unless you go rummaging under the bodywork (which detaches easily in the event of track day barrier interfacing), you won’t find any rough edges here. This is an exceptionally polished bit of kit.
Is it sharp enough, though?
In the main, yes, although it could probably be sharper still. The steering is sublime, but the gearbox could be a bit sweeter shifting, the throttle response a touch livelier. In fact, after staring at the Zenos for a bit I decide that it’s closer in spirit to an ultra-hardcore Mazda MX-5 Clubsport than a red-hot, rip-yer-face off Ariel or Caterham rival.
There’s a layer of unexpected civility to it, for all that the E10 R eschews any form of traction control or ABS (it doesn’t even have a servo on its brakes). On the road, this pays dividends. On the track, well, the car’s set-up is endlessly adjustable, and Zenos has a brilliantly customer-focused approach, so fill your boots.
Sounds like these guys might actually have located a genuine sweet spot.
They have. And there’s more to come, too.
Zenos E10 R
: 2,261cc, 4-cyl turbocharged, 350bhp @ 6,000rpm, 350lb ft @ 4,000rpm
: 6-speed manual, rear-drive
: 700kg (dry)
: 3.0sec (estimated)
: £39,995 (£43,995 for the Drive Edition with following as standard – adjustable Bilstein dampers; quick-release steering wheel, carbon fibre seats and six-point harnesses, short-shift gearlever, carbon leather interior, uprated brake master cylinder, Charged Graphite body panels and decals)