Ariel Nomad 2016 review

The Ariel Nomad is like nothing else out there, and we've been for a spin

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

The Nomad, like the Atom before it, is a work of rare genius, no question about that. In many ways it’s even better to drive than it is to look at, managing to be softer and more liveable with, but still with the razor sharp responses that the Atom is famous for. Ultimately it’s a toy, but if you have the space to use it properly, it’s like nothing else out there.

Seeing the Ariel Nomad in the flesh for the first time is extraordinary, and it's impossible not to crack a smile. The brilliantly garish orange and black paintwork sits so well with the chunky pipework structure and you just think; I bet that thing's hilarious to drive.

And of course, you'd be right. On-road the Nomad is an absolute scream, thanks to its beefed-up suspension and chunky wheels but off-road, where it's been designed to go in the first place is even better still.

The name Nomad is a loose term referring to tribes who refuse to settle in one location. Instead they like to roam the world, travelling anywhere, at any time, and over pretty much any kind of terrain. So it’s the perfect name tag for the go-everywhere version of the now 19-year-old Ariel Atom.

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Car group tests

The key watchword for the Nomad is fun. This is not a car that many of us could claim to be desperately in need of, after all, but it is surely one that most of us would want to try at some stage during our lives.

In base form it costs £33,000 and comes fitted with a 2.4-litre, four cylinder Honda engine that produces 235bhp at 7200rpm and 300Nm at 4300rpm. That’s good enough to send the 670kg Nomad to 60mph in a scant 3.4sec, claims Ariel, and to 100mph in just 8.7sec. Top speed is a suitably realistic 125mph.

Power reaches the road via a six-speed manual gearbox, as per the regular Atom. But elsewhere the drivetrain has been strengthened, the springs and dampers heavily uprated, the body panels made more flexible, all in the name of increased dynamic versatility, be that on the road, the track or, better still, when buried deep in a forest.

The view forwards is much like that of the standard Atom, but in this case it feels even more military and, thanks to the optional new windscreen fitted to the test car, much more panoramic too. The roll cage dominates the front three quarter view but the clarity of vision, not just forwards but to the sides, is far better than in the regular Atom thanks to that screen.

So what’s it like to drive, the Nomad? In a word, naughty. When the Honda engine catches at the press of a button, and the throttle response goes wap-wap, the last thing you feel like doing is clicking on the indicator to turn left out on to the public road. Where’s the nearest rally stage, you immediately wonder.

On road the Nomad’s ride is far more soothing and relaxed than that of the regular Atom because the suspension is that much softer. As standard, wheels are just 15 inches with chunky tyres but our car wore the optional (and deeply sexy) 18-inch rubber. The best part of the Nomad, though, is that it still feels very much like an Atom on the move. The steering still responds with the same sweet immediacy, the brakes still have the same delicious bite through the pedal, and the driving experience feels every bit as intense.

So it’s the same but different, in other words - harder edged visually but also friendlier and more approachable than the Atom on which it’s based. Which is why the order books are already full to bursting, and why the Nomad is yet another example of why Ariel continues to be one of the smartest small British sports car companies trading right now.

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