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Ariel Atom 300

Can lightweight thriller deliver on its promise?

Savage acceleration – that’s the only thing the track-ready Ariel Atom has in common with the monstrous Mercedes ML63 AMG.

With its exposed skeletal chassis and visible mechanicals, the British-built car is designed for speed, handling and thrills – and nothing else.

The latest Atom 3 model comes with the engine from the current Honda Civic Type R slotted behind the driver, and a supercharger provides a high-octane sting in the tail. The result is a power output of 300bhp and 219Nm of torque.

That doesn’t sound like much next to the mighty Merc, but the Ariel weighs only 550kg. As it has less mass to drive forward, it claims an incredible 2.7-second 0-62mph time – even a Formula One racer takes around 2.5 seconds! Unfortunately, the dampness of our test track meant applying anything near to full throttle in any gear up to fourth caused lots of wheelspin. As soon as the screech of the supercharger heralds the arrival of full power, you need to be ready to correct a tail slide.

This intensity makes the Atom amazingly engaging: the combination of the ferocious acceleration, the intoxicating sound of the engine and the wind howling past your body means it assaults your senses. As speeds increased on our test track, the tiny glass windscreen was all the weather protection we got.

Such is the staggering rate of forward motion that the gearchange lights on the rev counter seem to blink constantly. We soon learned that in damp conditions it’s quicker to launch the Ariel in second gear, as first led to futile wheelspin. Even then, it snakes off the line, and accelerating cleanly requires a delicate touch. Get it right, and the Atom fires you into the distance at a staggering rate. What’s more, the speedo touched 160mph before the end of the two-mile runway at our test track…

The challenging conditions meant we could only record a rather disappointing 4.1-second 0-60mph time. Don’t doubt the Ariel’s pace, though, as it managed 30-70mph in 3.2 seconds, while 50-70mph in fifth took an astonishing 2.6 seconds. Such is the brutality of its performance, we found ourselves holding our breath until the figures were recorded!

Corners reveal the Ariel’s delicate chassis balance, communicative brakes and precise steering. This is as close to a competition machine as you can legally get in a road car.

It obviously takes some skill to master and you need to treat this track-ready racer with respect. But few vehicles with four wheels can match the Atom for thrills.

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