New Atom V8 is brilliant to its core. One of the fastest, most memorable cars ever

What is it?

It’s the fastest road car I’ve ever driven. Come to think of it, it’s pretty much the fastest-accelerating production car anybody’s ever driven.

It’s the Ariel Atom V8 which, in place of a Honda-sourced VTEC engine at its back gets, as its name suggests, a V8 motor; of 3.0-litres. The engine started life a few years ago in the States with Suzuki bike internals but has been developed to the extent that it now wears Ariel branding.

It develops, oh you know, just the 475bhp in road trim, as tested here (500bhp in racing form). Even this trim has a good 175bhp more than the supercharged Atom – which I already thought was about as fast as you’d want one of these cars to go.

The Atom V8’s kerbweight is 550kg, so all done it makes 864bhp per tonne. For the record, an F3 car has about half that; a typical superbike will make over 700; a GP2 car will sneak over 900.

And a Bugatti Veyron? Previously the fastest-accelerating road car I’d driven, it has a mere 525 or so.

You’ll notice some serious aerodynamic addenda on the Atom V8, and carbon sidepods, one which houses the oil cooler, the other the air reservoir for the pneumatic gearshift. Yep, a pneumatically operated gearbox as you’d usually find on a Super 2000 rally car; it’s said to push upshifts through, clutchless, in somewhere between 20 and 50 milliseconds.

So the Atom is going to be terrifying, right? Not according to the blokes at Ariel, who say they’ve made it perfectly driveable. We’ll see.

What’s it like?

Absurd, of course; but, quite seriously, the V8 is as tame and docile as Ariel claims – should you want it to be.

It idles a touch lumpily, but throttle response is manageable. The low speed ride was also a touch grumbly on our test version but the engine pulls cleanly at all revs. You do this for a while – at least, I did – because you want to get used to it; you want to feel comfortable before you unleash the full 800-plus bhp per tonne.

You need the clutch to pull away but, thereafter, so long as you’ve got around 10 per cent of throttle applied, you can leave the left pedal alone and pull through a super-fast, super-smooth upshift via the diddy, carbonfibre paddles behind the gearlever.

And when you do give the Atom V8 the beans? Really, there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s a cliché to say a car is ‘superbike fast’ – even for very quick road cars like a Murciélago or the Atom 300. Bikes weigh so little they’ll also have an acceleration advantage. Except here; the Atom is a car that will show even a proper bike its tailpipes, not just in braking or cornering, but in straight-line acceleration, too.

Ariel hopes the Atom V8 will reach 0-60mph in comfortably under 2.5sec and 100mph in 5.4; and I believe it. First gear runs to over 60mph and upshifts are just stupendously fast – there’s no noticeable let-up in torque to the wheels; you’d swear it was a twin-clutch gearbox if you didn’t know better. The noise (it has a flat-plane crank) is electrifying, too. Gearing has recently been changed to make the top speed 170mph, at which point the V8 will run on its limiter.

Back to top

I drove the Atom V8 on Millbrook’s hill course, which is a superb closed circuit and pretty representative of a British B-road.

We haven’t had the chance to throw the Atom V8 down a very long straight yet, but we will. By gum, we will.

Even around the hill route, though, the Atom puts down a whole new set of parameters of what I thought a road car could do. You can only use full throttle for the odd burst – a few seconds here, half a second there, but it flings itself out of corners at a pace I didn’t think was imaginable.

Traction is very strong. At the moment it’s set up to understeer until the front tyres are warmed through – and on a skippy road surface, stopping frequently for pictures and video, the fronts never get truly hot. The rears do, because with every run to 10,500rpm (where it makes peak power) they’re converting 475bhp into forward motion.

Suspension geometry is largely unchanged from the Atom 300 (though you’ll note aerofoil-section wishbones). Springs and dampers are multi-stage and multi-way adjustable; firmer here than on the 300. Ariel says the 300 is a road car that’s good on a track. The V8 is a track-biased car that’s pretty handy on the road.

Around the hill route, then, it’s agile, nimble, with lovely unassisted steering and a limit that’s governed predominantly by the front end and the fact that the suspension is a little firm for bumpier Tarmac. On an extended run on a track you could warm through the front tyres and exploit the adjustability.

As it is now, you run to where the front grip runs out, then get back on the power to straighten the line; and get blown away, yet again, by the performance.

The good thing, though – the really great thing – is that after a few minutes the performance of the Atom V8 starts to become approachable.

To say you get used to it isn’t quite right – every burst of full-throttle acceleration is an absolute sensory buzz – but you learn to appreciate that it’s there. You just think yourself 500m down the road; as soon as one corner is done, you’re on to the next one. The intimidation disappears. It’s not nearly as scary as you might think it’s going to be.

Back to top

Should I buy one?

Yes. Yes, absolutely by crikey yes. There will only be 25 of them, 21 as I write are sold and, yes, I know, £150,000 is a lot of money for a car with no windows, but there might never be anything else quite like the Atom V8. And Ariels do hold their value very well.

Ariel wanted to bring this car to market at £100,000, but that it has ended up 50 per cent more expensive is not because it’s being greedy. The finish is exquisite; and the cost of development and the parts must be frightening. The gearbox alone (without the shift mechanism) costs the best part of £15,000.

But the real reason those remaining four deserve to be snapped up immediately is not because they’re rare or beautifully finished. It’s because the driving experience is utterly, utterly addictive. As I write, I gave the keys back just three hours ago, but I’d walk the length of the country for another drive of one.

I was worried the V8 would be an Ariel too far – too fast, to firebreathing, too monstrous and borderline un-driveable. Whisper it, but Ariel thought it might be too; a car just to keep the lunatics satisfied. But it isn’t; the Ariel blokes don’t know how to make a bad car. The V8 is brilliant to its core.

As soon as the opportunity arises, we’ll put the Atom V8 through a full Autocar road test. Expect fireworks.

Ariel Atom V8

Price: £150,000; Top speed; 170mph; 0-60mph: 2.3sec (est); 0-100mph: 5.4sec (est); Kerb weight: 550kg; Engine: V8, 3000cc, petrol; Power: 475bhp at 10,600 rpm; Torque: 268lb ft at 7750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd sequential manual


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
greeny 14 September 2010

Re: Ariel Atom V8

Maxycat wrote:
The ability of tyres to grip the road for cornering or braking is not determined by the size of tyres,contact patch, but the friction coefficient between the tyre material and road material within certain limits of load. Having wider tyres does not increase grip as the weight per unit of area is then decreased.

Agree with most of this statement apart from the last paragraph. Wider tyres make no difference to the size of the contact patch. so the weight per unit of area is not decreased, its the same. Let me explain. If for example you had a car weighing 1000lb with even weight distribution then each tyre would have to support 250lb. If you put 25lb of pressure in said tyre it would have a contact patch of 10 square inches. If you then put a wider tyre on with the same pressure then the contact patch area stays exactly the same but it changes shape, becoming wider laterally but thinner longitudinally. The advantage therefore of wider tyres is that because there is less flex in the tyre to achieve the same area of contact patch less heat is generated so a softer compound can be used. This is the true reason wider tyres have more grip.

Stotty 14 September 2010

Re: Ariel Atom V8

I'm sure I read a short piece in a car magazine recently which quoted from a bike magazine article in which a Veyron was up against a BMW sports bike (the article said the BMW was regarded as the best all round sports bike).

IIRC, the points made were...

The 2 were pretty much neck and neck to 100mph

Above 130mph the Veyron just disappeared

The Veyron was much better under brakes, carried more speed mid corner and was able to deploy more of it's power exiting the corner.

Obviously a bit of a price difference though!

5w30 14 September 2010

Re: Ariel Atom V8

Veyron SS will hit the ton in 4.6 while listening to Zepplin...