The Ariel Atom 4 is now a mainstay of the niche British sports car roster, and one of the most formidable driver's cars on sale today. When the 4 was launched in 2019, it promptly won back-to-back Autocar Britain's Best Driver's Car titles.
The very first Atom, though, arrived just in time for the millennium, with 190bhp from a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre Rover engine. Launched in 2003, the Atom 2 that followed had as much as 300bhp courtesy of a new supercharged Honda unit, and that was a recipe Ariel stuck with for the Atom 3 of 2007.
But the next chapter in the Atom story dispensed with the pleasantries: the winged Atom V8 of 2010 packed 500bhp from a 3.0-litre unit that started life as two Suzuki motorcycle engines. It was a bonkers, 25-off machine we described as being “brilliant to its core” despite the £150,000 asking price (barely enough to cover its costs) and it demonstrated that the employees at Crewkerne could build a genuine world-beater.
Ariel returned to relative normality with the introduction of the Ariel Atom 3.5, which in 2013 reprised the 2.0-litre Honda unit in the Atom 3, only this time with up to 315bhp to go with the slimline new headlights and an even stiffer chassis. Naturally, it was subtly but noticeably better to drive than the previous Atom, and Ariel’s waiting list duly grew - particularly as it added the Nomad and Ace motorcycle to its range. That'll be supplemented by the Hipercar too.
But back to the latest Atom, the 320bhp Atom 4, and its even harder-performing derivative, the 400bhp Atom 4R, launched in autumn 2023. As is standard for Ariel, you should expect brilliance from both.
The Atom 4 line-up at a glance
There are two 4s: the regular car, and the faster, more focused 4R. Back in 2004, Ariel toyed with a cheaper Atom, the 160, a ‘feeder’ version of the Atom 2, with engine power pegged at 160bhp – but it didn’t last long. You shouldn't expect a reprisal of a slower budget alternative. Customers wanted the quicker ones: a supercharged engine came as a factory option early on and a precedent for the shape of the range was later set by the 3R, with an even more track-focused set-up and more power than the regular Atom 3. That's a path followed today by the 4R, launched in autumn 2023, which raises the 4's power output from 320bhp to 400bhp.