Friday, September 25, 2015


The Ariel Atom 3S is the latest, most comfortable, almost civilized version of the revolutionary original Atom that took the enthusiast car world by storm almost 20 years ago. It maintains the same basic exoskeleton chassis of the original, with the same rear engine location and rear wheel-drive, giving it the same slight rear weight bias owners and testers have always loved. But it gets improvements everywhere else. The engine is now a turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter i-VTEC four from the Civic Si, making 365 hp and 310 lb ft of torque in this application. TMI AutoTech, which builds the car for the U.S. market, designed an intercooled turbo system for the four-banger. The cooling radiators in the side pods distinguish the 3S from earlier Atoms. The changes give the open-cage screamer the power-to-weight ratio of a supercar. 

The company lists a 0-60 time of “less than 2.8 seconds,” a figure TMI says is "an estimate." We didn’t get a chance to test 0-60, either, but we’d say it’s quick. Even if it’s only three seconds to 60, or closer to four, subjectively speaking the 3S still has acceleration about that of a bottle rocket.

The balance of the car is biased to the rear about 57 percent. That’s because the Civic Si engine that sits mostly forward of the front axle in a Honda now sits mostly forward of the rear axle in the Atom 3S. It’s like that Consulier thing that had a 2.2-liter turbo four engine swap. It’s a very simple and solid way to make a sporty kit car and we wish more small, fringe-element sports car makers would try it. No drivetrain re-engineering required, just move the whole powertrain, transmission, LSD, half shafts and all, from the front axle back to the rear axle. Voila – mid-engine supercar!

TMI Autotec is located about 500 feet from the Oak Tree Turn at Virginia International Raceway. There they do everything from bending the frames into place to installing the engines and track-testing the setups. 

If you find the perfect road or, more likely, the perfect track, you’ll find that the Ariel Atom 3S is the perfect long as you understand that it’s a race car at heart. On a couple of drives in Northern California we never really found the perfect location to match this car.

If you don’t find the perfect road, track or slot car setup, you might find the Atom 3S to be “challengingly uncomfortable.” Our first drive of the 3S on Highway 1 south of Carmel, for instance, was way too harsh a surface for this car. Bumps and holes whack and bang right into the chassis and the whole thing bucks and wallops like a washing machine filled with floor mats. Plus the wastegate and intake are right next to your ears, whooshing and squealing like little porcine breathing apparatii every time you get on and off the throttle.

But once you manage to find an empty, flat road with a curve or two in it you find that the car is, indeed, perfectly balanced. You can make it over- or understeer by mere judicious application or release of the throttle. It’s like a really, really powerful go kart with seating for two. Yes, it’ll wear you out after even a short drive, but maybe you could stand a little wearing out now and then. No one but the hardiest racer is going to commute to work in one of these. It’s made for weekend flings, either alone – which ups the power-to-weight – or with a passenger who will no doubt beg to be allowed behind the wheel (or beg to be let out at the nearest bus stop). In that regard it helps you sort out who your passengers should be.

When we mentioned the harsh ride on Hwy. 1 to the Atom guys they agreed to let us drive it on a better road. They offered Hwy 198 between the 101 and Interstate 5. This is a road we sometimes take when we have something interesting to drive to or from Monterey but have to make good time, too. Here the 3S is far more civilized than you would expect and far more comfortable than previous Ariel Atoms we have driven. Compared to, say, the BAC Mono that we drove a couple months ago it is downright plush. While the Mono engine was bolted straight to the frame and vibrated our poor esophagus and all internal organs and tooth fillings until we wanted to get out and cough for about a week, the Ariel Atom 3S transfers car-like levels of engine vibe into the cockpit, at least in comparison. Likewise the suspension is far more civilized than a Mono or a go kart or a typical club race car while offering similar levels of handling. It’s not soft by any means, but neither should you expect vintage Formula-Whatever levels of abuse.

 On the other hand, Hwy. 198 might not have been the ideal venue for this auto, either. It's a quicker street than Hwy. 1, with completely open, quicker bends. We took the entire thing totally in 6th apparatus, downshifting to fifth just at times. Not to gripe, once more, but rather there most likely is a superior street out there for this Atom 3S, something with second-, third-and fourth-rigging bends. That is one thing about the Atom, it should be coordinated with a particular street or track to be delighted in to its fullest. 

In any case the 3S did well. The main issues we experienced on Hwy 198 were in spots where the street was beginning to slip off the edge and there were uneven asphalt undulations. Whanging over these surprise the body enough that we needed to amend the directing to continue going straight. Milder spring settings may have improved it on this stretch, yet as it was the auto took care of everything really well. We had it for around 60 miles, from the parking area of the King City Taco Bell to the parking area of the Coalinga Burger King (landmarks, both). 

At first the auto appeared to be chugging under increasing speed in lower riggings, yet the Atomites said it was only the footing control catch, which had been wound around by the force link on a Passport radar finder. Once the footing control had been set back to zero mediation and the link set away, that issue was no more. 

"We're still in R&D on that," said a specialist on the footing control. 

The greatest jump in affability for the 3S model, on the other hand, is the windshield. Despite the fact that it would seem that it'll cut your head tidy up given the open door, not just did it not cut any heads off amid our drive, it made the entire commute much more tasteful. The windshield, alongside those coordinating wind monitors on the sides screwed into the enormous tubular casing, made this Atom significantly more like a genuine auto than any Atom has ever been. It's not a Camry XLE with gold pack and control sensors, however it's a considerable measure more agreeable than Atoms have ever been.

“We have one guy who uses his as a daily driver,” an Atom salesman boasted.

That is one tough customer.

Do you have a long, contorting private garage like Lord March, or your own particular private race track? Provided that this is true, yes, get one. Alternately get something like it. There are bunches of those motorsports clubs springing up everywhere throughout the nation - for those, an Atom 3S would be great. You may even have the reputation. On the off chance that you don't have such a setup yet have a kidney belt and are comprised of generally incline, USDA Prime Grade A flank steak, then perhaps you can deal with one on genuine streets. It's an informed decision on your part. The Atom dependable make the most of their autos more than anything. Simply don't anticipate that it will be a 911 or Ferrari regarding day by day reasonableness. 

(One last note: There's the topic of vehicle enlistment for open streets. In fact it's a pack auto so you need to get one of those 500 or something like that unit auto exclusions they offer in California. Different states have different means, Ariel lets us know. Try not to stress, they say.)

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