Previously spidery like those leggy arachnids you find in the bath, there’s now a tarantula-esque muscularity to it (with deference to southern hemisphere readers, who might, I suppose, find those in the bath).
It’s a mite longer than before, although still only 3520mm, but no wider, fortunately, because at 1880mm, it’s quite wide for a lightweight car. The wheelbase is up slightly, to 2390mm, with 1600mm and 1615mm tracks front and rear. And the increased size means it’s a bit less lightweight than an Atom 3.5. At 595kg, it’s around 20kg heavier than the old car, which seems a bit of a shame, but still some way from heavy.
The hardware is all upgraded, though. The engine is now the turbocharged 2.0-litre one from the latest Honda Civic Type R, replacing the old naturally aspirated Civic unit; engines that Ariel kept stashed away after the Civic stopped using them. Ariel used to throw on a supercharger, making their respective weights and power outputs about the same, but there is now, officially, no need for any further forced induction than it already has: the new engine makes 320bhp at 6500rpm and 310lb ft from 3000rpm. That’s at 1.3 bar of boost pressure, although modes two and one on an adjustable dial take it down to 290bhp (0.6 bar) and 220bhp (0.3 bar) respectively. (Less extension of the throttle pedal achieves something similar.)
It drives the rear wheels through a limited-slip differential and six-speed manual gearbox. There are double wishbones with inboard coil-overs (our test car wearing the middle option of two upgrades), and new aluminium uprights. Three wheel options (standard, forged and carbonfibre, like these ones) are all the same size and all wear Avon ZZ tyres (ZZS as standard; grippier but less wet-happy ZZR optionally) of 195/50 R16 at the front, which is not a lot wider than before, and 255/40 R17 at the rear, which is.
Performance claims are pretty extraordinary: 0-60mph in 2.8sec, 0-100mph in 6.8sec and a top speed (aerodynamics are improved, but this still isn’t a streamliner, as your head will tell you at pace) of 162mph. There are various reasons we don’t run our annual 0-100-0mph festival any more and the fact that the Atom used to clean up every single flipping year is one of them. So just when others might have been getting close, it would have moved the yardstick again.
How does the Atom 4 perform on the road?
Inside or, well, still outside, but sitting in it, you’ll notice similar themes, but done better.
The brake and clutch pedal, along with the fuel cap, are the only carry-over parts from the Atom 3.5. The seats are still waterproof plastic items, adjustable via Allen key, but now separated left and right. That makes space for a handbrake on the central tunnel, from where the H-pattern gearlever emerges as ever, so the biggest notable change is a new dashboard, from a new supplier.
The visual layout might change before Atom 4 deliveries start in the spring – from under £40,000 but with the easy potential to increase it (obvs) – but it’s much easier to read and navigate than before and, significantly, says Ariel, much easier to add cameras to and download data from.
The engine fires to a fizzy idle, although with less vibration through the seat back than in older Atoms, and that improved refinement is the first, and most noticeable, thing about driving the Atom 4. I’ve often been hesitant about a move from naturally aspirated engines to turbos, especially in light cars, but there’s little doubt it makes for easier mooching. The lazier throttle response makes for less jerky progress, and the torque of this new engine is such that, as long as you’re rolling, you can forget first gear.