This is the Ariel Atom Mugen. With a little help from Northamptonshire-based Mugen Euro (the European arm of Mugen, Honda’s favoured tuning partner) ten of these £50k Atoms are being built to celebrate the skeletal track car's tenth birthday.
There's more power from the Mugen-tuned engine (a tweaked Type R engine in the Atom produces 245bhp; the Mugen Atom has 270bhp), adjustable suspension and an LCD dash from the Atom V8, plus unique wheels and paint. Our test car also sported the big wing and spoiler kit from the 500bhp V8 Atom. Read on for our first drive review of the new Ariel Atom Mugen.
So what’s the Ariel Atom Mugen like to drive?
I last drove an Atom three years ago. In the wet. At Anglesey race circuit. And it was the screaming, shrieking and frankly terrifying supercharged 300. It’s still the scariest car I’ve ever driven.
The Mugen, in comparison, is a doddle to drive. You need at least 6000rpm to really access the power, so below those revs everything is (a little) more relaxed. It’ll still outpace anything this side of a supercar, but it won’t scare you stupid like the torquey 300.
The Mugen thrives on revs, it lives to be nailed to over 8000rpm. Shift up early and you’ll drop below the VTEC zone and it grumble and sound unhappy just like an E46 M3 CSL does when it’s not being nailed to the limit in each gear. Ignore the green and amber shift lights, wait for red LEDs to blink, then shift and you’ll be in the power sweet spot. (Though perhaps the supercharged engine might suit the Atom better as it means you needn’t nail it to the redline quite so much.)
Just put an earplug in your left lug. There’s a real pressure change around the air intake near 4500rpm, and it really does try and suck your eardrum out. The sensation might be exacerbated by my lanky height, but it's actually painful, and you will initially duck away from the air box over your left shoulder.
Pedal positioning is spot on, the steering (though a lovely Alcantara wheel) is a feelsome delight, grip levels are high but the Atom can still be playful if you’re brave, and (as with all Atoms) you still need to think a little bit more about the gearchange than you’d like. You can’t smash through the ‘box like you would in a Caterham; instead a more delicate touch is needed, and when acceleration is so manic that’s not the distraction that you need.
Silly question, but how practical is the Mugen-spec Atom?
Compared to a normal car? Not very. Compared to something similar like a Caterham? Well the Seven has a boot, and a roof, and doors, and can be had with a heater. The Atom? There’s a little cubbyhole in the nose (barely big enough for the overnight cover). And nothing else.
In the past we’ve tried Atoms with the optional windscreen, but you still need to wear a helmet as it only serves to funnel air into your eyes – and it ruins that glorious uninterrupted view out over the front wheels. Doors? Nope, just the chassis’ scaffolding through which you can stick your arms, and through which water, dirt, wind and everything else can enter the cabin. Best to always wrap up warm.
Inside it’s remarkably spacious: unlike a Seven it doesn’t feel like you’re driving in a straight jacket, and you don’t need to open the door to apply some corrective lock. You need an Allen key to adjust the one-piece dual-bucket plastic seats, and they could offer a little more lower back support, but there’s room to actually work at the wheel or stretch your legs.
There’s no leather or any other fabric to get wet, and you can happily stand on the plastics seats when climbing in (there’s a hole through which stones and other debris can fall, rather than collecting in the buckets). And there’s a certain simplistic joy to be had from parking up, leaving the Atom in gear (there’s no handbrake) pulling the wheel off (it’s your only real security measure), climbing out and walking away. No blipping a key fob or opening a door, just get out and simply leave it.
Ten years on there's still nothing like the Atom. This Mugen-spec car is a fitting celebration, and very good indeed, but buy the 300 or £150k Atom V8 if you want the ultimate Ariel Atom experience.