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Zenos E10 prototype (2015) review

Published:31 October 2014

The Zenos E10 is priced below £25k, although you'll need to pay extra for a windscreen - or a crash helmet
  • At a glance
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By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

It’s about time someone updated the affordable track day car formula: meet the Zenos E10 – a brand new two-seater, mid-engined sports car that uses clever engineering solutions to deliver big fun at a modest price.

How modest? Try £24,995. For 200bhp, 0-62mph in about 4.5sec and an innovative chassis constructed from extruded aluminium and recycled carbonfibre. Okay, so there are no doors and don’t expect full weather protection, but if you’re looking for a modern alternative to the ethos of the original Lotus Elise, the journey starts here.

Another track day car company? What makes Zenos different?

Zenos was founded by Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards, both names fans of Lotus and – especially – Caterham might recognise. The pair were instrumental in the sale of Caterham to Tony Fernandes and then subsequently taking Caterham into F1, something they each recount as a proudest moment (Caterham F1’s later separation from Caterham cars and current financial difficulties notwithstanding).

The decision to branch out independently as Zenos came when Fernandes’ vision of the future of Caterham began to diverge too greatly from their own. Caterham’s failure to exploit the gap left by Lotus’s attempt to move upmarket explains the thinking behind the Zenos E10 – and its pricing. For unusually, Ali and Edwards began with what they thought the car should cost, and only then started figuring out how to build something exciting within budget.

How has Zenos made the E10 so affordable?

To do this, they concentrated on spending money on bespoke engineering where it really matters, and relying on off-the-shelf parts for everything else. The E10 is powered by a Ford 2.0-litre engine, has Ford hubs, Ford driveshafts, Ford bearings, and so on – all items that have undergone hundreds of thousands of hours of full OEM durability testing ahead of being fitted onto much heavier cars (the Zenos weighs just 700kg).

The chassis, however, is completely bespoke. A central ‘spine’ of extruded aluminium runs the length of the car, to which a carbonfibre tub and all of the suspension components are then bolted. The suspension is custom engineered double wishbones all-round with in-board dampers at the front; the carbonfibre tub is actually made in five separate pieces, lowering build and – crucially –repair costs, with each section formed from recycled fibres. A tubular side-impact protection system adds further strength.

The exterior design only came after the engineering was finished, so form genuinely follows function here. The differing colours denote the panel separation, so if you biff a corner you aren’t going to be out for the cost of a whole replacement shell. There are no doors because ‘doors are difficult’ – which is to say expensive. The buyers the E10 is targeting won’t care; later Zenos E11 and E12 models planned for 2016 and 2018 will offer this added convenience as they look to broaden the brand’s core appeal.

Enough already – what’s the Zenos E10 like to drive?

In another cunning twist on the way low volume cars usually work, Zenos started with the driving position and worked outwards. This means once you step inside and slide down into the unpadded – but surprisingly comfortable – plastic bucket seat, you’ll find the steering wheel and pedals perfectly aligned in a straight line in front of you. No contortionism required.

The seating position is low, and with the high-sided tub and currently exposed supporting structures (these will be covered by panels – perhaps unnecessarily – in production) you feel tucked right into the heart of the machine. We found this more reassuring than claustrophobic, especially with a five-point race harness holding you in place, as the cockpit is generously wide, avoiding the sardine tin feeling you get from the more archaic layout of a Caterham.

The gear lever is a hand span from the steering wheel, mounted high on the central spine; we occasionally had trouble convincing ourselves we’d correctly selected second – and sometimes we hadn’t – but this aside every cog-swap is like a synapse reaction. With helmet on and wind rushing (a proper windscreen will be optional), the mechanical animal in the engine bay behind you is muted but fierce, whooping towards a rev limiter that comes in with a hard chop if you’re not paying attention, the exhaust popping and banging along the way.

So is it fun or serious?

In the wide-open space of the Coltishall proving ground (née RAF base), acceleration feels brisk if not explosive – the 250bhp E10 S turbo will step in here; out on the road, performance is thrilling but measured. Even with a brake pedal so firm at first it feels like you’re pushing a brick that’s still attached to the bottom of a wall. On track, this stopping power – courtesy of Alcon racing front brakes and Ford rears – is everything you want and more.

The chassis settings are still being finalised, but two things are already clear: the suspension is compliant and the handling friendly – right up to and over the limit. The thought-provoking heft of non-power assisted steering and good sense instils the impression of mild low-speed understeer, but Zenos is aiming for a neutral setup and isn’t far away; certainly, correction by right foot isn’t an issue. A shallow learning curve and immensely well-communicated progression towards the edge of adhesion saw us go from cautious to carefree in very short order. Oversteer ahoy.

Of course, this swiftly led to a bit of a spin – through no fault of the car, we hasten to add. But if you aren’t going to push the traction envelope (whatever that is) on an airfield, when are you? Point is the E10 appreciates precision, yet isn’t afraid to let its hair down when occasion allows – and it’s happy to hold your hand whilst doing so.

Verdict

By putting the business model first, Zenos believes it has already overcome the major hurdle threatening most low volume carmakers: how to make enough money to keep going. This is great news, because the E10 is a refreshingly intelligent take on the affordable track car – very approachable yet decidedly capable, combining the exoticism of high-tech lightweight materials and proven engineering components in a cost-conscious fashion.

With a more powerful turbocharged E10 S variant also in the works and two further models (E11 and E12) already funded, this looks very much like the start of a new British sports car success story. And on the evidence of the E10, it ought to be.

Specs

Price when new: £24,995
On sale in the UK: January 2015
Engine: 1999cc four-cylinder petrol, 200bhp @ 7200rpm, 155lb ft @ 6100rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual (six-speed manual optional), rear-wheel drive
Performance: 4.5sec 0-62mph, 135mph, both TBC
Weight / material: 700 / carbonfibre and aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3800/1870/1130

Photo Gallery

  • Zenos E10's innovative structure combines an extruded aluminium backbone chassis with a carbon tub, made using recycled fibres
  • Suspension is double wishbones all round with in-board dampers at the front
  • There aren't doors because doors are expensive and complicated to engineer and manufacture - that may change with future Zenos models however
  • Zenos started with the driving position first when determining the E10's layout
  • Power comes from a 2.0-litre Ford unit

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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