2018 Ariel Atom 3
The Ariel Atom 3 is a unique, open-cabin track car that has pioneered a niche market for those seeking race car-like performance on a much more reasonable budget.
The Atom 3 is not a federalized model suitable for road driving in the United States, so it's quite a pricey "track toy." However, it's a real bargain compared to building and operating a race car.
While the Atom is built by Ariel itself for European consumption, in the U.S. the British company has tried a few different partners, and most recently has given exclusive rights to build and sell the track car through a company called TMI AutoTech Inc., based at the Virginia International Raceway, where the cars themselves are assembled.
One of the most unique design aspects of the Atom 3 is the tubular chassis which not only supports the car, but replaces nearly the entire body that would be used on any other vehicle. This exposes virtually every component to the elements, from the front brakes to the engine, but also drops the car's curb weight to just half a ton - making it far faster and more nimble than most supercars.
Factory standard colors include silver or black powder coating for the chassis with fiberglass bodywork and fenders in black, but carbon fiber bodywork, fenders and custom colors can be added via option.
Stock wheels feature 12 spokes, but especially lightweight magnesium Dynamag wheels can be had for extra dough. The Atom comes with Yokohama S-Drive tires, Wilwood four-piston sport calipers, and JRi dampers with progressive springs.
Power for the Atom 3 comes from a Honda-sourced 2.4-liter four-cylinder unit that pairs with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential. The four-cylinder produces 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque.
While that power figure may not wow you by itself, the Atom 3 weighs a scant 1,350 pounds and can rocket from zero to sixty mph in under 3.3 seconds, according to Ariel.
In addition to a more extreme-looking body kit, the Atom 3S receives an upgraded version of the turbocharged 2.4-liter tuned to deliver 365 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The zero-to-60-mph sprint takes just 2.8 seconds, while getting to 100 mph takes 6.7 seconds.
To cope with the extra power, the 1,450-pound 3S features a performance clutch, a five-level traction control system, two-piece coil springs, four-piston calipers made by Alcon, and Toyota R888R tires.
For track enthusiasts, things like a quick-disconnect steering wheel (standard on the 3S), battery master switch, carbon fiber wing kit, intercom system, remote brake bias adjuster, roll bars and more can be added through the options list.
Other optional features include a full glass windscreen, clutch/passenger footrest, high intensity rain light, side panels and a towing eye kit.
The Atom 3's closest competitor is the similarly minimalistic and track-focused KTM X-Bow. The Lotus Evora carries around more weight but shares a pure, driver-focused character with the Ariel. And, as a bonus, it's fully street-legal. Decisions, decisions.