"Based in the rolling hills of Somerset, the Ariel Motor Company is the sort of family-run business that we all wish we worked for. Small and friendly yet internationally-known, the modern iteration of the firm has been built up since 1999 "
Ariel Nomad: Brilliantly bonkers
We head to the wilds of Exmoor in a car that’s designed to thrill both on and off-road
Is there a madder car out there than the Ariel Nomad?
Part supercar, part beach buggy; it’s the ultimate on and off-road toy that you never knew you needed. Except someone clearly felt that the bonkers quotient wasn’t quite high enough on the original Nomad, so Ariel came up with this: a supercharged version that gains another 70-odd horsepower. Crikey.
By 2018 standards, a grand total of 300 bhp and 300 Nm of torque might not sound especially outrageous, but in a car that’s less than half the weight of a Civic Type R it results in Ferrari-baiting levels of performance. According to Ariel, the road-spec Nomad will crack nought to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. Top speed is pretty irrelevant in a car like this, but it’s more than ample at 136 mph.
To find out what that translates to in the real world, we set off from Ariel’s Somerset HQ and head north towards the hills of Exmoor. What strikes you initially is that the pint-sized Nomad is, in fact, deceptively wide. The first few miles are accompanied by the percussive thunk of the big Yokohama Geolandar tyres running over catseyes.
Squeeze the accelerator a little bit harder and another noise enters the equation; a high pitched shriek from the supercharger that sounds like a cross between buzz saw and a dive bomber. Lift off to change gear and it gives way to the most fantastically naughty-sounding parp from the twin exhaust pipes. Get back on the gas and the whole blitzkrieg begins again. It’s all wonderfully unhinged.
Just north of Taunton we peel off the drudgery of the A358 and onto one of the Westcountry’s hidden gems. The B3224 starts off scything its way through cider orchards, before emerging onto a patchwork quilt of rolling hills. If Carlsberg made B-roads this is what they would look like, dipping and weaving with the contours, yet still providing decent sightlines and a reasonable number of overtaking opportunities.
Here, the Nomad is in its element. It doesn’t have quite the same razor-sharp turn-in as the Atom. In fact there’s something slightly unsettling about the initial response, as its comparatively tall tread blocks and relatively long-travel suspension take their time to compress. But once it’s loaded up, the unassisted steering delivers a constant stream of unfiltered feedback and the chassis comes alive.
It’s fast, too. On the road you don’t really sense much let up in the acceleration at all through the first four gears. The six-speed Honda gearbox shifts with a sweetness that you can not only feel but hear, producing an audible clack as the each new ratio engages. So beautifully precise is its action – and so finely honed is the pedal setup – that heel and toeing becomes second nature, even with the corners closing in fast.
Past Simonsbath the road bursts up onto the open moorland, with uninterrupted views stretching right out to the Bristol Channel. The fast sweeping bends are a test of self-restraint as much as anything else, but there are also some deceptively tight sections. In particular, the final blast down towards Lynton has a sequence of hairpins that provides a stern test of the big Alcon four-pot brakes.
Thanks to the Nomad’s rear-engined layout you can get on the power ridiculously early and slingshot out of these quicker than just about anything else on the road. At the same time, you can start to sense the rear end taking up a little bit of attitude. Find yourself a track – or better still a field to play in – and it will go the full Ken Block. But what’s more impressive, in a way, is that you can begin to tap into that adjustability without requiring masses of run-off area or god-like driving abilities.
In fact, despite its mammoth power-to-weight ratio, a total lack of driver aids and the potentially tricky rear-engined layout, the Nomad always seems to be on your side. You wouldn’t exactly call it soothing, though. Even at low speeds it’s a pretty frenetic experience with the road close enough to reach out and touch through the bare chassis tubes and a constant barrage of sounds and sensations. It’s the perfect antidote to the big, heavy and overly-sanitised cars that rule our roads today.
Proof, it seems, that madder really is better.
Ariel Nomad specs
Base price: £33,996 (naturally aspirated version)
Base price of the supercharged car (including supercharger kit, heavy duty clutch and uprated oil cooler): £41,640
0 to 60 mph: 3.2 seconds
Top speed: 136 mph
Power: 300 bhp
Torque: 300 Nm
Kerb weight: 680 kg
Ground clearance: 300 mm
Approach angle: 71 deg
Departure angle: 82 deg
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