It’s essentially a novelty toy, but the first reviews of the Nomad rank it with the all time greats in terms of driving experience.

I’m not big on off roaders in general, and performance SUVs in particular, but there is something about the Nomad that intrigues. The simplicity of 2WD, manny tranny and no bodywork is part of the reason, but the low, low kerb weight of 670kg (1477 lb) is what’s really key. That allows things like unassisted steering and a massive power to weight ratio: 343 bhp per tonne.

Together with the mid mounted engine that low weight allows some very interesting, and possibly unique handling characteristics:

On road the Nomad’s ride is far more soothing and relaxed than that of the regular Atom because the suspension is that much softer. But it still feels very much like an Atom on the move. The steering still responds with the same sweet immediacy, the brakes still have the same delicious bite through the pedal, and the driving experience feels every bit as intense.

(Steven Sutcliffe, AutoExpress (!))

{What’s it like to drive?} Deeply impressive. It’s the deftness with which those springs and dampers are set up that makes the Nomad so spectacular. That make it – whisper it – a more appealing road car even than an Atom. More appealing than most driver’s cars, up to the level of, say, a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. I’m not joking.

Advertisement

and

This softness means there are notable body movements, of the sort that most carmakers try to banish with stiffer springs and even stiffer tyre sidewalls. Ariel embraces them but controls them: accelerate, brake or corner hard and the Nomad will pitch and yaw, but always with perfect composure, to the extent that it feels like the movements are happening in slo-mo.

(Matt Prior, Autocar)

Advertisement

That suggests to me that Ariel is leading a turbo charged revival of the other way of doing Fun Cars. The recent, one true way of making a car fun is to equip it with as much horsepower as it can handle, and then give it a suspension that is as stiff and grippy as possible. Body movements are controlled with an iron fist. Think AMG or VW.

The other, more French way has been to take an engine of a given, usually modest output, and then give it a chassis that breathes, with long travel suspension that works with crap roads and signals the car’s intent to the driver progressively. Think hot Peugeots and Renaults- or a Venturi Mega Track.

The Nomad seems to go back to that more balletic, Latin way of making a Fun Car, but amplified exponentially: way lighter, much more power, even more suspension travel, but still with that delicate, wide band balance of forces in the way it goes down the road.

Advertisement

To me, the Ariel Atom poses the question what a sports car should be: a race car for the road, or a rally car for the road? Most sports cars so far are track refugees, and MX5s and Porsches demonstrate how much fun that can be. But most roads, and certainly the most fun roads, are more like rally stages than race tracks. Maybe we need more Nomad-like machines.

Now if only I could test my hypothesis. How about it, Ariel?

(image credits: Ariel. The configurator is up. Have at it.)