BEFORE I start this review, I want to apologise if my writing seems a bit wobbly.
You see, my brain is in Somerset, somewhere on the A30 between Crewkerne and Chard.
I remember when I last had it — it was just before the turbo engaged in third gear in the new Ariel Atom 4.
I heard the hiss of petrol flood the flame somewhere in the engine block behind me, then everything went blurry.
By the time I arrived at the next junction, I realised my brain was two miles down the road in the opposite direction.
Even if I had managed to hook it out of the hedgerow, there is nothing I could write which does justice to the sensation of full acceleration in the Atom.
Charles Dickens couldn’t. Neither could 1,000 monkeys with 1,000 typewriters.
As an avid motorbiker I was of the opinion nothing with four wheels could deliver the same level of thrills and excitement as a superbike ridden in anger. I stand corrected.
As the name suggests, this is the fourth generation of the Atom — a car which has remained niche in popularity yet highly respected since its arrival in 1999.
The respect has always come from the unapologetically outrageous levels of speed it achieves, which at the same time keeps it in the bracket of “weekend toy” rather than full-time motor.
The fact it doesn’t have a roof, radio or heating system probably plays a part too.
But then nor does a motorbike, and anyone who wants to experience the exhilaration of being on a bike, yet have the safety net of four wheels and a protective metal cage, the Atom is for you.
This new generation is the biggest-ever overhaul the Atom has recieved.
It is so extensive that more or less the only parts to carry over from the old one are the petrol cap and steering wheel. Fans need not worry though — the DNA is the same.
In simple terms, what you have is 600kg of tube chassis, wheels, suspension system and seats, with the high-revving 320bhp, 2.0-litre turbo engine found in the Honda Civic Type R bolted on.
For context, the Type R weighs 1,420kg. Yep, good power-to-weight ratio.
On cold tyres the Atom fishtails all the way through fourth gear. Low to the ground in a racing stance, the driver more or less sits on top of the engine, which adds to the thrills.
I quickly learned to listen for the hiss of the turbo and squeal of the waste gate to prepare myself for warp speed, which, by the way, is 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds.
An ominous-looking switch tempers the amount of boost on tap. At level one, the Atom is still a head-blender under a heavy foot, but it’s level three which achieves temporary brain damage.
ARIEL ATOM 4
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol
0-60mph: 2.8 seconds
Top speed: 162mph
Length: 3.5 metres
To say I love this car would be an understatement, but not just because it tickles the inner teenager in me. I love the ethos of Atom.
I don’t have space here to cover its rich and proud history — I suggest you look it up if you even have the slightest interest in British automotive engineering — but if you’re one of the 100 or so people a year who buy an Atom 4 you’ll be invited to the company’s Somerset plant, where chances are you’ll be greeted by Tom, the son of founder Simon Saunders.
You’ll meet engineers, get a tour of the workshop and have the chance to soil yourself on the A30 test route.
If you do, keep an eye out for my brain would you?
Honda jazzes up old favourite
IF the Honda HR-V were a coat, it would be an anorak.
Not a funky French puffer jacket like the Citroen C3 Aircross or a sharp Zara peacoat like the Seat Arona, but a functional, no-frills Craghopper cagoule.
After all, the HR-V is based on the Honda Jazz, which we all know is standard issue with a pension and bus pass, but builds upon those foundations with a raised ride height and ample room for a family.
Like the Jazz, there’s a clever set of “Magic Seats” in the back, which fold up to make a huge amount of room for garden waste or an antique chest, for example.
But that’s really where the magic ends, because the infotainment system feels a bit dated and it’s fiddly to use, while the dash is fairly muted. But it’s all incredibly well bolted together and feels more premium than rivals.
Customers get a choice of a 1.5-litre petrol or a 1.6-litre diesel, with either a six-speed manual or a CVT auto gearbox with petrol models, but this is noisy if you’ve got a heavy right foot.
The petrol with the manual ’box is the one to go for in my opinion, especially if you spend a lot of time buzzing around town, as the silky-smooth gear change and refined but revvy engine make it a joy.
Plump for diesel if you’ve got lots of longer motorway journeys, as it returns a claimed 70.6mpg on the combined cycle.
The original Honda HR-V of the late Nineties was ground-breaking in so much that a small, futuristically styled SUV was a rare sight on the roads.
But today, with almost every car firm offering some sort of faux-by-four, it doesn’t feel quite as special.
That’s not to say it isn’t good, because it is very good. Just good in a functional, anorak kind of way.
HONDA HR-V EX 1.5 i-VTEC manual
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Top speed: 119mph
Your driving’s in a right (US) State
IT IS in us Brits to dislike the Americans – they instinctively offend us with their brash ways and questionable president.
But new data now shows we think the Yanks are the worst drivers, too.
Just over a third of motorists polled by online community DriveTribe said Americans are the world’s lowest behind the wheel, with those from China and India coming second and third.
When DriveTribe founder James May was asked who he thought was worst, he said: “It’s the Channel Islanders. Bloody lunatics.”
It’s fair to say we have our share of bad drivers, but we do go through far more stringent tests here – so the data is probably fair.
Reader’s car of the week
HERE’S a beautiful motor, sent in by Trevor Jones, who is from Sheffield.
Trevor says: “This is my 1949 Triumph Roadster, which is my pride and joy.
“I purchased the car two years ago and it gets so much attention – notably for the dicky seats in the boot, which is the nickname for rumble seats. I hope you like it.”
To see your beloved motor on these pages just send a picture and brief description to email@example.com.
Naughty but Nitro
IN motorcycling terms, Travis Pastrana is a God among men. One of the founding fathers of freestyle MX (motocross), he has won gold medals at the X Games on two and four wheels – more often than not upside down in one of many, many backflips.
You may have seen the video of him drinking a can of Red Bull then leaping from an aeroplane without a parachute. That’s the kind of person Travis is.
Nitro Circus is Travis’ very own roadshow – Travis and his team of riders travel the world building insane ramps then doing even more insane things off them, on motorbikes, Penny Farthings, sofas and pretty much anything else with wheels on.
It’s family fun and it’s coming to the UK this month. Travis and his team, including multiple world champions from the worlds of BMX, skateboarding and MX, guarantee more fireworks than any bonfire-night celebration.
Originally aired as a telly show, on MTV, and produced by Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame, Nitro Circus is Cirque du Soleil minus the leotards and with added body armour.
Its You Got This tour will take in Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and London, from November 20 to 24.
There’s still time to buy your tickets at nitrocircus.com.
Travis Pastrana is Evel Knievel digitally remastered – don’t miss the chance to see him and his merry band of lunatics doing what they do best.
A right hard case
HERE’S a tidy piece of kit for bikers. An outfit with the catchy name of Ultimate Addons has come up with a range of tough-as-nails mobile phone cases which will bolt on to just about any motorbike.
It means you can now run a satnav system such as Waze while on the road, or take calls if you have a Bluetooth headset for your lid.
The cases will fit any iPhone or Android device, and even allow you to charge your phone from your bike’s 12v socket.
Needless to say, they’re completely waterproof and fasten securely.
They don’t break the bank, either, at £30 to £40. See ultimateaddons.com.