||Last Updated: Aug 16th, 2006 - 11:01:00
By: Mark Sanew - Editor: Jaroslaw Szymanski
are few vehicles left in the United States that are about pure unhampered
driving excitement. Most people would debate on what qualifies as a sports
car in the sub 50k category. Additionally, responses would vary greatly
depending on what region the driver lives in.
question is: What makes a sports car? It’s difficult to answer subjective
questions, but easy to generalize. The most common combination us Americans
are concerned about is power and looks. If we go down the line we could
discuss status, interior decor, creature comforts, cargo space, and transmission
minor detail has slipped past the average enthusiast since the new power
craze has resurfaced. As horsepower goes up to new levels, so has vehicle
weight. In fact, we took curb weights of 24 sports cars surveyed in the
sub 50k range. The list was compiled from several automotive forums, where
we had enthusiasts post what they thought were the best sports cars for
under 50k. (See the side bar.)
our surprise the average weight of these 24 vehicles was a hefty 3167
lbs or 1436 kg.
Recently we have found ourselves categorizing cars below 3000 lbs or less,
light. Even the Mini is not so mini anymore. After reviewing the list
of possible sports cars, there is a large spread, we had everything from
powerful front wheel drive turbo charged cars down to a light mid-engine
rear-wheel drive model. It is quite amazing what the consumer can get
for their money with these vehicles.
Many of these cars would be track worthy right from the factory, and easily
driven on the street. We talked to many gear heads about which models
would be best suited for those weekend track trips. The consensus is that
enthusiasts preferred the Lotus Elise, Chevrolet Corvette, and the Honda
are great cars, and each have their own following, however how would they
match up to a competitor like the Ariel Atom 2, soon to be produced in
the US. We set out to find the answer to this question by visiting Brammo
Motorsports in Ashland, Oregon set in the heart of Rogue Valley.
Ariel Atom was conceived by Simon Saunders and is now in its second generation.
The UK models are powered by Honda derived K20 power plants, the crown
jewel being a 300HP Supercharged K20A-R Spec model hailed by the chaps
from the foreign press.
The Atom has been made infamous here is the US, mainly from the series
of UK based Top Gear videos showing Mr. Clarkson nearly blowing his face
off driving the 300HP variation.
in learning more about the Ariel Atom in the USA?
Ariel Atom 220 1300 lbs
2. Lotus Elise 1975 lbs
3. Mazda MX-5 2498 lbs
4. Mini Cooper S 2679 lbs
5. Acura RSX S 2769 lbs
6. Honda S2000 2835 lbs
7. Porsche Boxster 2855 lbs
8. Dodge SRT-4 2900 lbs
9. Saturn Ion Redline 2933 lbs
10. Chevy Cobalt SS 2991 lbs
11. Mazda RX-8 3029 lbs
12. BMW Z4 3042 lbs
13. Chevy C6 Corvette 3179 lbs
14. Merc SLK 3231 lbs
15. Mitsubishi EVO 3263 lbs
16. Subaru WRX STI 3298 lbs
17. VW R32 3409 lbs
18. BMW M3 3415 lbs
19. Mustang GT 3425 lbs
20. Nissan 350Z 3445 lbs
21. Audi TT Quattro 3.2 3683 lbs
22. Pontiac GTO 3725 lbs
23. Volvo V70R 3757 lbs
24. Audi S4 3825 lbs
25. Caddilac CTS V 3850 lbs
Total 76,011 lbs (excluding the Atom)
Average weight 3167 lbs
demand has been slowly mounting for this car to be produced here. Ariel
UK took the necessary steps to ensure that the manufacturing of the car
in the US was in the right hands. After looking at many companies to do
the work, they decided to go with Oregon based Brammo Motorsports. According
to the owner Craig Bramscher, it was mainly due to the design of their
own Super Car, fittingly named the “Brammo Rogue GT,” soon
to be available in the States.
months of preparation we were ready to make our journey from Chicago to
Ashland, Oregon. We set a few goals prior to the adventure, the most important
of which was to meet the crew at Brammo Motorsports and to get the Atom
on the streets. Equally important to us was to find out if this car was
going to be suitable for the American market.
arrived at Medford Rogue Valley International Airport on a Sunday. The
skies were a brilliant blue, while the warmth of the sun was never overwhelming.
The mountains and valleys were never out of sight, we immediately felt
connected to the landscape. This was quite a change from the drab suburban
flatlands we came from. Our loaner car was a 2005 Ford Focus ZX5 hatchback,
which was perfect for our camera equipment helmets and other luggage.
We spent the day exploring Ashland, talking with the locals, and planning
our drive routes with the Atom. We were drawn to Dead Indian Memorial
Road, a wonderful scenic path through the valley. The roads were twisty,
uncluttered, and were in overall great condition. We later decided to
map out and drive a portion of the scenic route HWY 199. This road takes
the driver through a part of the Redwood National Forest, and to the coast
into Northern California. We figured this would have been perfect for
we traveled back to our hotel, we discussed what we could expect the next
day. Getting up the next morning was no problem, since we gained two hours
from the time change. We arrived at 9am, and were greeted by one of the
Brammo staff. We awaited Craig’s arrival and admired the scenery.
The shop is actually located in the Ashland Science Works Museum, so it
did not have the stuffy feel to it as most shops do.
The inside of the shop has an open feel and is extremely well lit. It
felt more like a high- tech science lab than a fabrication area.
finished up a few tasks and was eager to meet with us. He showed us around
the shop, giving us a detailed explanation of the equipment they use and
how they design and manufacture their parts. From the CAD driven pipe
bending equipment to the specialty jigs, everything was there to make
sure the parts were meticulously produced to perfection. This was highly
evident in the frame and suspension pieces we saw on the Super Car and
The current shop will not be large enough to begin production on all the
orders they will be taking. In preparation for the increased demands,
they have purchased a new building a few miles away, to make sure they
are filling orders and meeting customer’s demands.
the CAD driven pipe bending equipment to the specialty jigs, everything
was there to make sure the parts were meticulously produced to perfection."
we looked over the UK-produced Atom, which is what all our testing is
based on, we discussed some of the changes to be made for US production.
The most major topic up in the air is engine choices. According to Brammo,
securing the Honda JDM K20A-R Spec motors seems bleak due to supply issues,
and that if any motor from Honda will be supplied it will be the up and
coming K variant of the 2006 Honda Civic Si domestically made. As of 9/5/2005 it looks like Honda will be supplying the K20z3 DOHC i-vtec motor, which should make at least 210HP or up to 230HP in stock form with a supercharged version as well.
Equally important is that General Motors has been very helpful in supplying
variants of the ECOTEC line up. The US made Atom will likely carry several
versions, including a supercharged version of the 2.4L engine powering
the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. There will be other options in the
works as well. Aside from engines there were many minor changes to be
made. One notable difference will be the wheel hub, to accommodate a more
American friendly bolt pattern of 4x100 which is common on Mazda and Honda
fittings. What this means is a better wheel selection and possibly more
brake options. Another major change was the possibility of making the
seat more easily adjustable. As it stands the Atom seat is a single assembly,
the driver’s and passenger’s seat is one piece. The adjustment
is done with an Allen wrench. The owner simply unscrews the Allen bolts,
moves the seat in the desired position, and replaces the bolts. This may
not sound difficult, however when switching drivers, spending 7 minutes
adjusting the seat, and running the risk of cross-threading the holes
can be daunting.
may be other changes, however, those may just come with time. Most manufacturers
find ways to make engineering improvements as production increases. Hopefully,
some of these will be fueled by customer feedback. After we met with Craig,
his associate Tom Smurzynski came out to prep the car for us. Tom’s
attention to detail did not go unnoticed. While we discussed our route,
he checked the tire pressure, fluids, and made sure the car was clean.
Tom took the Ariel on the Players Run, a high performance driving tour
in the US, similar to Cannon Ball, so he knows the car better than most
anyone in the States.
the car was prepped he explained how the immobilizer key fob worked.
Simply flip a switch, wave the wand to activate the fuel pump, and hit
the start button.
The only hitch was that this car had a registration problem from the previous
owner so we had to keep it local. As we found, on our research drive in
the Focus, that the mountain roads in Ashland were picturesque and more
than accommodating for an aggressive drive and photo opportunities.
the Atom’s fuel capacity read in liters, our American minds, not
used to the conversion, were baffled when it was time to fill up. We immediately
journeyed to fuel up the machine. In Oregon, state law prohibits motorists
from pumping their own fuel. Needless to say, taking the Atom anywhere
turns into a bit of a show. The attendant and owner of the local Mobil
were eager to fill up the car, and equally eager with their questions.
Meanwhile, we (the Atom) attracted a few locals equipped with cameras
to get some photographic evidence of the scene. They also asked questions
and were more excited to find out that the car they were so curious about
would be produced in their hometown.
beauty of a small company like Brammo is that most everyone there
has a passion for cars, which makes the operation shine."
sense of excitement over the car, and genuine good nature of the people
of Ashland, left one of the best impressions we have had of any town.
continued on our drive towards Dead Indian Memorial Road. Mr. Sanew was
the first to drive the car, and he noted immediately: “Driving the
Atom was almost exactly like driving a go-cart.” The car has no
power steering. With its quick steering and 1.5 turn lock to lock even
the slightest movement of the wheel had it changing course. Missing are
the 20 or so different rubber bushings, evident in standard cars, that
numb steering feel, so the driver is completely connected to the road.
The suspension on this vehicle had threaded body Bilstein adjustable shocks
with Eibach coil springs, in addition to helper coils.
purpose of helper springs is to create a more comfortable ride for normal
driving. They provide initial load bearing before passing off the duty
to the main single rate springs which are extremely stiff. This package
is exceptional, for anyone who wants the best of both worlds with no sacrifice
in ride quality, both on and off the track. Not to be misleading, the
car is still extremely stiff and bumpy. Most of our friends from atomclub.com,
the definitive Atom owners’ site, agree with us that first gear
starts or using first gear at all in this car is counterproductive. There
is so much torque available, in any gear, that starting in first is actually
slower if you want to accelerate hard, and believe us, the car beckons
that. We would have to agree second gear starts in the Atom were like
first gears starts in average sports cars.
around normally in high gears was exceptional. There was no need to ever
downshift, unless the driver wanted to pitch the rear end sideways a bit.
The Atom’s engine simply wound up in any gear as if we were driving
decided to wear helmets, not because we had to, but because the idea of
getting cracked in the head or face with a rock was not an aspect of the
car we wanted to explore. For those not used to riding motorcycles, with
a helmet on, the wind gently blows through the air vents, making it feel
like someone installed a hard top and rolled down the windows. The engine
drone through the intake behind the seat was fairly loud, and could get
annoying after a few hours of driving at cruising speeds. The instrument
cluster was simple, and with the road pack you get turn signals, horn,
rear tails, and headlamps.
control for the turn signal was like toggling a circuit breaker on and
off, and with no auto-off, it’s likely the average motorist who
will be driving with them on during the day.
The horn button is exactly the same geometry and texture as the start
button, get hasty and an unfamilar driver will grind the starter. There
are some obvious ergonomic issues with the console and interior for daily
driving, however these all melt away when it’s time to really drive.
decided to wear helmets, not because we had to, but because the
idea of getting cracked in the head or face with a rock was not
an aspect of the car we wanted to explore."
we arrived back from our ride in the valley, we spoke with Tom about our
driving impressions. The car was cleaned up and prepared for our last
round of photos. We mentioned to Tom that the car was incredible when
driven aggressively, but going even 7/10ths in the car on the street gets
extremely nerve racking. We wondered how it would behave on the track,
more importantly in a medium speed autocross setting.
eyes lit up, he told us that he might be able to help us with that. He
did not make any promises however. He invited us to the Jackson County
Sports Park the next day, home of the regional go-cart clubs and the Siskiyou
Sports Car Club. We were incredibly grateful and said our goodbyes. That
evening we took a further tour of Oregon on the scenic drive to the coast,
past the Red Woods and down to California. It was a long drive, but again
we were amazed by the beauty of the mountainous landscape. The trees were
so large that we felt like Lilliputians among an army of Gullivers. We
later stopped for some food and admired the ocean. As amazing as it all
was, we wanted to get back at a reasonable hour. We had yet another long
day ahead of us.
the crack of dawn we rose, made our equipment ready, and checked out of
our lodgings. We met at Brammo Motorsports and followed Tom as he drove
the Atom. We took a quick detour for breakfast, during which we learned
some of his history as a fabricator and business owner, and also how his
family factored into his happiness. His wife and daughter share his motorsports
passion. His zeal for driving started with carts, and his daughter has
gone down the same road. As luck, or rather, as skill has it, she is extremely
followed Tom to the track where his daughter Mallory met us. He took us
for a few sprints in the car to show us the track, and then took Mallory
for a ride while we set up our equipment to film and capture the vehicle
in motion. After a few laps of testing the limits we were ready for some
hot laps. Despite having a host of driving schools, track days, and countless
auto crosses under our belts, nothing prepared us for driving this car
starters, like any high performance machine, you need to be 100% ahead
of the car. Fall behind for mili-second and you will lose it at higher
speeds. Throttle lift when it gets edgy and the driver best hold in the
clutch because the Atom is going to go sideways. If the pilot carries
too much speed in a sweeper, the car will snap around before you can count
to three. Push it into a turn too hard and the car will understeer. Throttle
out too hard and you will power oversteer. The car exhibited every handling
dynamic, but was always neutral when staying ahead of it. Although the
equipped Bridgestone S03 is an incredible tire it is showing its age for
this type of driving. Tom’s daughter Mallory commented on how the
car could be pushed much further with a set of stickier tires, namely
in the sweeper. We hope that Brammo will take into consideration the newer
powerhouse street tires, such as the Falken 615 and the Hankook RS2, when
building wheel/tire packages.
car was near perfect, although we felt the brakes were too soft. That
would be an easy fix, considering the bias can be adjusted front and rear.
The race pads, calipers, and rotors did not offer enough initial bite,
and even after heating them up, we found that we were braking much earlier
than we wanted. Without ABS on these cars, braking is also more of an
art. If the driver is sloppy with threshold braking, going straight off
the course from a lockup will be common. Mark
Sanew One LAP in the Atom Video 5MB
but not least, we will cover the car’s durability and fuel economy.
Between the four drivers, we pitched the car off the course, spun it,
flung it, put it sideways, and it never missed a beat, not once. The only
item that did not survive was our car mounted camera, perhaps the g-forces
were enough to put it to sleep. For a car built to race, even going off-road
was not a problem for the Atom, driving it right back on the course was
easy, and aside from picking up some major plant life, the car kept savagely
dicing through every turn, every redline shift, and constant abuse. We
did all this on 6 gallons of petrol, logging 150 miles. Try doing that
in any other sports car.
press thus far has suggested that the Atom is one of the fastest road
cars on Earth.
In the US we will have to hold that opinion back until we are able to
see them legally running on the roads. Every state has different rules
about what makes a car street worthy. As of now we could drive the Atom
in about 3 states. This is not an issue right now because Brammo has not
started manufacturing them yet.
the Atom is not a kit car like the Caterham or Factory 5, it may be a
bit more difficult to get registered in certain areas. Also, finding affordable
insurance is something owners will likely have to deal with. With that
noted the debate has begun, on where a driver can compete with the Atom.
A driver competing against themselves gets tiring for most with a competitive
spirit. If a driver has a need to compete against others in a like class,
the Atom may be a disappointment. Initial owners are urged to push local
clubs or sanctioning race leaders to get the Atom classed. Spec Atom racing
seems to be the most likely outlet, but for now this will be up to the
new owners to get started. The real world issues of owning an Atom in
the US seem rather sketchy. With 7000lb SUVs, horrible road conditions,
inclement weather, earthquakes, blizzards, road raging cell phone drivers,
who would want to own this car?
answer is fairly obvious; the true enthusiasts who want one of the best
sports cars ever made, at a price the modern American can afford. No more
drooling over cars that cost more than a house, or 2 generations of college
funds. The Atom is a dream come true.
will let the major American automotive journalists strap on all the high
tech geek gadgets to tell us exactly how fast the car is, and how much
better it is for anything in the price range, but for us, after taking
a real world drive, followed up by 50+ laps of track time, we can honestly
say that the future of sports cars has arrived to the United States.
Brammo Motorsports is accepting orders beginning on September 1, 2005
Ariel Atom US models now have target prices, and engine options specified.
A configurator will be available to customers soon.
if the buyer is out for a budget model, that can be had for nearly $36,000.
While Brammo speculates that higher HP numbers are possible
even at 145HP the driver can expect to hang with a Porsche 911 Turbo
up to about 100MPH due the extreme power to weight ratio of the Atom. Although, keep in mind all of
these prices here are for vehicles configured with little to no options, such as the road
Atom USA Honda 2.0L K20z3
power plant will likely come out of the US production Honda Civic Si, along
with the drive train. The benefits of this are clear, having service and
parts available from the local Honda dealership is much easier than supporting
an R-Spec motor from Japan not currently used in any production Hondas imported
to the states.
Atom USA Brammo Tuned 2.4L ECOTEC w/ VVT
GM has been eager to assist in engine supply. Brammo will get a 2.2L, 2.4L
and a 2.0 Supercharged version of the ECOTEC motor with variable valve
timing. Many enthusiasts have scoffed these motors, however it is well
known that these motors are extremely bulletproof, many being turbocharged up
to 350HP with factory internals. Depending on the model, Aisin made
transmissions will also be used. Aisin produces many of the 6 speed and
5 speed manual transmissions for Honda, Toyota, and even the 6 speed in
the Honda S2000.
Engine Options and Estimated Prices
MSRP w/ minimal options
are not final nor are HP numbers.
GM Engines HP figures will likely increase by at least 5-10%
HP/ 155 Ft./lbs.
||171 HP/ 163 Ft./lbs.
Ecotec 2.0 Supercharged
||171 HP/ 163 Ft./lbs.
K20 (k20z3 Not advertised however likely)
||USDM K20z3 200-225HP
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