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When Ariel entered the track-toy market in 2000, few would have anticipated that its pointy, tubular-framed Atom would outdo the competition so conclusively.
Success brings expectation, which weighed heavy on its latest project: an off-road version capable of the same roadgoing thrills while also handling its business in the rough stuff.
It speaks to Ariel’s attention to detail and slavish commitment to driver involvement that the Nomad doesn’t. just meet those criteria: it blows them into the weeds.
While the Nomad might look similar, the differences run deeper than its desert beige paint.
That intricate exposed chassis is stiffer and heavier, built to cope off-road. The wishbone suspension is of a heavier grade, with a trio of damper options including a sublime set of range-topping rally-derived units from Ohlins.
Mounted in the back is a bigger, torquier Honda engine – the K24 2354cc ‘four’ borrowed from the US Civic Type S rather than the R – mated to a slick, short-geared six-speed manual ’box.
The Nomad will hit 62mph from standstill in 3.4 secs, which, though very fast, doesn’t sound outrageous on paper.
In practice, in a car this low and so exposed, full throttle is a noisy, raucous experience that turns your hair as white as your knuckles.
Rev it out and the ‘four’ will spin up to 7600rpm, but its biggest talent is its flexible delivery. It pulls from 20mph in top, offering punchy acceleration throughout the range.
Making a car that quick isn’t hard these days; building one that combines grin-inducing pace with benign handling and a playful character is.
Combining low weight, forgiving yet firm suspension and chunky road tyres, Ariel has managed it.
Slidey and chuckable on the loose, or just a late-night trip to the shops, the Nomad turns anything you throw at it into a great time.
Being rear-wheel drive, like the Atom, and sitting on what are essentially road tyres, it could be forgiven for feeling out of its depth green laning.
But the Nomad confounds expectations, and is even more fun off the road than on it.
Hitting bumps and jumps and dancing across sandy surfaces, the ride and handling that offer so much on asphalt make even more sense.
The only disappointment is the limited opportunities to get truly muddy on Britain’s road network.
With a base price of £33,996, an options list that includes such luxuries as a windscreen, and a cabin that demands near Olympic levels of flexibility to enter and exit, the Ariel Nomad won’t be for everyone.
But for those lucky few who fit comfortably, don’t mind getting a bit grubby and have deep enough pockets, this off-road rocket from Ariel is an absolute triumph that knocks on the door of the all-time greats.
Images: Max Edleston
- Engine 2354cc in-line ‘four’, 235bhp @ 7200rpm, 221lb ft @ 4300rpm
- Transmission six-speed manual, RWD
- 0-62mph 3.4 secs
- Top speed 125mph
- Mpg 26.2
- Price from £33,996