DRIVEN: ARIEL ATOM 245
We take Open Season to the extreme and find a car that doesn't even have bodywork
There are several reasons for this. Partly it is because, as with any car of this ilk, it takes so darn long to get settled in, strapped up and your belongings securely stowed. This is especially true in winter, when only the terminally foolish would venture forth without several layers of warm clothing, gloves, scarf and a hat.
Atom journeys are also lengthened because the ordinary British motorway is not a good place for an Atom. A combination of cold, incessant wind noise and the boredom of no bends will soon have you reaching for the road atlas to work out a more diverting route.
It's just such an intoxicating experience on the road: raw, visceral, and above all involving in a way that even its supposed closest rivals can't match. A Radical or Lotus 2-Eleven might seem similarly hardcore, but both cars' bodywork actually detaches you a little from what's going on with the road beneath you. Those two are also a little too stiff and reliant on aerodynamics to match the fluidity that the Ariel's chassis provides. A Caterham gets a little closer, but then that car's nose-mounted motor denies it the sense of balance you get in the mid-engined Atom.
The Atom is also the perfect showcase for Honda's wonderful 1998cc K20 i-vtec engine. It's a pretty magnificent motor in the Honda civic, but Ariel's work tweaking the fuel mapping, induction and exhaust has to be heard - and felt - to be believed. Ariel's ministrations push it from 198bhp to 245bhp, but what really marks it out as special is the noise it makes.
Honda is also noted for its sweet-as-a-peach gearchanges, but in the past that hasn't quite translated into the Atom, which was stuck with an old rover shifter mechanism. Now, though, the Atom 3 uses a shifter mechanism from a Toyota MR2, and is now quite possibly the most snugly satisfying, easy-shifting gearbox I have had the pleasure to wiggle around in anger.
I decided to forgo the helmet on the basis that I was far too manly, but the only other things missing that could have made me more protected from the weather would have been Perspex side screens.
Even with heated clothes, you will eventually get a bit chilly (especially without a helmet), but the crucial point is that you'll take that little bit longer to chill to the bone. Which is good, because you'll almost certainly have taken the long way round to wherever you're going.