Zenos E10 S: Review [Updated]

It was just the other day I was saying what a shame it was modern turbo engines seem to have lost the self-confidence to act like turbos. And already we've got the answer! The great schloops of air inhaled by the Zenos E10 S's turbo that seem suck you against the back of the seat, the violent exhalations from the dump valve that punctuate every gearshift, the way 250hp scoops up the featherweight Zenos from anywhere in the rev range and flings it down the track ... it's like having a turbocharger inside your head. This, it should be noted, is a good thing.

The Zenos architecture laid bare
The Zenos architecture laid bare
OK. The noise is probably a bit extreme. Drive the Zenos without a helmet - a viable option for the road with the new windscreen option - and the dump valve will leave your ears ringing. And, if you're a bit of an overgrown kid like me, a big fat grin on your face. En route to a suitable corner for some on-road snaps photographer Tom is punching the air in excitement at the noise, I'm grinning the guilty grin of a man having possibly too much fun and the Zenos is proving just how dramatic the leap from normally aspirated E10 to turbocharged S really is.

Driven in isolation the E10 is fast, fun and predictable. The integrity of Zenos's backbone chassis, the stiff platform it provides for the pushrod suspension to show off the pliant springing and expertly judged damping, the looks ... it's all there.

Optional windscreen makes road use viable
Optional windscreen makes road use viable
But this turbo version is something else. If the E10 was a conservative opening gambit the S is the making of the car and the moment Zenos bursts out of its shell.

"You'd find the extra five grand for the S if you could, right?" I say to Zenos co-founder Mark Edwards as the car is refuelled. Again. Seems I've been spending quite a lot of time out on track... "Eight out of 10 cats can't be wrong!" he grins, confirming the proportion of Zenos customers opting for this full-fat turbo car. It's not that the regular E10 is disappointing. More that the S is the one that realises the full potential of the package.

The numbers speak for themselves. Well, one does in particular and it's not the increase in horsepower from 200 to 250 - same as the Focus ST with which it shares its Ecoboost engine. No, the really dramatic increase is in the torque, which near-as doubles from 155lb ft in the E10 to 295lb ft in the S. This lops some time off the acceleration figures and adds another 10mph to the top speed but these numbers are less meaningful than the transformation from behind the wheel. And the mid-range punch this S has is now sufficient to give the E10's chassis a proper workout.

Functional simplicty extends to the cabin
Functional simplicty extends to the cabin
On first acquaintance the gear lever feels a little high-set, the gate can be a little vague and its throw is quite long too. Which, unsurprisingly, is pretty much as it feels in the Focus. If that's road-car familiar the solid feel to the unservoed brake pedal probably won't be. Zenos's Chris Weston accepts it might take some acclimatisation but when you realise the braking power is equal to the force you put in you relish the uncorrupted feel. Think of it as the difference between power- and non-assisted steering, the Zenos's rack likewise unadorned and pure in feel and feedback. Chuck in that predictable, balanced throttle response and you have a pretty convincing array of primary interactions with the car, the better to enjoy the sheer exuberance of that additional turbocharged power.

Mapped out
Credit to the team - they've done a superb job of mapping the Ecoboost engine to suit a lightweight track toy like the Zenos. In the Focus it's geared up for low-end torque and muscular response, as is the modern style. But in the Zenos it's got half a tonne less car to shift. And if it came on that strong you'd quickly overwhelm the available traction and have a real handful, even on a dry track.

Looks a lot more expensive than it is
Looks a lot more expensive than it is
Zenos installs its own map, that 295lb ft of torque coming in at 2,500rpm rather than the 6,100rpm of the normally aspirated car. Fuelling, valve timing, boost - all have been tweaked and adjusted to suit the car. The throttle doesn't quite have the razor-like response of a supercharged Ariel, or the top end ferocity of the high-revving Toyota 1.8s fitted to the Lotus 2-Eleven, but it is predictable and the boost doesn't upset the balance of the car.

It's not so much lag as an initial softness to the power delivery compared with those supercharged cars that is typical of the Zenos's unthreatening nature. This is most definitely a turbo car - that soundtrack will never let you forget it - but it manages to feel both boosty and predictably linear at the same time. And dramatically rapid. One thing to bear in mind - if you're telling your mates that corner is definitely flat but you in fact need a little confidence lift the dump valve will loudly betray your lack of commitment.

Softer set-up allows you to take chunks of kerb
Softer set-up allows you to take chunks of kerb
Although there's not a huge amount of weight over the front wheels, and the mid-rear engine configuration dominates the driving style, turn-in is impressively dependable. And if you want to dial out that light front end the Zenos responds neatly and predictably to a lift or trailed brake. There are no sharp edges to the handling, even at the extremes.

The optional Track Pack - an additional Β£4,000 - includes a limited-slip differential to bring the throttle more aggressively into the equation, should you so desire. Not actually fitted to our test car, Edwards promises "it does what a diff does" and there's enough adjustment in the chassis to make the car softer or pointier as required. But in this default setting the Zenos is neutral without being inert, confidence inspiring without being dumbed down and feels it can more than handle the additional power without forgetting to make it feel exciting.

Fancier dampers included in Track Pack
Fancier dampers included in Track Pack
Man maths
The lack of weight overall and, more pertinently still, of the unsprung variety means Zenos can run a seemingly soft set-up that permits weight-shifts and communicates how the car is reacting to inputs. It also means you can take big bites of kerb on the unweighted side of the car without fear of unsettling it and chuck it around in a manner more 'serious' track cars like a Radical simply wouldn't tolerate.

And it means it is usable and unintimidating to drive home from the track, the suspension compliant enough to devour your typical B-road without kicking back through the wheel or feeling like it's going to be bounced off into the bushes.

Contrast panels cheap to replace after shunts
Contrast panels cheap to replace after shunts
If that first normally aspirated car was a polite, almost deferential entry into the market this turbocharged S is Zenos really unleashing its potential. Fast enough to get your pulse racing, but predictable enough to make sure that's for the right reasons, this is a properly exciting car. Thanks to the heritage and looks a Caterham remains the more emotive choice and the Ariels and KTMs of this world offer more performance and a higher standard of finish and pose factor.

But the Zenos can carry off the more workmanlike aspects of its construction by virtue of its sheer exuberance and, relatively speaking, value for money. It's not hard to price a track-focused Seven up to or beyond the E10 S's Β£29,995 starting price and it's a good Β£20K cheaper than the more exotic Atom and XBow options. And it's hard to see how Lotus (as rumoured) can revive the 2-Eleven with the Exige's supercharged V6 without a pricetag significantly beyond that of the Zenos.

Fast, fun and forgiving is the Zenos way
Fast, fun and forgiving is the Zenos way
It looks fabulous too, people on first encounter often overestimating the price by as much as 20 grand. That alone should give Zenos confidence the business plan is a sound one and there is considerable headroom beyond this for blingier, faster and more expensive variants down the line. Given the relatively conservative tune of this first turbocharged car there's clearly potential for more too.

All this can come though. For now the E10 S is the moment Zenos really sets out its stall and defines its position in the marketplace. And with some considerable style, confidence and character. A few rough edges remain but as far as the grin factor goes the car delivers in buckets, both on the road and the track.

Onboard lap here

Β 1,999cc 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission:Β 5-speed manual (6-speed manual optional), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp):Β 250@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,500rpm
0-60mph: <4.0sec (claimed)
Top speed: 145mph (claimed)
Weight:Β c.725kg (dry)
MPG:Β N/A (NEDC combined)
CO2:Β N/A g/km
Price:Β Β£29,995 (Before options, including VAT and IVA but not including registration -Β see hereΒ for further details; Β£33,995 with Track Pack comprising six-speed gearbox, limited-slip differential*, four-point harnesses, Zenos composite seats, adjustable dampers and removable steering wheel; Β£35,535 as tested including above and heated windscreen)
*Not fitted to car driven

Β  Β 

Photos: Tom Begley

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Comments (81) Join the discussion on the forum

  • GravelMachineGun 17 Mar 2015

    Looks a bit like the slightly mad cousin of the new MX5.

  • SpudLink 17 Mar 2015

    I had placed an order for the E10 S, but then downgraded to the non-turbocharged car. I was worried that the enormous lowdown torque of the eco-boost engine would actually overwhelm the rear tyres and chassis balance.
    This is the first review I've read of the eco-boost car and it's making me think I may have made the wrong choice.

  • scubadude 17 Mar 2015

    I got totally flamed last time and I've tried to look hard at it and the windscreen does change the profile considerably but... to state absolutely that it looks Fabulous is very much in the eye of the beholder IMO. I think a Zenos all in one colour might look better/less bad.

    It does look Fast as hell though and nice to see some controllable body movement.

    What's with the gear stick though, I'd have thought shortening it was easy enough?

  • HorneyMX5 17 Mar 2015

    Looks soooooo good with the screen fitted.

  • MrTappets 17 Mar 2015

    God that looks and sounds brilliant! £35,000 with options is to be applauded too

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