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.
"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.
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.
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.
The optional Track Pack - an additional £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.
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.
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 £29,995 starting price and it's a good £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.
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.
ZENOS E10 S
Engine: 1,999cc 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual (6-speed manual optional), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 250@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,500rpm
0-60mph: <4.0sec (claimed)
Top speed: 145mph (claimed)
Weight: c.725kg (dry)
MPG: N/A (NEDC combined)
CO2: N/A g/km
Price: £29,995 (Before options, including VAT and IVA but not including registration - see here for further details; £33,995 with Track Pack comprising six-speed gearbox, limited-slip differential*, four-point harnesses, Zenos composite seats, adjustable dampers and removable steering wheel; £35,535 as tested including above and heated windscreen)
*Not fitted to car driven
Photos: Tom Begley