The Ariel Atom 3S Is The Most Fun You Can Have With 1,350 Pounds

Sometimes second place is the best place of all.

See the Ariel Atom 3S on /DRIVE on NBC Sports: What Makes Fast, Thursday, October 19 @ 10:00 pm ET on NBCSN.

The history of second place is littered with unappreciated talent. Take Bryan Bennett. He came in second at the Rock Paper Scissors World Series in 2006. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t either.

At 365 hp, the Ariel Atom 3S is the second-most-powerful production Atom ever built, but unlike most of its peers on the second rung, apart from Mr. Bennett, you now know it by name. In fact, by the end of the next paragraph, you’ll likely want one. Who’s in first place now, Ariel Atom 500 V8? (Ok, it’s still you, but the 3S is very good too.)

The 3S weighs 1,350 pounds, 450 less than a Smart car and 900 less than a Mazda MX-5. Its now-familiar, Lotus-inspired tube chassis — with unequal-length wishbones and inboard, pushrod-actuated dampers — is, by and large, the one Niki Smart concocted for his transport-design project at Coventry University in 1996. A 2.4 liter K-series engine from the Honda Civic Si, now turbocharged, inhales so much air, you feel the 3S’s acceleration first in your middle ear. Throttle fully, and a roar of induction bursts over your shoulder, where the voluminous intake shroud sits. Then, like an F-18 off a steam catapult, you’re propelled into the future.

Ariel Atom 3S

Ariel Atom 3S

, The 365 hp Ariel Atom 3S, the second most powerful Atom ever., /DRIVE on NBC Sports

With a turbo-fed peak torque of 310 lb-ft, starting at 4,400 rpm and raging all the way to cutoff at 7,500 rpm, this is a car that demands all your situational-awareness muscles be fully flexed. The first, hair-trigger upshift is instinctual. The second occurs just as you’re awoken from an adrenaline stupor by a wicked howl of engine and air. Fourth gear is a hollow, fleeting, victory, only good — in this case — for a short stretch of the inner track configuration at VIR.

You know it’s manual steering because you can see all the mechanical bits down here. The brakes are unboosted too. This is an unfiltered driving experience you can’t get from anything off a dealership lot. It’s a motorcycle that takes up an entire lane.

In America, Atom models are made under license by TMI AutoTech in Virginia. The cars are built to order, from chassis fabrication through to the final assembly in-house, and tested at nearby VIR.

Indeed the modern Atom is still as close to an open-wheel racecar as they’ll let you register at the DMV. That sounds less like second place, and more like total victory.

Ariel Atom 3S

Ariel Atom 3S

, At the inner track at VIR, getting the speedy 3S into fourth gear is a challenge., /DRIVE on NBC Sports


Base Price: $89,750

Drivetrain: 2.4-liter i-VTEC four, six-speed manual, RWD

Output: 365 hp at 7500 rpm, 310 lb ft at 4400 rpm

Curb Weight: 1350 pounds (mfg.)

0-60 mph: “Less than 2.8 seconds” (mfg.)

0-100 mph: 6.7 seconds (mfg.)


Turbocharged Honda 2.4L i-VTEC (K24Z7)

6-Speed manual gearbox w/ limited-slip differential

Performance Clutch

Proprietary Intake/Exhaust System

Primary aluminum radiator (front)

Secondary aluminum radiator (right pod)

Air-Water intercooler (left pod)


Traction Control – Five level adjustment (incl. off)

LCD backlit digital dash with speed, RPM, temperature, fuel level, odometer, gear position, and shift-light display

Competition master safety switch

RFID Electronic Immobilizer System (two fobs)

Full light Package Standard


JRi adjustable dampers w/ 2 piece coil spring

Double unequal length fabricated wishbones

Aluminum bell cranks w/ needle roller bearings

Adjustable suspension pushrods

Adjustable inboard joint and outboard rod ends

Lightweight fabricated uprights

Quick Ratio alloy Rack & Pinion

Quick-Release motorsport suede steering wheel

Engine Electrical/Fuel

Indirect multi-port grouped fuel injection

Proprietary tuned Hondata engine management

Continuous flow Marwal 3.5 bar fuel pump

Twin Fuel Filters

10 gallon aluminum fuel tank


Alcon Motorsport Four-Piston Calipers

290mm Full Floating & Vented Discs

Cockpit Adjustable Front/Rear Brake Bias

Tilton Adjustable Aluminum Pedal Box

Tilton Paired Front/Rear Master Cylinders

Full Length Stainless Steel Brake Lines

Performance Pad Fiction Material

Parking Brake Kit Standard


Engineered Jig Utilization

Primary TIG / Secondary MIG welds

CNC Component Construction

Laser Cut/Notched

Crew/DOM Low Carbon Steel

Aluminum bulkheads

244 point primary/secondary QC inspection

Powder Coat Finish (Chassis)

Hand Laid Gel-Coated Composite Body Panels

Wet Carbon Options (Bonnet, Dash Surround, Fenders, Airbox Cover/Snorkel


5-Spoke Motorsport Wheels – F:15×7 R:16×8

Toyo R888R Tires – F:205/50/15 R:245/45/16


Length: 3410 mm

Height: 1195 mm

Width: 1890 mm

Track: 1600 mm

Wheelbase: 2345 mm