None madder than an Ariel Nomad

Test drive: Ariel’s scaffold-on-wheels off-roader is possibly 2019’s perfect ‘car’

Ariel Nomad
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Year: 2019
Fuel: Petrol

Welcome to 2019. It’s going to be hell. If Brexit doesn’t get you, then some kind of Trumpist calamity doubtless will. Manage to avoid those, and hey! – just around the corner is another global financial meltdown. Or some kind of global warming snafu.

Basically, what I’m saying is that if we get to this time next year and we’re NOT living in some kind of Mad-Max-esque post-apocalyptic wasteland, well I’ll be quite surprised.

Still, even amid the ritual floggings, the revived burning of witches, and the Thunderdome competitions to see who gets this week’s slice of bread, you’ll still be needing wheels to get about the place.

A car to pop to the blackened remains of the shop, for example. Or to outrun that pesky marauding gang of cannibals. Thankfully, we may have just tested the very thing . . .


No, it's not (in spite of appearances) a pile of scaffolding with wheels. It is in fact a car. And not just any car, but the very type of car we all seem to want to buy – an SUV. This is the Ariel Nomad, and it's brought to you by the same people who previously provided the Earth with the Atom.

Now, the Atom made an odd kind of sense. Low-slung, dart-shaped, and basically consisting of the spaceframe chassis of a sports-racer, to which almost no bodywork had been attached. With Honda Civic Type-R power, the Atom makes for possibly the most exhilarating driving experience you'll find that's still road-legal.


The Nomad, though, really is an off-roader. Don’t bother looking for four-wheel drive, because it doesn’t have that. Instead, and rather in the style of Paris-Dakar Rally Raid racers, the Nomad relies on rear-wheel drive, chunky tyres, and low weight to keep itself mobile when the going gets slippery or sandy.

Weighing in at a mere 670kg, it’s going to be even easier to dig out of a hole than a Lotus Elise – the diminutive sports car from Norfolk weighs around 200kg more.

For power, Ariel has once again turned to Honda but instead of the frenetic workings of a Civic Type-R, the Nomad uses the rather more sane 2.4-litre four-cylinder VTEC petrol engine from an old Accord.

235hp and 300Nm of torque doesn’t, perhaps, sound that special but when your car is basically a pile of piping, and weighs about as much as that implies, it’s more than sufficient.

It’s also a serious off-roader. An approach angle of 71-degrees means that it will all-but clim a vertical slope, assuming you can find the traction.

Lacking a suitable post-apocalyptic world in which to test the Nomad, we’re lucky enough to be given the run of Rally School Ireland’s tarmac track in Monaghan to have a go. While it’s mostly dry out, there’s enough dampness on the circuit to make life, shall we say, interesting.

Given the lack of bodywork, you’d also assume that water ingress would be an issue. It isn’t, though. Partially that’s because the interior consists of nothing more than a plastic seat and some hardy race-car instrumentation. Partially it’s because when it all gets going, damp pants are the least of your concerns.

There are no doors, so you have to heave yourself up onto the Nomad's 'roof' and then dive feet-first into the cabin. This being Rally School Ireland, a small competition has been setup to see which one of us will be the quickest at hurling the Nomad around the track, so there's little time to spend adjusting the cabin to taste. Which is fine as virtually nothing adjusts anyway. Four-point harness clicked home, and with RSI's David Smyth on both intercom and stopwatch, we're off . . .

I’m imagining my fellow competitors as bloodthirsty post-apocalypse mutants, just to add to the spice of competition, but while that’s not much of a stretch of the imagination, the Nomad is immediately stretching my driving skills. By being incredibly immediate.

It’s often said that modern cars insulate us too much from the driving experience, and boy howdy does the Nomad prove that assertion true. The steering is so weighty, so sharp, so responsive that it feels as if your wrists have been bolted straight to the back of the front hubs.


Conventional handling appraisals simply don’t come into it, as the Nomad’s cornering attitude is decided entirely by how hard you’re prepared to keep your foot down, and how fast you can twirl that stubby little three-spoke Momo steering wheel to keep the ant-eater-like front end pointed in the direction of travel.

Even with the chunky off-road tyres, oversteer isn’t so much “on tap” as it is “gushing from a fire-hose” and any worries that using the engine from an old Accord would make the Nomad feel pedestrian are swiftly dispelled.

In the Accord, this powerplant was smooth, unobtrusive, calm. In the Nomad, it’s a howling banshee, with the intake plenum taking huge gulps of air just behind your ear, which is then turned into sound, fury, and forward motion.

In dry conditions, the Nomad will sprint to 100km/h in just 3.4 seconds. Top speed is reputed to be 200km/h but I’d suspect your bravery or the draught-proofing of your chinos would give up well before that.

Oh, and I wasn’t even quickest on the day. Second-quickest actually, which means I’d have been gobbled up by the chainsaw-wielding gang of mutants.

The Nomad is, of course, a toy, and an expensive one at that. There’s no Irish importer as yet, and bringing one in yourself would probably cost the thick end of €65,000 assuming you could even get Revenue to come up with a VRT category for Mad Max’s company car.

Then there’s the whole thing of having a car with no roof, no doors, not much in the way of bodywork, and an optional windscreen while living on a damp, mossy rock sticking out of the North Atlantic.

Worth it? Oh heck, yes. The Nomad is one of the most ludicrously enjoyable and entertaining cars that you can possibly drive. It’s so good that it’s life-affirming. Which is just as well, given how tenuous life itself will be when conditions are truly right to own one . . .

Many thanks to Rally School Ireland for the test drive

Lowdown: Ariel Nomad Price: Circa €65,000 as tested; Power: 235hp. Torque: 300Nm. 0-100kmh: 3.4sec. Top speed: 200km/h. Claimed economy: Circa 25mpg (11.2-litres/100km). CO2 emissions: n/a g/km. Motor tax: n/a.

Verdict: Ideal transport for our post-apocalyptic fututre. Our rating: 5/5

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring