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Video | The Ariel Atom Is a $75,000 Street Legal Go Kart

I recently had the chance to drive an Ariel Atom, which is truly automotive insanity. I say this because the Ariel Atom is basically a fully open, race car-style vehicle, with no body and barely anything else, and it’s got a license plate. Logic would dictate that you should not be able to drive this thing on the road. And, yet, you can.

So let’s talk Atom. The one I drove was an Atom 3, which uses the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder from a Honda Civic Si. That may not seem particularly impressive, but this particular vehicle weighs something like 1,350 pounds, resulting in a 0-to-60 mph time of around 2.9 seconds, assuming that you’re brave enough. It’s also rather pricey, but such is life if you want a race car that you can legally drive on the road.

So I drove the Atom on the road, and what I discovered is that it’s absolutely crazy, and I have no idea why anyone would want to do this. Specifically, it’s tremendously loud and amazingly intense — you’re getting attacked by wind on all sides, you’re basically driving an actual go-kart on the streets around normal people driving normal cars. Even a regular highway drive is incredibly visceral in this thing: Other people are just cruising around in their Camry models and Accords, and you’re flipping out, getting smashed in the face by wind, hearing an incredibly loud engine just inches from your head.

Of course, there are some benefits. For one, the Atom is really, really fast, in a way that few other cars are — it’s got supercar speed, and you really feel the speed because of how open and close to the road you are. It’s actually amazing to be doing 0-to-60 mph in 2.9 seconds when you could also reach out and just touch the road if you wanted to.

Then there’s the handling. The Atom is amazingly connected to the road, and the slightest steering inputs send the car exactly where you point it — no rational, regular automobiles have steering that’s anywhere near this sharp or exciting, and it makes vehicles like the Ferrari 488 and Lamborghini Huracan actually seem big and bulky. Then again, it also makes those vehicles feel safe and luxurious, so there are some trade-offs here.

And, indeed, with the Atom, that’s the thing about it: It’s the car for people who have tried basically all the other cars and dismissed them as being too normal, too rational, not exciting enough. Considering the speed and performance of modern exotic cars, not too many people feel that way — and that’s why the Atom has tremendously limited appeal. But if you just can’t get excited unless you’re driving something absolutely off-the-wall crazy, well, the Atom is just the off-the-wall crazy vehicle that should scratch your itch for insanity. 

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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