Written by Karl Peskett
Forget what you know about dune buggies. Low-volume sports car manufacturer Ariel has rewritten the rule book for four-wheeled dirt machines, with its latest creation, the Nomad.
For a company that took its name from a motorbike manufacturer, entering the four-wheeled market was certainly a daring move. But instead of making a passenger car like every other manufacturer, Ariel created something completely unique. It’s called the Atom, an ultra-lightweight, two-seat sports car which is built around an exoskeleton.
Its approach and design were like nothing seen previously, and it has been lauded for its ultra-pure drive experience, insane acceleration, and Velcro-like grip. Companies even offer an ‘Atom Drive Experience’, such is its appeal.
But there are some who, while appreciating that setting lap times on the blacktop is exhilarating, still hanker for something a little dirtier. Ariel saw an opportunity and seized it, unveiling the appropriately named Nomad earlier this year.
Based on the same minimalist principle as the Atom, the Nomad benefits from a 235bhp Honda i-VTEC engine mated to a six-speed gearbox, mounted in a 670kg vehicle. Yes, power to weight is king at Ariel. This gives the Nomad a tremendous turn of speed; it clocks the 0–60mph sprint in an unbelievable 3.4 seconds. Let’s put that into perspective for a moment. The Aston Martin Vanquish, with its 568bhp V12 can only manage 3.6 seconds for the same 0–60mph dash. Yet this off-road buggy (to put it bluntly) with a 333bhp deficit, will leave the Vanquish in its dust. Quite literally.
From the outside, it’s easy to dismiss it as a mishmash bucket-o’-bolts that someone built in their shed. That would be to miss out on the exquisite detailing the Nomad has on offer. You only have to look at the beautiful bronze welds and the machined metal to get an appreciation for how well the Nomad has been bolted together. Witness the outboard suspension and its gorgeous mountings. Look at the tubing and how each angle is placed to create maximum strength with minimum weight. And if plastics are your thing, then you’ll be pleased to know the rotationally moulded polyethylene used for the ‘bodywork’ is the same material as is used in road cones – it’s definitely tough.
But apart from its outright performance, the Nomad is set up to be completely configurable. If it’s a muddy course you’re looking to conquer, then you can choose a wheel and tyre combination to suit. Loose gravel calls for a different suspension tune and tyre pattern – easily done. Or if you want to carve up the Wahiba Sands at night, then there are winches, lights, and tyres that will help. Will it rain? There are closable winter covers. Carbon fibre can be used for the bonnet and engine cover. And the spare tyre neatly stows above the engine.
The real beauty of the Nomad, however, is the fact that it’s completely road legal. Lights, indicators, mirrors, windscreen wipers – it’s all there. And being powered by a Honda four-cylinder, it has reliability in spades.
Cut and thrust, or rocks and dust – the choice is yours. At least with a Nomad, you can travel to where the grass really is greener.
If it’s a bit of sand-bashing that takes your fancy, but you want something a little more sophisticated, then perhaps the Sidewinder could be more to your taste. Penned by Swedish firm Gray Design, it has a 630bhp Chevrolet V8 under its engine cover, which means it ticks the aural-pleasure box. The comparative 0–60mph time is 4.2 seconds, while it’s said to have a top speed on sand of just under 100mph. OLED infotainment screens, powered by Android, keep the interior easy to control, and its fully enclosed cabin means the elements are kept out. At this stage the Sidewinder is only a concept, but given its styling and features, it may not be too far out of reach.