One-of-10 Ariel Atom Mugen for sale

The Atom was thrilling with a K Series in the middle – imagine it with a handbuilt, 270hp Honda K20

By Matt Bird / Monday, 6 March 2023 / Loading comments

It’s hard to go wrong with a lightweight sports car and a revvy four-cylinder engine. Think Caterhams with Duratecs, the Toyota 2ZZ-powered Lotuses, even a plain old MX-5 with some BBR bits. Small engines make agile cars even sharper still, and moving not much mass tends to make them pretty efficient as well – the best kind of virtuous circle.

It’s an approach that’s been employed by Ariel for almost a quarter of a century now, with every model bar the mental V8 powered by a four-cylinder engine. The latest and greatest keeps with the formula, too, the Honda Civic Type R’s 2.0-litre unit is one of the better four-cylinder turbos out there. But it’s not quite the most focused version – that honour surely goes to the Mugen.

This special edition was created to mark 10 years of the Atom, which itself is now more than a decade ago. Taking the four-cylinder, lightweight sports car thing down probably the most extreme avenue possible, the Atom weighed little more than half a tonne and produced 135hp per litre – without forced induction. The engine boffins of Mugen took the legendary K20 2.0-litre engine and treated it to new pistons and valves, spikier cams and even motorsport spark plugs in the hunt for more power. The result was 270hp, up from 245hp, no mean feat when the engine was already pretty specialist in the first instance. A lighter flywheel and close-ratio six-speed served to make the experience even more visceral. “A truly handmade car with a handmade engine” is how Ariel described the Mugen back at the start of 2011.

The modifications didn’t stop there, either, with Alcon brake calipers, suspension borrowed from the V8 and a limited-slip diff. Just 10 were produced to mark the anniversary, and red/white was the only colour scheme. As the variant was even more extreme than a standard Atom, the Mugen was an absolute riot, not much keen on being at less than 5,000rpm and utterly feral above it. “Arguably the most rewarding Atom to drive hard”, read one review, and that was more than enough for customers, with every £50k Atom Mugen spoken not long after they were announced.

The nature of the car means there are never that many Atoms for sale, especially as it still feels a few weeks from Ariel weather. So to find a Mugen in the first week of March is a real turn-up. This one is believed to be unique, as the only Mugen built to Atom 3.5 spec, the update to the Atom 3 that didn’t arrive until 2012. The new light design at the front is probably the clearest giveaway of that. Only registered in 2017 (or six years after it was launched), the Mugen has covered just 674 miles in that time. Even for what’s basically a four-wheeled motorbike, that’s really not many. What an opportunity for a new owner, though, as an almost box-fresh example of one of the rarest, most exhilarating Atoms ever made.

At launch, the £50k asking price for the Mugen was a significant step up from the standard models, only now it looks a relatively shrewd investment. This one is for sale at £70k, a similar ballpark to those Atom 4s that are around secondhand to beat the queue on factory orders. What a decision that is to make: the faster, even more capable, newer Atom, or the 8,600rpm wildchild from more than a decade ago. Either promise to be about as unforgettable as a 2.0-litre sports car can be. Long live the Atom!


Engine: 1,998cc, four-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, LSD
Power (hp): [email protected],600rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000rpm
CO2: N/A
Year registered: 2017
Recorded mileage: 674
Price new: £49,470
Yours for: £69,950

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