Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Lotus and Ariel take their sports cars off road

THE INTERNET is currently bursting at the seams with people wondering whether they’re going to get their hoverboards this year. It’s 2015, which if you grew up in the Eighties or early Nineties only means one thing; finally being able to see how much Back to the Future II jumped from fiction to fact.

It’s odd looking back at the all the things proclaimed as being the future back in 1985, and I don’t just mean the Sinclair C5. Things like four-wheel-steering and talking digital dashboards were about as futuristic as Human League records – but how of many today’s cars actually have them? On the other hand, Eighties luxuries like folding door mirrors and reversing cameras are making it into even the cheapest of today’s cars, and safety essentials ABS and airbags are de rigueur. 

But I’d love to know is what petrolheads will be thinking in another 30 years when they look back at motoring’s latest rethink. This is the year, it’s looking increasingly likely, when the British sports car whipped off its trainers and slapped on some walking boots.

I’m not talking about Jaguar’s four-wheel-drive version of its F-type, but sports cars designed specifically for venturing up forest tracks rather than setting blistering lap times around Oulton Park. We’ve had sporty off-roaders before, of course, but it’s looking increasingly likely 2015 will be the year of the off-roady sports car.

Word on the automotive grapevine is that Lotus is making an off-road version of its Evora, which will keep its rear-wheel-drive but will be jacked up and fitted with knobbly tyres. It might sound preposterous, but given Lotus’ engineering talent I’m really looking forward to seeing if they can pull it off. The existing roadgoing Evora cope that badly when I treated it to a spot of impromptu off-roading for a photoshoot at Southport Beach when I test drove one a few years ago, either!

Luckily, you don’t have to wait until Lotus finishes to see what an off-road sports car looks like. Ariel has managed to cross its already mildly unhinged Atom with something you might find in an Action Man toy set, called it the Nomad, and is about to put it on sale. It hasn’t got four-wheel-drive either, but with the chunky tyres, the minimal weight and the 200bhp the 2.4 litre Honda engine chucks out, it’s unlikely you’d need it on the rough stuff. As unlikely as an off-road Ariel Atom sounds, I think it’s going to be fantastic.

So is the off-road sports car something that’s going to catch on or is it an automotive dead end? Given the appetite for cars that even look a bit off-roaders but aren’t – take a bow, Nissan Qashqai – I’d like to think it’s the former.

I’m more likely to pilot an Ariel off-road than to take up hoverboarding, that’s for sure!


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