What's it like?
Important to characterise the car’s innards first, because - rather pointedly - they’re quite unlike anything else currently on offer at this price bracket. Where the Elise is all extruded aluminum and sharp edges, an Atom scaffolding and a Caterham the 1950s, Zenos has moulded a thermoplastic tub of clever angles and miniature TV screens. Not only does it feel like something born in this decade but it also fits together with the kind of harmony that suggests it was considered integral to the car’s appeal from the outset rather than merely somewhere to sit and steer.
No, it’s not put together with a McLaren’s tolerances, and there’s a bathtub flex to some of the panels, but that’s to be expected. Likewise the parts-bin gear lever and indicator stalks. But the driving position is near perfect. The readout in front shows revs, speed and gear - so all you’ll ever need, then. Crucially, the right arm - cramped in an Elise; virtually the crumple zone in a Seven - slots onto the windowless sill with an at-homeness normally the preserve of a Range Rover.
The ergonomic finesse is no coincidence. Despite an obvious lack of shelter overhead, Zenos has sought a tremendous degree of usability from the E10. As standard, the car comes with an aeroscreen, but the full windscreen seen here was conceived very early in the design stage and therefore tallies perfectly with the styling. It also affords a decent amount of protection: there is wind in your hair, but not of the teeth-shattering potential you’d equate with a doorless Caterham.
There is noise, however. A huge amount of it. While Zenos may have (sensibly) left the engine tune alone, the Ecoboost’s turbocharger has been rendered a gulping, hissing, Group B-emulating monster. And because Ford has it come online so early, even gentle throttle inputs will have it sucking the oxygen from beneath your eardrums. In a helmet, it’s a phenomenal soundtrack. Without a buffer, it’s just phenomenal - although your drowned-out significant other may conjure up a different adjective.
The noise, of course, signals the E10's defining party trick: an almost lag-free industrial bungee rope of torque. The S has a torque-to-weight ratio well in excess of that of a Porsche 911 Turbo. However, the thing to get all incredulous and giddy about is the way that this manifests at the back axle. The mechanical grip and traction levels summoned up by the chassis (and some sticky Avons) is startling. In the good weather we were afforded, on the public road, the quality of adhesion makes full throttle exploits endlessly manageable.
That confidence is crucial because, with speed limits restricting the amount of pace you can legitimately carry, fierce acceleration is second only to handling on a featherweight wish list. Happily, the E10 has the latter covered, too. The steering, a massive wrist-straining effort at low speeds, is more Caterham than Lotus - and although not quite as quick as the former, I’d take the Zenos's communicative and very direct brand of heft over the latter.
Conceivably, the unassisted connection to such a surfeit of grip may have rendered the car a little too benign on the road, but the sense of supreme balance - the mass at the midriff, you rotating around it - is unmistakable in something 150kg lighter than an Elise. It’s a more elemental experience, too, that early whiff of understeer and subsequent straightener tweak of oversteer being more pronounced - if short of the kind of kart-like adjustability you get from an Atom.