Ollie Marriage20 February 2012

Top Gear drives the Morgan Plus 8

Possibly our favourite four-wheeled Morgan. Classic Plus 8 body mated to the power of the Aero 8

Roof up, doors off - that's the best way to drive the new Morgan Plus 8. This is not because the hood mechanism is more complex than the search for the Higgs Boson, but because with the top up on a chilly day you'll stand some chance of detecting the warmth being puffed out by the heater. So why remove the fabric upper doors at all? Well, have you seen where the exhausts are? Do I need to spell it out? Really?

The pipes are about as far from your shoulder as the steering wheel, and they flutter and fart and rumble and bellow in a way that the Corvette Grand Sport I'd driven a few days previously could only dream of. The classic V8 roar, the best sound known to man, is alive and well and currently echoing all around the Malvern Hills, being spat out of a Morgan like no other.

Gallery: Top Gear's first drive of the Morgan Plus 8

OK, a Morgan quite like a Plus 8. Very like one visually. A quick recap: the Plus 8 is Morgan's original, they've been building it for 50 years, it has an ash wood chassis and it creaks like a galleon in a gale. This pleases the sort of people who might call it a ‘motor car'.

This one doesn't. You don't have to look that closely to realize this one has a meatier stance - you might almost call it a hotrod. It's 110mm wider, has chunkier alloys and underneath the only wood you'll find is in the body frame, not the chassis itself. Which is constructed entirely of bonded and riveted aluminium, just like the more modern Aero 8. Which is hardly a coincidence as what we have here is a Plus 8 body stretched and yanked to fit over an Aero 8 frame. You could call it a hybrid, and Morgan might like that.

It's not a hybrid though. It's better than that as it has a BMW-sourced 4.8-litre V8 that sounds and feels more charismatic here than in anything with the blue and white propeller on it. And in a 1100kg roadster, 390bhp is enough to ensure there's bugger all in Munich's M division that can keep pace. This thing is thunderous. OK, so in reality the M3 and M5 are probably as quick, if not quicker, but they don't feel it. And yes, this is an auto, and therefore surely the wrong gearbox (a manual is a cost-free option).

Not so fast. Yes, the six-speeder does slur its upshifts, but it has a manual mode that gives you proper control and with crisp throttle response, bountiful torque and little weight, the Plus 8 leaps and charges about the place with boundless enthusiasm. In the old wooden Plus 8 (still in production, but not with this much power thank goodness), this would have caused much terror, but this aluminium structure is made of sterner stuff. It's a vastly stiffer platform on which to mount important bits of suspension, which means everything is more controlled. This is not a car that's going to spit you at an oak.

But in a way, I sometimes wish it would. Because for a car this light, it's just a touch leaden to drive. No, that's not quite right, it's more that you expect it to be more zesty, less composed. Specifically, the steering doesn't fizz and tingle and the brakes need more feedback. The chassis itself is better, but the lines of communication aren't as direct as expected given this is a car that strives to remove so many of the other things that get in the way of the act of driving.

Maybe I expected too much, but I enjoyed the Plus 8 most when just bombing about, not focusing on handling intricacies but just absorbing the experience, listening to the aural bombardment bounce off street furniture, enjoying the fabulously flexible drivetrain, watching the spindly triple wipers flap at the inevitable raindrops, resting an elbow on the open door top. It's an admittedly expensive way of getting around, but it really is a lot of fun, and it's not the ergonomic disaster area you might expect inside. The extra width means plentiful elbow room and the aluminium chassis is a sturdy thing on which to attach trim and interior niceties.

Ultimately though, this is a Plus 8 playing at being modern, doing a bang up job of keeping pace with modern stuff and driving in a modern way, but at its most enjoyable when driven in a classic style.

7/10

Morgan Plus 8 4.8

The numbers:
4799cc, V8, 390bhp, 370lb ft, 256g/km, 25.7mpg, 4.2secs, 155mph, 1100kg

The cost:
£85,200

The Verdict:
Possibly our favourite four-wheeled Morgan. The Thirties vibe of the classic Plus 8 body, mated to the power and pace of the aluminium Aero 8

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