Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Noble car review

In 2003 the original 2.5 litre engine was dropped from the M12 range, replaced with a 3.0 litre engine, so what was it like EVO was there to find out.

Things are going well for Noble. When I wander into its workshop in Barwell, Leicestershire, there's a snake of a dozen or so M12 GTOs lined up for completion, the last in line wearing a little strip of masking tape on its rear spoiler that reads '165'. It shows that from a standing start a couple of years ago, this small company is close to fulfilling order number 165. And it's a strong, steady demand now; when I drop in a couple of weeks later, the last car is numbered 170.
However, the model I've turned up to drive probably won't be made in such numbers. It's pretty much the original M12 GTO but instead of the 2.5-litre twin-turbo Ford V6, it's a 3-litre. Called the M12 GTO 3 and with power up from 310 to 344bhp and torque rising from 320 to 340lb ft, it should be even more rapid. So why won't it sell?
Founder Lee Noble explains: 'Because since we showed the GTO 3R, all the orders have been for that.' The R, we should explain, is the M12 evolved further, with a six-speed 'box, limited-slip differential, new wheels and a slightly more aggressive nose treatment. Oh, and the 3-litre twin-turbo, of course, only in a slightly higher state of tune.The GTO 3 makes do with the standard five-speed 'box and it's this that prevents it enjoying the R's 365bhp and 385lb ft - those outputs have proved just a bit too much for the five-speeder. Mind you, the GTO 3 feels fantastically muscular with 'only' 344bhp, which, with a fraction less than a ton of Noble to haul, has bumped the power-to-weight ratio up from a 911 GT2-matching 321bhp per ton to a Murciί¿½lago-beating 358bhp per ton. Judging by the figures we attained for the 2.5, the GTO 3 should crack 4.0sec to 60mph and hit 100 in well under 10.
It certainly feels that quick, though, as ever, what you initially notice about the Noble is how well mannered and tractable it is. There's less chuff and chatter from the turbochargers and wastegates of the 3-litre, partly because their plumbing has been changed, but in its place comes a meatier, more resonant exhaust note that somehow gives the GTO 3 a more serious feel.
As with the 2.5, there's a very smooth transition from off- to on-boost, thanks to plenty of low-rev torque, two small, fast-acting turbos and a relatively modest boost of 0.8bar (11psi). Given its head the Noble is seriously quick, with the sort of leggy, sustained, high-g acceleration that devours straights. It brings up three-figure speeds with deceptive ease, thanks partly to its finely judged chassis; firm but compliant enough that it isn't distracted by bumps, with steering that while initially quite light, weights up nicely at speed and is geared to be responsive but not so sharp it makes the car feel nervous.
More than ever, the GTO with the bigger engine is a car you can travel very quickly in without feeling that you're trying. Indeed, you can make serious progress using only the excellent part-throttle response in fourth and fifth, which makes the GTO rapid and refined for long distances.
Noble has always said the GTO is optimised for road use, but our test took in an evoactive trackday at Snetterton, and it stood up remarkably well. In a morning it did over 100 laps (200 miles), flat-out, and the brakes felt as good at the end as they did when we started, the tyres hardly marked. The GTO is remarkably well-balanced through both slow and fast turns. Push the front too hard and there's mild, scrubby understeer; get on the gas too early and, despite lacking a slippy diff, the tail will drift into oversteer. But you'll know early on when you're overdriving it and besides, it's fast enough for you not to have to push it that far. I'd never have guessed it was going quite so well without other machinery to pit it against. Our Caterham R400 was there, as was a Radical SR3. Only the R400 got by, and only after a few laps. Demerits? There's not much brake feel in the wet, so it's easy to lock-up a front wheel and not realise.
It's a shame so few GTO 3s will be made, but if the R version handles even better and goes even quicker for just ΂£3550 more, who wouldn't go for the R?

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