2007 Noble M400 Autoweek

7 Мар 2014 | Author: | Комментарии к записи 2007 Noble M400 Autoweek отключены
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2007 Noble M400

Jim Fets/fetsphoto.com

Formula One legend Ayrton Senna was once disenchanted with F1’s state of affairs. The early-’90s trend toward gizmo-laden cars fitted with active suspension, traction control, ABS and semi-automatic gearboxes had, in his view, corrupted the art of driving and leveled the field of driving talent. So when Senna emerged from the cockpit of a Penske CART car devoid of all such “driver aids” during a one-off test in late 1992, his reaction was pure and predictable. “It’s a human’s car!” he enthused.

Remember those words as you lower and fold yourself into the Noble M400: Drop sideways into the thinly padded carbon fiber bucket, swing your legs into the tight, offset pedal box. Try not to feel like a complete tool strapping the car to your back via the four-point Willans racing harness—there is a regular seatbelt, too, but if you don’t like the idea of cinching up, perhaps you should carry on to the Jaguar dealer. Otherwise, turn the key and listen to the fuel pump’s heavy breathing before awakening the 3.0-liter twin-turbo Ford Duratec V6 with a push of the starter button. Shift your left foot from the nearly pointless metal sliver of a footrest and depress the clutch fully—all two-plus inches of formula car-like travel—and engage first gear through the short-throw shifter.

Dial up some revs, say 3000 or so. 3…2…1…

Done. Sold. See ya.

The M400’s order form might cause you to think that this is some new-era Coyote “kit” car for ’80s …-hards who just can’t seem to forget Hardcastle McCormick . But the ballistic acceleration, which easily lives up to the claimed 3.5-second 0-to-60-mph time, and fine fit-and-finish put an end to any concerns regarding the M400’s origin.

Jim Fets/fetsphoto.com

Conceived in the U.K. by former racer and engineer Lee Noble, Hi-Tech Automotive assembles the car in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Hi-Tech ships rolling chassis to U.S. distributor 1g Racing in Hamilton, Ohio, at the rate of six per month. From there, you must source an engine and transmission; 1g Racing provides a list of drivetrain distributors.

Noble recommends this Ford V6—developed by AER and mapped by Roush Racing. It is the same engine that powers the Mazda 6 and various other Ford conveyances. But with higher-lift cams, twin turbos, intercooler, forged pistons and connecting rods, it’s now good for 425 hp at 6500 rpm and 390 lb-ft at 5000. The shifter, connected to a six-speed Getrag gearbox, is the drivetrain’s weak link. It is generally easy to use, though the action balks at times.

Finding fifth and sixth gears is sometimes difficult and awkward at best.

An even more important number: 2337, as in pounds, the curb weight after engine installation in the stiff, steel space-frame chassis. The composite plastic body helps keep weight low, as does a conspicuous lack of sound-deadening material. Add it all up and the equation comes to 401 hp per ton, hence the M400 designation. But this is about much more than speed-of-light acceleration runs, though passengers might disagree: You’ve likely never seen so many wide-eyed, open-mouthed facial contortions, followed usually by a mixture of laughter, screams and expletives (these join a noxious mixture of fuel vapor and exhaust that invades the cockpit).

Every so often, a car comes along that so mesmerizes body, mind and spirit that it taints your view of all machines driven previously.

As is the case here. This is intended for exceptional performance as a track-day car—the standard full roll-cage serves as a reminder—but the M400 also offers pure driving experience you can use on the road.

The power amazes, but pitching the car into a corner at speed mesmerizes even more. The steering, light and even a bit … on-center, comes alive as lateral forces build. It communicates loud and clear, and usually tells you that the chassis balance is neutral, that far more grip remains to be exploited.

So much grip, in fact, that approaching its limits on anything but a racetrack is an insane exercise.

Jim Fets/fetsphoto.com

Noble Electric Cars

The double-wishbone/coil-spring suspension is stiff and tolerates little body roll, yet is neither jarring nor unstable. Apply steering lock and the front end responds immediately, to the degree that ethereal sports cars such as Porsche’s new 911 Turbo (driven shortly after we caned the M400) feel sluggish and disturbingly luxury-oriented in comparison.

Push too hard into a slow corner and the Noble understeers, but unwind some steering and apply throttle, and the balance returns immediately. The rear remains well planted 95 percent of the time but dances at your right foot’s command, coming back into line with a flick of the steering wheel as the Quaife automatic torque-biasing differential works out the traction. The M400 rewards quick and smooth reactions; there is of course no traction control or stability program to bail you out from oafish inputs.

Yet its manners surprise. The ride is comfortable, upset only by the biggest bumps and potholes. The AP Racing brakes are of the non-ABS variety, with a firm pedal and good feel.

However, our test car exhibited a pulse through the pedal, the result of track days endured before we took delivery. It’s surprisingly easy to lock the brakes, but this is modulated fairly easily.

The throttle pedal has a long travel that soon feels natural and is appreciated for the control it allows. And control is paramount when the Garrett turbos spool-up to deliver their full 12 psi. The boost hits like an armor-piercing bullet, engine shrieking and wastegates chirping behind you just before each shift, the mid-range thrust from 4500 rpm to the 7200-rpm rev limit crossing into the realm of mystical.

The soundtrack of engine, turbos and tire noise makes in-car conversation or listening to the optional stereo somewhat challenging, but then that’s the point: The M400 defines “driver’s car” as well as anything on the planet. Something like a Caterham or Ariel Atom might— might —cause you to grin just that bit more, but the Noble is so much more useable that the comparison is irrelevant.

At a starting price of about $89,900 (if you install the drivetrain yourself), the M400 comes up short in a few spots. The Alcantara-lined minimalist interior is assembled well but doesn’t compare to mainstream competitors, and the plastic dash and Ford Mondeo switchgear are laughably common. The roll-down windows only lower two-thirds of the way, while the optional a/c blows hot or cold with nary a useful setting in between.

You probably won’t make many long drives beyond weekend getaways, as cargo capacity is limited to a six-piece custom luggage set that fits in the crevice behind the seats. But if these things concern you, well, you just don’t get it.


Mr. Senna, on the other hand, certainly would.

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