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Tuesday 22nd March 2005


DRIVEN: NOBLE M400

Ted gets behind the wheel

Noble M400
Engine: V6 2968cc Twin Turbo
Power: 425bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque: 390lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Power/Weight: 401bhp / tonne
0-60mph: 3.5 secs (est)
0-100mph: 8.0 secs (est)
Top Speed: 185mph

While I've been fortunate enough to drive a lot of cars - and spend a lot of time on track - I remain an average driver in terms of track skills. It's frustrating but I'm just not the sort of chap who can jump into an unfamiliar car and wring its neck from the off.

Likewise, finding myself on an unfamiliar track can be a bit daunting. I can't identify the correct apexes on the bends within one lap - nor can I fine tune my braking points withinfive minutes.

So trying Noble London's M400 demonstrator at Rockingham proved quite a challenge for an average chap like me. I've not driven there before and my previous experience in an M12 had been limited to ten minutes blatting about suburbia a couple of years back.

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Race schools always make sure that instructors do hot laps after the punter has done their thing - just in case the novices get the wrong idea about how hard to push the car. Luckily for me, Noble London's owner -- and ex-Tuscan racer -- Giles Cooper dispensed with that nonsense.

One lap around to show me which way the track went, and which line to take, and then it was another three of high speed blatting! Even from the passenger seat it was obvious how well balanced the M400 is. Giles linked up the corners in a smooth yet aggressive manner, eking plenty out of the engine and making the most of the chassis. It was a fine demonstration that taking a car by the scruff of the neck doesn't have to mean ten minutes of lurching, understeer and oversteer.

My Turn

When we swapped positions and I took the driving seat, I was apprehensive of all I had to learn in a short space of time. There are some cars which, when driven on track, take a real understanding of the finer points of weight transfer, sympathy with notchy gearboxes, and peaky engines, which can make driving on track an intimidating experience -- especially with an instructor barking at you.

With the Noble it wasn't so. Sitting low down in the M400 you get an unusual sense of road car like calmness and comfort, yet coupled with race like feel to the ride and handling. Few cars feel so 'flat' or convey the notion that the wheels are right at each corner with you and engine finely balanced in between.

A joy in the bends
A joy in the bends
Driving the car is easy. The steering is light yet informative, the pedals instinctively placed and the gearbox light and direct. It might sound a minor point but with such great ergonomics it becomes that much easier to concentrate on the important aspects of driving such as speed and track position.

It was relatively easy to adopt a decent pace in the M400 on the Rockingham track. Even with much faster drivers around, it's not a car that you need be fearful in. There's enough pace to keep yourself ahead of any traffic and then just back off when the time is right to let them pass.

The massive 425bhp on tap allows the Noble to thrust forwards when you apply your right foot. The pedal unleashes opens the floodgates and with a gush of power, the turbos whizz (fairly quietly though within the car) and before you know it you're flying towards the next corner at great speed. A dab of the brakes, the speed is moderated and then it's a matter of keeping the engine spinning at the right speed to keep the car correctly balanced on the fine suspension. That's where the real skill comes in - and where the Noble can provide the most reward.

The chassis is firm -- perhaps too much so for British roads -- but the rewards are there to be had from guiding it through high speed bends. More experienced drivers can revel in the feedback and balance to be enjoyed whilst us mere mortals can learn a lot about how to correctly drive a bend thanks to the feedback provided by the car. Get it wrong and you can feel the car pressing hard but it stays composed -- not biting back too early. It's not without its limits but speed and precision with which experienced drivers can guide the M400 around a track are a joy to behold.

Great Track Car
Great Track Car
You wouldn't want to use a car like this everyday -- and many would say that it's expensive for a track toy -- but if you can afford it there can't be many similar experiences to be enjoyed.

I don't believe the M400 is the prettiest car but - as can be the case in other walks of life - some talents more than make up for looks.

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