Pushing hard at Bedford Autodrome - Roger Green reviews the most powerful Noble to date
For the first six months of ’04, the PH forum was rife with rumour and speculation over the Noble M400. It’s final spec, price, top speed and supercar slaying properties were all argued in depth. The general consensus, quite naturally, was that as the 3R had been such a spectacular driver’s car, the M400 would be sensational.
At the launch, the official figures heightened anticipation further with the venerable 3-litre Ford Duratec V6 now tuned to develop a mighty 425bhp at 6500rpm (401bhp/ton) and an equally wholesome 390lb ft of torque at 5000rpm. Larger turbo chargers, forged pistons and high-lift cams are the secrets behind the extra shove, along with the required engine remapping and improved cooling.
It was more than just the power plant that had undergone development though - the M400 is aimed squarely at those drivers who enjoy the odd track outing as well as the road stuff and this has meant a comprehensive list of chassis revisions too. There’s a new front anti-roll bar for starters along with springs and dampers from Dynamics and soft, lightly treaded Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres.
It’s a compelling package and Noble have also taken a look at some of the detailing too - the Achillies heel of the M12. The appearance has always hit the spot, but this is down to the perfect proportions rather than the styling itself. It could never be accused of lacking drama but from some angles it is also a little over fussy lacking ultimate finesse. The M400 aesthetics are not helped by the garish decals (although you don’t have to have these) the huge scoops and the omission of the front splitter. It is not fitted to the M400 to save weight (it has little effect on front downforce), but it has the effect of making the nose look a little high.
Inside the mix of switchgear is no match for the perfectly formed ergonomics of a Porsche, and let’s not forget at £55,995, we’re getting into 997 money. However, the driving position has been improved by a floor pan redesign so that the new Sparco seats can be positioned more centrally and more in-line with the pedals.
Perhaps we shouldn’t linger too long on the aesthetics, it is, afterall designed to be driven rather than gawped at and you should be in no doubt of the M400’s performance. The thrust is simply phenomenal. Once the Garrett T28 turbochargers spool up the rev needle arcs its way around the white dial to the 7200rpm limiter in a blur and a ferocious, explosive burst of acceleration. The way it accelerates can best be described as shockingly violent.
The six-speed gearbox has been improved too with new shift mechanisim which makes the process more positive than previous M12s. It’s still not perfect, but much of the slackness has been tightened up and the next ratio slots home faster.
Ride & Handling
The non-ABS brakes are the same as those found on the 3R - 330mm diameter discs all round, with four-pot callipers, but there is more bias to the rear. They are very strong and on a dry road also gain greater power thanks to those trick trackday tyres. Use the brakes hard and you feel yourself straining against the harnesses as the M400 sheds speed in a hurry.
Despite the added stiffness of the M400, it retains most of the compliance of previous M12s, which has always been one of its strengths. Breakaway is sharper on the exit of a bend but that has as much to with extra poke and grippier tyres as it does with the suspension.
The car we tested had a slightly thicker front anti-rollbar than those that will be fitted to customer cars and on a dry road it produced a small amount of understeer (a first on a Noble). When we took the car to Bedford Autodrome however, that understeer became very significant, particularly in the wet. In the dry it was a little frustrating, especially in long, slow-to-medium bends, but as the rain came down the car became quite a handful.
The tyres are admittedly designed for the dry, but I’m convinced they would have been okay on the 3R in these conditions. Here the M400 went from massive understeer to huge oversteer with little warning and you had to be on the top of your game to gather it all up. It was one seriously hairy ride. Noble have revised the steering rack to allow a further 0.8 of a turn between the lock-stops and you need all of it in the rain.
This is undoubtedly the most hardcore M12 yet, but I’m not convinced it the best in the range. The 3R may be a little slower on track but it is still one of the fastest machines you will find on any trackday and it is still the more accomplished road car. It is also considerably less spikey if it starts to rain while you’re flat-out on the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch. But if lap times are your thing and you are one of those trackday drivers who book at the last minute once you’ve seen the weather forecast, then go for it and enjoy the huge adrenaline rush of that rocket-ship engine.
Of course now we have seen the M400, speculation has moved on. The all-new M14 was the star of the Birmingham motorshow and Noble report that they have taken a pile of orders already. The first cars are promised at the end of the year and I for one can’t wait to try it.