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Tuesday 27th November 2001


ASCARI ECOSSE

It's your last chance - only one car remains from an exclusive production run of 17. If you're impulsive hide your chequebook now...


This is it: your last chance. Ascari has one Ecosse left, in Burgundy with two-tone grey leather. Buy it and you join a fraternity of seventeen owners. Which means you'll spend a great deal of time answering the same question again and again: "What the Hell is that?" I recommend a single word answer: "fast". Oh yeah, the Ecosse is fast. A bit ragged around the edges, but fast. First, the ragged bit...

Click to enlarge...Picture the scene: I'm belting down the two-lane A350 in a jet-black Ecosse, wringing the life out of the car's mid-mounted V8. I'm on the wrong side of the road, passing a Volvo at "I've got far more important things to do than look at the speedometer" miles per hour. The Ecosse's power plant redlines at 7000 rpm. I'm in third gear, roaring through 6000. The engine is already stuttering like Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda as the rev limiter plays a deadly game of yes, no, yes, no. I'm heading straight for an articulated lorry.

Pinocchio

At the same time, the Ecosse's agricultural ZF transmission is wrestling me for fourth gear. Finally, fortunately, I win. I change up and press the hyperspace pedal. A wave of mid-range torque catapults me past the Volvo. At well over 100, I ease the car back into the proper lane. Sorted! Or not. My ashen-faced passenger, Ascari Production Manager Tim Brady, points a wary finger at the roundabout 600 yards ahead. I stand on the brakes, which feel as wooden as Pinocchio. Still, they do the trick. Just. That was scary, I tell Tim. No, that's Ascari, he replies with a demonic grin.

Sadist

In the Ecosse's defence, the black car was a well-abused press mule. Its semi-lethal truculence at the edge of the envelope can be forgiven as the inevitable result of ritual abuse. OK, the Ecosse isn't perfect. The Ford-derived power steering is as light as low-fat whipped cream and the gearbox as compliant as a Saddam Hussein. But the Ecosse feels as safe as a nuclear bunker at anything less than DEFCON 5. The AC keeps you cool, the VDO gauges are perfectly positioned, and the Recaro seats provide miles of painless motoring. Equally important, The Ecosse looks the part: a car whose wide stance and honed angles promise poise at ludicrous speeds. Tim says he watched a gawping motorcyclist stuff it into a parked car while checking out the Ecosse. Call me a sadist, but that sounds like fun.

Fun

Click to enlarge...In fact, the Ecosse is so much fun I'm happy to accept Tim's assurances that the engine just needed a good tune-up, and later gearboxes are more cooperative. The Ecosse's basics are beyond reproach. A lightweight space frame chassis mated to a de-tuned racing suspension and 18" Pirellis creates a perfect blend of balance and controllability. Despite the recalcitrant gearbox and dodgy brakes, Black Beauty soon becomes a faithful friend. Ten minutes after my "moment", I was powering down Dorset's tree-lined avenues, snaking around winding country roads, leaping up and over single-lane bridges, and blasting past slow-moving traffic (i.e. everything else on the road). I felt like a teenager with his third girlfriend: ready, willing and able to play.

Fast

The Ecosse's BMW engine is the key to its appeal. Anyone who's driven a modern BMW V8 knows the unit's power delivery is creamier than cream and as reliable as a Swiss train schedule. Ascari asked German tuners Hartge to build on those virtues, and build they did. (Those of you of a technically nervous disposition may wish to skip to the next paragraph.) They increased the engine's capacity from 4.4 to 5 litres, changed the camshaft profiles and developed a bespoke computerized management system. We're talking power, and power to weight: 400bhp at 6100 rpm, 327bhp per ton. We're talking performance: 0 - 60 in 4.1 seconds, 50 - 70 in just 2.3, and a top speed of 200 miles per hour. Again, the word "fast" sums it up.

Cocaine

But wait, there's more! Imagine that great big BMW lump a few inches behind your head, blowing through the downpipe into a ceramic-wrapped, twin exhaust. To change the engine's deep-throated bellow into a mind-blowing roar, and create warp speed shove, just flex your right foot. The resulting sound and fury place this car in the upper reaches of the Ferrari firmament, where driving becomes more addictive than cocaine. On the rare occasions when there wasn't room to pass, I slowed right down, let the traffic ahead move away, then floored it-just to get another hit.

Actually, the Ecosse may well be better than one of Maranello's mean machines. In certain circles, Ferrari's are considered "crass"-in a mid-life crisis kind of way. The Ecosse is a rarer and finer bird. More importantly, the Ecosse doesn't break. With proper care at a reasonably brave BMW dealer, the engine will take a kicking and keep on ticking. The rest of the parts - air conditioning, window wipers, door handles, etc.- were chosen and assembled to maximize reliability. The fact that the thrashed press car still works well and feels tight is reasonable proof that a pampered Ecosse should last longer than the vast majority of exotics. But why pamper it? On road or track, this car will take everything you give it and come back for more.

Bargain

Click to enlarge...The last remaining Ecosse will set you back £89k, down from £96,500. A bit of a bargain really. Of course, you could wait until mid-2002 for Ascari's stunning new KZ1. But I have a sneaking suspicion that you - and you know who you are - can't. The kind of person who'd want a KZ1 believes that anything worth having is worth having now. One drive in an Ecosse, and you know that's right.

Link: www.ascari.co.uk

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