We were, well, rather impressed!
There's a danger that test driving any 300bhp car is going to impress and result in an outpouring of superlatives. Having driven the Noble M12, it's left me scouring the dictionary for a new lexicon to convey the greatness of this car. It is a stunning piece of machiney.
Stylistically it's a great improvement on the M10, which only sold in small numbers. It looks better from some angles than others, with the rear three-quarters in particular looking a little heavy, but overall it's a good looking and head-turning car.
Lowering yourself into the driver's seat, you're presented with a simple, different looking, yet well designed interior. A roll cage is integrated but thanks to good trimming is inconspicuous. Sat in the race-like seat, complete with optional harnesses, the controls fall easily to hand (steering column is adjustable for reach) and the minute you ease the clutch up and the throttle down, it becomes apparent how easy it is to drive. Unlike some other 300+ bhp cars, the clutch is light, the gear lever slots effortlessly into place and the car eases away without any drama or sense of weight.
The engine tone is sporty and not harsh as you might expect given the power output. The Ford Duratec V6 hasn't been messed with dramatically, with most of the work on the internals consisting of strengthening the components. Then of course they added those two turbos. With the engine sat behind your head, you're very aware of its activities, yet with such pleasing tones it's not intrusive. The turbos sound gorgeous, not gasping or rasping but whooshing and whistling like they've got a huge pair of lungs. They're a delight to hear and no doubt owners will soon learn to play them with the throttle like they're musical instruments. Even at idle, the car sounds purposeful with a rortyness emanating from the short exhaust, hinting at what it's capable of.
Like Lee Noble's previous creations, the M12 has a well deserved reputation for fine handling. The M12 is of course a fantastic track car, but how does it stand up to the daily grind on British roads? It compromises brilliantly. The lightweight controls and torquey yet free revving engine make this car an absolute breeze to drive in traffic. Crawling through jams in the M12 isn't the drama or effort that can be experienced in other supercars. The car will happily pull from 20mph in fourth gear. Whilst you're positioned quite low in the car, the view is good to the front and sides, although a little impeded at the rear by the spoiler.
After crawling through the traffic and hitting faster roads, once again it matters little what gear you're in. The accelerator has a long travel, but squeezing it a little forces the car to propel itself faster at quite a rate even before the turbos kick in. The 2.5 V6 would be fun enough in the 980 kilo car, but once those turbos start drawing breath from around 3,000rpm you rocket forwards, rapidly running out of road yet your foot has barely edged towards the carpet. As for the rev limiter, you'll never get there! British owners could well get frustrated looking for roads to enjoy this car on. The M12 is all about usable power, not outright power and as such feels even faster than the performance figures might suggest.
Hurtling through the Surrey lanes was an absolute joy. Direct, well balanced steering, coupled with a rigid chassis allow you to position the car easily on the road and flying over the undulating B roads proved just how capable the car is. No sparks, no grounding out, no bounce, just the right amount of give in the suspension and a wonderful sense of being at one with the car. There are few road going cars that can provide the sense of rigidity that the Noble does. Yet that rigidity hasn't compromised the ride.
The Open Road
Find yourself a sweeping A road and the car ably demonstrates it's wonderful balance. With no need to constantly swap gears to find the power, you can leave your hands clasping the wheel, guiding the car cross country in a rhythmic trance, engine and turbos singing away behind you in accompaniment.
For many owners this will be their only car. Given the civilised nature of the car and the fact that much of it is based on Ford components, that shouldn't be a problem. However, the lack of storage space will niggle. With no space fore or aft, Noble have provided a range of bags that fix into various positions in the cockpit such as under your legs and behind the seats. Total space is equivalent to a couple of weekend bags but packing for the weekend will require more forethought and you'll have to go to Sainsbury's on your own. Air con will be provided and we suspect it will be badly needed in those few days of hot weather we get occasionally.
Other downsides? The radio is difficult to reach, there's no wind in the hair option and I can't afford one!
TVR and Lotus must sit up and take note of this car as it bridges the gap between the great power of the TVRs and the adept handling of the Lotuses. For enthusiasts seeking TVR levels of power and performance, but in a more friendly package this offers an alternative that didn't exist before.
Lotus owners are queuing up already to try it, either as the next step up from the Elise or as an alternative to the ever more vague promises for the M250. Lotus have some serious competition at last - and they're not ready.
Thanks to Mole Valley TVR for access to the cars.