DRIVEN: RADICAL SR3 SL
Radical says it's built a road car. Has it really?
It's a car. And it's on a road. So does that make the new Radical SR3 SL - for Street Legal - a road car? In the strictest definition of the term: yes. But in the way that most of us understand the expression 'road car', well, the 300bhp, 675kg Radical at first glance appears very much a racer with number plates. Which is in no way a criticism...
The downside to this is that Radical has had to expend bounteous time and money to turn what essentially is a racing car into a vehicle bound by the same legislation as a Ford Fiesta. Except for wipers and washers, that is, because if you don't have a windscreen, you can get away with their absence. What you can't escape from is having a clearly defined field of vision from the driver's seat - hence the scuttle at the front edge of the cockpit is cut much lower than it is in racing Radicals. You also need external mirrors that the driver can adjust from the cockpit, hence the electrically adjustable jobbies on the SL.
The SR3's race configuration rear wing was also judged a danger to folk on foot, so the design team were despatched to their computers and MIRA's wind tunnel to come up with an alternative. The road legal appendage is dubbed the 'Monaco' wing: the tri-plane arrangement is a lot narrower, yet is claimed to give 60 per cent of the downforce of the race item at race speeds. It also provides a convenient mounting point for the high-level brake light that legislation demands. And talking of lighting, the SR3 SL even features LED daytime running lights.
Fortunately for Radical, one morning its horizon was filled by a big blue oval: "Love your cars - so when are you blokes going to use one of our engines?" Ford's timing was perfect. And though some Radical racing diehards will disagree, so was its engine. Fully Euro 5 compliant and engineered to evolve to meet even tougher regs, the turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine is powerful (it's about to be installed in the new Focus ST, to be launched at the Frankfurt motor show), economical and clean.
There's no fanfare, bright lights or dancing girls when the cover is pulled off the very first SR3 SL outside Radical's Peterborough factory. It's pearlescent white with a few discreet black stripes strewn around its bodywork, the lack of livery to reflect its road-focused purpose. Mind you, alongside it stands 'Daisy', the development car, decorated in more colours than Paul Smith's undies range, and it somehow seems more appropriate - it doesn't matter how much you dress down an SR3, it remains a pretty outrageous outfit to be seen in on the open road.
Slide down onto the seat, legs near-horizontal into the depths of the footwell, the rim of the cockpit nudging your shoulder to your right, while ahead the low front edge of it seems almost constrictingly near.
You have to turn an ignition key before pressing the starter button, but any relationship that might infer with a regular, road-going sports car is dispelled the instant that the engine catches and your eardrums are assaulted with a wall of sound. It's not a pretty noise - harsh, mechanical, accompanied by the gulp, whoosh and wheeze of the induction system and turbocharger. Dip the clutch then pull the right-hand paddle to actuate first gear of the six-speed sequential gearbox (the clutch is for first only); give it a bundle of revs, because that clutch is going to bite hard and fast; zip sharpishly away from rest (kangarooing slightly because it's clear from the start than an SR3 SL doesn't relish going slowly).
Around town the ride quality is surprisingly good, especially when you consider how close you are to the ground you're passing over. What's not so special in an urban environment is the visibility, the wing mirrors giving limited view and the harnesses giving you limited range to stretch forward at roundabouts and junctions to check that the path is clear.
Clear of town the SR3 SL turns animal. Sure, on part-throttle the turbo still sounds like a whining hairdryer, the engine's other various tunes meld into a more savage yet harmonious blare, so much more the full-on race car. And the acceleration is sensational. Brutal and intense. You're scraping the road surface and the blast from the cloven air seems as though it'll rip the helmet clean off your head, so the rush from this type of performance is condensed into a tight ball of thrillingness. Radical claims a top speed of 165mph and 0-60mph in 3.0 seconds, figures you won't doubt. Suddenly the sequential gearbox with its competition clutch is in its element, all clunkiness gone both up and down through the ratios, each shift creamy and finger-snap swift.
At Cadwell Park, where Radical takes us for the track element of our day out, the SR3 SL performs with the manic pace and dynamic aplomb you'd expect of a Radical. Sure, you have to drive it in a slightly different style to its stablemates, exiting some corners a gear higher to make best use of the torque, but for outright speed, cornering poise and grip, and braking performance, few of us are likely to feel short-changed.
And so it should be. Final price is yet to be announced, but something in the region of £69,850 (inc. VAT) is being suggested. And some of you thought the KTM X-Bow R was expensive...