NOBLE M12 - driven
I had planned to take a test drive in the Noble very soon after its launch and first reviews. Not only did it look a stunner but it was very fast on paper and given the man behind the car, had the potential to be a supreme handler. Definitely one of the few exciting cars out there at the moment. Since all the rave reviews its had in the press and considering how well it has done in Car of the year tests etc.. i couldn't wait to sample it for myself.
I wanted to like this car .... wanted to like it a lot. Pulling up at the Noble dealer it looked a million dollars in bright yellow, looking like one of the very best ever toys that you could buy yourself. Although i felt pretty nonchalant toward the look of the initial silver press car, this mustard example really hits the spot and transforms the looks (I'd still change those alloys though - way too aftermartket and not enough "le mans"). From the hyperbolic mag reports I was expecting to really like this car and had images of me going home calculating loan repayments and buying top marques to advertise the evo in for the next issue.
Strange though - you really never can tell until you are actually behind the wheel, looks can be so deceiving. Do you remember when you were at school or college etc.. and you used to see a girl (or boy) around that you developed a bit of a crush for. You built her up in your mind as being all types of things from her voice to how she laughed, what music she liked and what she did in her spare time etc... then one day you got to meet and actually speak with her and you were just so disappointed; despite being the best looking in the whole of the University she was thick as sh1t and so not your type that it became embarrassing even trying to have a conversation with her after just the first 2 sentences. Well, this is what happened to me in the M12 !
As we set off the first thing i noticed was the steering .. or lack of it ! The wheel generally felt quite wooly, not very direct at all and not a great deal of feeling of connectivity to the actual front wheels or the road. Shuffling through a built up area it soon became apparent that the wheel is not very precise or sharp. In addition, the suspension was in a similar vein, quite soft. I was expecting quite a stiff and precise, darty type of car - especially given the Nobles obvious trackday bias - but generally i found myself settling into a drive which was definitely too ponderous and comfortable.
Making progress toward a dual carrigeway I indicated to the test driver just how surprised I was at the steering and lack of precision and also the ride which was not particularity stiff or racecar-like. Now the gearbox I did quite like, kind of like an elise box but with a shorter throw and a bit more of a sporty action. It was notchy for sure but nowhere near as bad as an esprits and to be honest I can't see why the magazines criticised the gearbox so much. Okay so 3rd gear is curiously more to the right than feels natural but other far more important things were of much bigger concern.
I was expecting a lot from the chatter of the engine but all I got was a few whooshing noises of boost being dumped. Okay so its fun but not even as loud as an EVO blow off valve. Also, the actual engine didn't appear to be making any proper noises of its own ??? When we turned on to the carriageway I booted the Noble in 2nd then 3rd then into 4th to about maybe 100mph. Now make no mistake, this all happened very very quickly but boy did it feel slow. Never in my life have I driven a car which so deceptively hides its feeling of acceleration and speed from the drivers senses. Even more so than say the Esprit v8 GT (which is very similar in acceleration terms) the Noble does not feel quick at all. There is no frenzy, no g force, no stomach churning or no engine raucously going balls out on you. Admittedly, this is effortless performance and some may like that but for me it was bloody boring. It made the evo feel like a cruise missile and the 340r like an atom being split. In a sense, when a car does hide acceleration and speed it has to be commended because to a certain extent its a testament to the cars stability but for my mind getting to 100 in 15 seconds in just an elise 111s (leaving aside the considerably quicker evo & R for the moment) with a K&N roaring its arse off in your left ear is far far more entertaining than 0-100 in 9 seconds in the Noble. Sorry, but this car needs more noise and more involvement in the occasion of speed and its monstrous acceleration.
Off the carriageway and it was roundabout time. I was shocked to find that the Noble didn't feel particularly special going round. Turning in was not very precise at all, all rather flabby with no nice bite to speak of. Instead of the car locking to a scalextric type line and feeling "rails-like" through the wheel it just kind of floated round. Once again, i floored the gas and went down the slip road back onto the A road and once again, we were soon beyond the ton but boy was it boring. Not only was there little sense of actual acceleration but it did it so quick (i know that sounds nonsensical) that there was nothing to enjoy, no build up of revs, no sweet spot, no on-boost moment, no glorious scream of a thousand angry beasts from hell at the redline. Maybe good for shocking fellow motorists at how quickly you can join a mway but not much good for the driver and his sense organs.
Its always nice to sit in the classic supercar stance and the M12 is no exception. I like high mounted gear levers, there is something special about them but I did find the Noble seat pretty low and my line of sight seemed to be only just above the dash. Whilst the console dials worked for me, some of the interior is a bit incongruous. The doors seem strangely thin and there is nowhere to rest a tired elbow on your rhs. Also the handbrake is very very high and extremely dislikeable. The steering position was not ideal either, i would have prefered it lower and more nestled into my bent arms.
There isn't really much else to report. This was only a short test drive but easily enough for me to get the general gist of the Noble. I am sure that on a good workout the car would start to take on a more precise nature and show what it can do well but on balance it is so far from what i like and look for in a car. The steering is slow, bland and muffled, and although you feel and are aware of its lighweight it just doesn't turn and go like you expect it to, i.e. like a lightweight 300bhp+ midengined road-race car. Its not very precise and scalpel like and just does not feel special in any sense no matter what you are doing, whether its turning, accelerating, changing gear etc.. Perhaps it comes into its own when pushed really hard ... maybe then it starts to feel like magic but one thing is for sure, it definitely would need some very serious abuse and speed in order to extract fun from it.
Shame, I wanted to like it and was expecting something very very special but was deeply disappointed on nearly all levels. Maybe I was expecting too much ? But I don't think so. In my opinion both the 340r and evo feel far far better and miles more involving. When the test drive was over i was so pleased to be back in the evo and just doing 40mph down the road its super sharp steering, solid chassis and stiff rollercoaster suspension told me that i wasn't dreaming when i drove the Noble and reaffirmed exactly what i look for in a car. I have to say, i'd have an esprit way before a Noble. They are similar cars in many ways but the esprit feels miles better - the esprit chassis is incredible - and although its done quite well and seems built pretty well the Noble does give off quite a kit car air especially in the cabin. For 45K i would expect something a bit more, but then again for 45K i'd have x2 evos or a 340r & evo all day long.
Just goes to show, never believe what you read in the papers - GO DRIVE FOR YOURSELF. I am starting to believe that this current generation of road testers only favour cars that are quite soft and user-friendly. Anything that is stiff, hard, noisy, sharp & a nuclear assualt on the sense organs is generally not liked and always comes second to a 996, a scooby or a Noble !
Lastly, don't let me put you off. I am not trying to put the Noble down, just give an account of my findings with respect to my own demands of a performance car and what turns me on behind the wheel. I am still a bit shocked that this car was not what I imagined it to be and am now puzzled by all teh hype. But then people are very different and so are the cars that they make, horses for courses and all that. I still feel that the M12 is a monstrous achievement and in todays pathetic market is a complete hero; it delivers bigtime on power & acceleration & weight where many others fail and has looks to die for. Above all its an enthusiasts car and to be celebrated but it just did not light my fire and fulfill my own personal brief for a drivers car. As always, you comments and feedback are welcome.
R (feb 2002)