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Noble M600 prototype (2009) review

Published:26 August 2009

Noble M600: CAR drives a prototype
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By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

Click here to watch the video

Don't forget the background to our new Noble M600 car review. Noble first appeared on the scene with the odd-but-good M10, and then captured the automotive world’s attention with the amazing M12 and M400. Now there’s a new car, the M600, with a 650bhp twin-turbo V8 and a £200k price tag. Ambitious? Certainly.

CAR has just driven the M600, and come back very impressed. We visited the company’s Leicestershire HQ for a quick go in the P2 prototype – which looks gloriously edgy with its matt-black bodywork – and for a thorough poke around the mechanically identical and production-ready P3 prototype. The latter is the light blue car you’ll see to the left in our related articles and in a couple of weeks' time we’ll be back in it for a proper road test. Meantime, here are our early driving impressions of the Noble M600…

What has Noble been up to over the last few years?

Quite a lot. Company founder Lee Noble has left, the rights to the M12 and M400 have been sold to American company 1G Racing – which now sells it Stateside as the Rossion Q1 – and the M15 that was to replace the pair has been thoroughly redeveloped.

Power now comes from a Volvo V8 rather than a Ford V6, the redesigned body is carbonfibre rather than GRP, and the interior is bespoke rather than fitted with budget Blue Oval bits and pieces. The name has changed too – to M600 – and the price has risen from a proposed £75k to £200,000.

£200k? Wow – so what’s the Noble M600's interior like?

Very nice, though a little awkward for a tall chap like me to clamber in and out of. But once you’re over the wide sill (covered in carbonfibre) and sat snug within the comfortable Sparco seat everything seems special. The steering wheel is a tiny, tactile, leather-covered item, and there’s a little button hidden behind it that lets you switch between a track day-friendly exhaust note and one that’s (ahem) a little bit louder.

Ahead of the driver are the rev counter and 240mph speedo, while unique-to-Noble toggle switches and dials look after the air-con and other interior systems. They – along with the aftermarket hi-fi – are set within an immaculately finished carbonfibre centre console. The only off-the-shelf parts that you’re able to spot are the air vents, the Audi-sourced interior lights and the same Ford group stalks that you’ll find in an Aston Martin.

And there are other nice touches too, like the fuel and oil filler caps hidden beneath the intakes that sit just behind the side windows. It’s a huge step beyond Nobles of old (the M15 prototype had the steering wheel from a Mk1 Focus), and it only lacks the ultimate sense of occasion that other supercars carry off because there’s isn’t a Prancing Horse on the steering wheel boss or 50 years of racing history.

    

 

Is the Noble M600's V8 engine special enough to justify the price?

Essentially the base unit is the ultra-compact, Yamaha-designed, 4.4-litre V8 that you’ll find under the bonnet of a big-lump Volvo XC90, but you won’t recognise any Swedish SUV origins now thanks to the addition of twin Garrett turbos and a complete rebuild by American company Motorkraft. In testing Noble has seen 800bhp from the engine, and a reliable 750bhp, but in production guise they’ve detuned it to 650bhp (along with 604lb ft), which means the new outputs are almost double that of the 311bhp/324lb ft Volvo original.

If 650bhp sounds like too much for you then a dial on the dashboard will let you switch between Road (450bhp), Track (550bhp) and Race modes (the full 650bhp). Decisions, decisions...

Is there a full compliment of electronics to help put all that power down?

Most certainly not. The M600 has traction control (which you deactivate by lifting an anodised red toggle behind the gear lever and then pressing a switch – very cool) but there’s no ESP. There’s also no ABS for the Alcon brakes, while the dampers and steering are fixed-ratio items too.

So how does the Noble M600 drive?

Brilliantly. The clutch is relatively light and the mountain of torque makes pulling away from standstill easy. The ‘box – a manual six-speed unit from Italian transmission company Graziano – isn’t Civic-slick but it’s not obtrusive either, and is as smooth as you can expect when you remember it’s been built to deal with 604lb ft.

Short shift to second and the M600 will happily pootle along at under 2000rpm, while you take in the wonderfully communicative steering and compliant ride. The tiny leather wheel provides lovely, direct feedback from the front wheels, letting you place the M600 accurately and easily. There’s no kickback either, and although it won’t jiggle and chatter in your hands like a Lotus's helm, the lack of constant fidgeting actually makes it a less tiring drive than Hethel’s finest.

The ride is smooth too; less harsh than something like an Aston DBS in Sport mode, and with the compliance needed to deal with bumpy British roads. There’s also lots of grip, thanks to huge 19in (front) and 20in (rear) Michelin Pilot Sports.

 

And when you put your foot firmly to the floor?

You’ll laugh out loud. There’s the briefest of pauses if you’re low down in the rev range as the two turbos gather themselves together, then the M600 hurls you at the horizon. At low speeds it’ll accelerate with the same venom as a lightweight like a Caterham or Ariel, but keep going and it’ll leave them behind. Gaps in the traffic that would be suicidal in anything else suddenly become utterly feasible, and double the speed limit is easily obtainable after a few seconds of sustained acceleration.

It only lacks a little aural drama: there’s a deep-chested V8 rumble, lots of turbo whoosh and then wastegate chatter when you lift off, but it doesn’t make your spine tingle like a flat-plane crank V8 or singing V12.

The other downsides are that the M600's pedals are slightly offset to the left and set within a snug footwell, and the brakes need a serious shove to get working. Blame the minute amount of servo assistance on the latter – though there’s still immense stopping power and lots of feel on offer – but Noble is aiming the M600 at owners who don’t want electronic nannies taking car of everything so it might be part of the appeal. As will the lack of ABS.

Nevertheless, our test drive in the Noble was only brief, and conducted on tight and twisty Leicestershire country roads, but it was enough to discover that the M600 has brilliant steering, a beautifully composed ride and the performance to leave everything else on the road behind.

Verdict

There are no dynamic issues with the M600 – it’s brilliant to drive – plus the build quality and interior detailing are all spot on. The only minor gripes with the M600 are the small boot (mounted in the nose), the aforementioned cramped footwells and the lack of cabin storage space – there’s no glovebox or door bins, for instance.

Instead, the more major problems are all those that any start-up sports car manufacturer will face. We already know Noble from the exceptional M12 and M400, but the M600 is over twice the price. At £200k it’s more expensive than the forthcoming F458 or P11, and although the Murcielago isn’t a carbonfibre car, it’s only £12k more. Which would you rather see in your garage, and which key fob would you rather fumble in your pocket and show off to friends with?  Even Noble itself expects to have to hand back some of the deposits on the 80 or so orders it holds when potential customers baulk at the newly escalated price.

Noble is also currently restricting sales to the UK, and hopes to find 50 buyers each year in Blighty. By comparison, Arash – which is currently preparing its AF-10 – is only aiming for a dozen worldwide sales. Only time will tell if there are enough rich Brits ready to cough up the cash in the midst of a recession.

>> Noble M600: madness or miraculous? Click 'Add your comment' and sound off

Specs

Price when new: £200,000
On sale in the UK: November 2009
Engine: 4439cc 32v V8, 650bhp @ 6800rpm, 604lb ft at 3800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: Sub-3.0sec 0-60mph (est), 225mph (est)
Weight / material: 1250kg/steel and carbonfibre
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4360/1910/height undisclosed

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • Noble M600
  • Noble M600
  • Noble M600
  • Noble M600
  • Noble M600
  • The finished Noble M600 - bereft of prototype garb
  • Cabin of Noble M600 is a delight to behold
  • Cabin feels light years ahead of previous Nobles. But so it should at £200k

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

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