The supreme Noble.
4 May 2004

Silence finally arrives at 160. From zip to 159mph the new Noble M400’s cabin acts as a fiercely powerful stereo amplifier, receiving multiple sound sources from engine, transmission, tyres and the air rushing over its plastic body, before increasing their collective shout and depositing the whole lot in the driver’s ears. And then at 160mph, quite suddenly, it goes quiet.

Because at precisely the time the decimal point segregating 150s from 160 clicks over, the world becomes a different place. Now you’re travelling properly fast, and that requires a type of concentration you don’t normally employ; one that focuses all of your faculties so hard on the simple coordination tasks needed to steer a car in a straight line that your brain actively begins to shut down peripheral activities.

The first of those is sound. Ask anyone what 170mph feels like in an M400 and they’ll talk acceleration, ride, heat, damp pants – anything but noise. You just don’t recollect sound. Which is remarkable, because as Lee Noble’s latest 425bhp aural assault weapon butts its way towards the three-miles-a-minute mark, it makes one hell of a racket.

But how fast will it go? It’s a question that Bruntingthorpe’s two-mile straight will hopefully answer today. But the M400 is not just a slightly more interstellar Noble. For me it’s the most significant car the company has released since the original M12 GTO in 2000.

For all its pace and style the M12 has always suffered from some acutely annoying problems. Four of them, to be precise: a rubbish gearchange, a rubbish driving position, suspension too soft for serious track work and a steering rack that, despite ideal weighting and speed, just didn’t offer enough lock for committed any-weather sliding.

How convenient then that listed among the many changes made to the car are the following: a new gearshift mechanism, a re-positioned transmission tunnel giving less pedal offset, uprated springs and dampers and increased steering lock. It would seem my prayers have been answered.

Now I’ve never actually climbed out of an M12 and found it wanting in the shove department, but such is our obsession with speed these days that Noble couldn’t just tweak the chassis, it had to bolster the numbers. It means that the M12 has now moved up a notch in the power-to-weight stakes, which, given that it was already 911 Turbo-fast is worth noting. From just 2968cc, with the help of two larger Garrett T28 turbos, Roush technologies has somehow managed to bully 425bhp at 6500rpm and 390lb ft at 5000rpm from the humble Ford Duratec V6. With a kerbweight of 1060kg, that brings 401bhp per tonne. A 911 GT3 RS has 282bhp per tonne.

It feels very different. Not because it accrues speed with a huge amount more vigour (it feels faster, but not demonstrably so) but because the chassis and steering have been transformed. Roll angles have been cut to a minimum, the Pirelli P-Zero Corsas provide a level of grip that would be barking to use on the public road and which comfortably cope with full power out of most second-gear bends. But here’s the clever bit: the breakaway characteristics are actually more benign than the standard car’s. First a touch of understeer and then, if you want it, a big, controllable slide. Here the added steering lock is a revelation: time was when an M12 at too big a drift angle was a guaranteed spinner. Not any longer.

Now I’ve always looked at the M12’s door-sized rear wing and wondered how much of an effect it has on top speed. Noble insisted that removing it would have little or no effect on terminal velocity, but then they’re from Leicestershire. So out came the spanners, off came the wing and in were folded the mirrors in a simple attempt to render the M12 a little more slippery.

There are two quite distinct areas of M400 performance: below 120mph and above it. Below 120mph the M400 is devilishly fast: the engine has been remapped to produce its power between 4500 and 7500rpm, but there’s enough shove from 2000rpm to deal with most supposedly fast cars. You just row through the first four gears, enjoying a change that shames the standard car’s and, before you’ve had time to consider just how rapid it is, the speedo’s registering 120mph. That Porsche RS would already be 10mph behind and it would take something with the legs of a Carrera GT to out-pace the thing.

But, unfortunately for my wing experiment, frontal area has far too much of an effect on overall aerodynamic efficiency, and here the M400 struggles. It has even larger air intakes than the standard car, and, inevitably, above 120mph the shove diminishes quite noticeably. From here to 160 it merely feels BMW M3-fast and then, just as the noise disappears, so the acceleration peters out. Then you begin to coax the numbers out of it: 161, 163, 165, all the while remaining mindful that photographer Papior seems to be trying to mount my left leg to gain a clear view of the dash. Eventually we hit 173mph. So does 173mph and £61,995 represent good value for money? It certainly does.

Although it doesn’t have the image or polish of a Porsche GT3 RS or Ferrari 360 CS, the M400 offers easily as much track and road performance potential for significantly less cash. Yes, the decals on the side look like they were drawn by a child, and build quality isn’t the very best. But with the revised chassis, steering and driving position the M400 is actually an easier car to drive fast and to live with than the cars sitting below it in the model range. If you’re a potential Noble convert, try it soon. If you already own an M12, don’t. The upgrade will be inevitable.

Chris Harris

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