Morgan changes slowly and usually not at all. The core structure of the just-retired Plus 4 was barely altered from the one used by the English sports-car maker’s first four-wheeled model, the 4/4 that was launched back in 1936. It wasn’t retro; it was just really old.
The new Plus Four looks identical at 10 paces yet is almost entirely different underneath. The old car’s less-than-rigid steel chassis is gone, replaced by a much stronger bonded aluminum structure. Gone too is the archaic combination of a sliding pillar front suspension and a leaf-sprung live axle at the back, with the new car getting control arms at each corner. Morgan has always been agnostic when it comes to engines, with the original Plus 4 launching in 1950 with a 68-hp Standard engine that was also used in Ferguson tractors. After numerous changes over the years, the Plus 4 ended production with a 154-hp 2.0-liter inline-four built by Ford. Now, in a single generational shift, the Plus Four brings a bigger power increase than the Plus 4 saw over seven decades in the form of a 255-hp BMW 2.0-liter turbo-four under its aluminum hood. That’s not too far off the (also BMW-powered) Aero 8 that debuted in the United States in 2004.
The Plus Four’s barely changed looks from the original reflect the preferences of Morgan’s traditionally minded clientele. But the company also wants to restart sales of fully built cars in the U.S. under forthcoming replica-car legislation, which requires a car to be visually almost identical to one produced at least 25 years ago. Above the spiffy new chassis, the new car sticks with Morgan’s trademark combination of hand-formed aluminum bodywork over a wooden frame made from ash timber.
Despite looking as traditionally English as a thatched inn in the Cotswalds, the Plus Four delivers a very different driving experience than its predecessor. To demonstrate how much so, Morgan let us drive both the last Plus 4 and the new Plus Four back to back, which felt a little like comparing medieval medicine to modern surgery. The weakness of the old car’s structure and inexactitude of its suspension saw it shuddering like a wet dog over apparently smooth asphalt, while struggling to deliver even modest amounts of cornering grip. It had wooden-feeling brakes, unassisted steering that was both heavy and almost totally devoid of feedback, and a straitjacket cabin clearly designed to accommodate smaller, leaner 1950s people.
No surprise that the new Plus Four drives like a much more modern car, although a good deal of old-world charm also made the transition. The aluminum structure is far stiffer, though even Morgan can’t say by exactly how much. The company never recorded a torsional figure for the old car, so the official line is an improvement of “several hundred percent.” There is still some chattering from the Four’s trim over rough surfaces—the wooden frame is still described as “semi structural”—but the control-arm suspension is vastly superior at absorbing bumps and keeping the tires in proper contact with the road. It turns keenly, too, with its Avon summer tires finding plentiful grip and impressive traction, even when (this being England in the summer) it began to rain. Steering is less direct than it would be in a more focused sports car, but responses are still accurate enough to allow the Four to carry impressive speed down a twisty road.
It’s quick, too. Morgan’s minimalist ethos results in a claimed curb weight of just 2233 pounds “dry,” so the BMW engine faces a lighter burden here than it does in a Z4 sDrive30i. Morgan claims a 5.2-second zero-to-62-mph time with the standard six-speed manual transmission, which felt conservative after spending some time with the car. We didn’t drive a model with the optional eight-speed automatic, but Morgan says that one will knock the run to 62 mph down to 4.8 seconds.
While the new engine doesn’t lack performance, it isn’t the most charismatic unit. At low revs the whooshy induction system produces almost as much noise as the subdued exhaust. Under hard use it gets louder without becoming particularly harmonious. (The much older Ford powerplant in the Plus 4 had a rortier and more pleasing soundtrack.) Nor, it saddens us to say, is the manual gearbox a particularly fine example of this dying genre, with a light and resistance-free action, a high-biting clutch pedal, and ratios that feel too tall for a car that is never going to be a high-speed cruiser. (Second gear runs to about 80 mph.)
Yet, this matters little. Hard acceleration in the Plus Four is likely to be more of a novelty than a state of being, an occasion to excite a passenger or pass slower-moving traffic. The car’s natural pace is a gentle one. The low windshield and low-cut doors make faster progress feel uncomfortably breezy while also enhancing the sensation of speed as air and the road surface rush by. The engine’s abundant mid-range torque is particularly well suited to this sort of effortless progress. And there can be no current production car in the world with a better view forward than the Plus Four. The driver looks out over the triple wiper arms and louvered hood to the rounded fenders and headlights. Our test car rode on stylish 15-inch alloys, but wire wheels remain an option, with Morgan commissioning a new design capable of handling the turbocharged engine’s increased torque output.
The Plus Four’s cabin is more spacious than that of the Plus 4. For the first time in a Morgan, only the tallest drivers will have to push their seats fully rearward. But it is still obviously hand-built, as evinced by the presence of some obvious screw heads that affix the wooden dashboard. Instrumentation features centrally mounted circular dials for speed and engine revs with smaller gauges for fuel and engine temperature ahead of the steering wheel. Morgan is particularly proud of the digital display screen, although this is small and proved hard to read in direct sunlight.
Even when it didn’t have any new models to officially sell, Morgan never left the U.S. Some of its more ardent fans even shipped cars and engines separately to get around import restrictions. The brand still has a small network of dealers, and the 3-Wheeler continues to enjoy modest success in states that regard it as a motorcycle rather than a car. But the company hopes the new Plus Four and its brawnier Plus Six model will transform its fortunes and help sell up to 300 cars a year in the U.S. once they can officially be brought in as replicas. The driving experience has been updated, but the brand’s spirit of eccentricity remains undiminished.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io