Noble M500 prototype review: Brit supercar maker returns with manual V6

Noble… it’s been a while, right?

You might dimly remember the Noble M600. Come to think of it, Noble itself is hardly a household name, so let’s start there. It sprung to prominence in the early-Noughties, producing mid-engined sports cars with remarkable chassis fluency. Being a British cottage industry marque it then stuttered before coming back a decade ago with a supercar, the aforementioned M600. Again one with a supple chassis, but this time the twin-turbocharged Ford V6 had given way to twin-turbo 4.4-litre Volvo-Yamaha V8. 350bhp had become 650.

That packed quite a punch then.

It was mighty. And shorn of almost all conventional safety aids. The looks were perhaps a touch simplistic, so Noble only ever sold a couple of dozen. Shame. It’s one of those cars that’s much more than the sum of its not-very-exotic parts. It was terrifically, thunderously fast, chattered with feedback, but wasn’t the sort of car that held your hand. You needed to know what you were doing. And being carbon bodied it was also expensive to produce.

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So this is the next chapter, right?

Correct. Noble has gone away, regrouped and come back with this, the M500. The aim is to deliver a similarly enticing driving experience, but at a lower price point, hopefully around £150,000. It’s still at the prototype stage at the moment, but uses plenty of carryover from its bigger sibling: same steel spaceframe chassis and double wishbone suspension, same wheelbase and hydraulic, not electric, power steering.

However, it has reverted to a twin turbo Ford V6. Not from a Mondeo now, but a brand new 3.5-litre twin turbo from a Ford Raptor. It’s given Noble some issues as Ford recently changed the engine specification, moving the manifolds so that they interfered with the rear chassis rails. Just a part of the development process for a small volume manufacturer.

The engine isn’t short of power, though. 505bhp and 550lb ft of torque is masses in a car that will only weigh around 1,200kg in final guise. At the moment it’s a couple of hundred kilos heavier than that chiefly due to prototype body panels. Those will be fibreglass for final production: heavier than carbon, but a whopping cost saving.

Is that a manual gearlever I spy between the seats?

It is, and it’s the best news possible as far as you and I are concerned. It’s a manual, the Graziano six-speed from the original Audi R8, click-clack open gate and all. Obviously it’s rear-drive only, and production versions will have a limited slip differential, plus traction control. ABS brakes still won’t be offered though. That’s a potential oversight that those otherwise tempted by the M500’s more natural driving experience may not be inclined to overlook. Time will tell.

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What do you make of the design?

It’s a more sophisticated, shapely car than the M600. Sharper lines emanate from the nose, rising past Ferrari-esque headlights. The cabin and lower body are connected by a flying pillar that at the top channels air across the back deck, and lower down feeds air into the radiators. Its C-shape has something in common with the Bugatti Chiron. The rear engine cover maybe sits a little high, but otherwise this comes across as what it is: a light, small, agile car.

And a woefully impractical one?

Wrong, actually a surprisingly versatile one. Under the nose there’s a luggage compartment easily a match for anything Porsche has managed to carve out in the front of a 911, and it’s well trimmed to boot. Arf. The cabin is an Alcantara bolthole, with a couple of little quirks. The steering wheel is flat bottomed to aid access but looks a little odd, those with big feet might find their toes scrapping the underside of the steering column and the seat needs to go a fraction to the left to line up perfectly with the steering. Or the wheel to the right.

Then the good news – and there’s a lot of it. The driving position is spot-on, visibility is good, the seat is superb. You’re instantly comfortable in the car. And it’s a delight to pilot. There is a little bit of lag, then the turbo comes in quite hard and fast, but you’re not intimidated by the power delivery, it doesn’t feel like torque is going to overwhelm traction. And even if it did, you’d be able to cope because you’ve already worked out the chassis and steering have got your back.

So the M500 isn’t the hairy, scary proposition that the massive-chested M600 was?

It packs a slightly smaller accelerative punch but has similar chassis fluency, it rides lightly and dextrously and is slick to operate. That open gate R8 gearbox is a delight, the lever snicks crisply through the gate, the pedals are perfectly positioned, the steering is accurate and bubbles with feedback even if it is too sharp just off centre at the moment and suffers a bit of deflection on bumpy roads.

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Is there a market for a car like this any more?

I suspect it’ll struggle to find a wide market because it’s not technically advanced. But picture it as a manual McLaren, or a Lotus Emira with a thump more power (and less weight…) and you start to see the appeal.

Specs: 3496cc twin turbo V6, six speed manual, RWD, 505bhp, 550lb ft, 0-62mph 3.6secs, 185mph, NAmpg, NAg/km

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