The Morgan Plus 8 offers an entertaining blend of traditional Morgan body and modern chassis

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The Morgan Plus 8, equipped with Rover’s mighty V8, was pioneered in the late 1960s and is credited with sealing the firm’s enduring popularity. The niche appeal of the firm's three-wheeled cars limited Morgan's sales as its only product until 1935, although that is something it has returned to.

Meanwhile, the Aero 8, on which this new generation of Plus 8 is based, is the direct descendent of the 1997 GT2 Le Mans car that Morgan built for the FIA GT series.

The original Plus 8 had a Rover engine. These days, power is provided by BMW

Placing a V8 engine in the front of the traditional Morgan roadster was a wonderfully barmy idea in the 1960s. The Plus 8 was Britain’s fastest-accelerating production car for a time and proved so endearing that it remained on sale, in relatively little-altered form, until midway through the last decade. 

Production of the traditional roadster has continued alongside the new-look, aluminium-chassis Aero series and 3 Wheeler, which have stolen most of the public’s attention. However, the Plus 8, in the form of a grunty old V8 in an even older bodyshell, has been missed, and nowhere more so than in the US, where the traditional roadster has been unavailable in any guise.

The old Plus 8’s chassis was no longer suitable to take a ferocious modern powertrain and associated running gear, but Morgan has found an answer: take today’s componentry and mate it with the old stager’s looks. What we have here is precisely that: a traditional-looking Morgan bearing the return of the Plus 8 name and with all the hallmarks of an old-school British roadster. Let’s see how it measures up.

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Morgan Plus 8 fabric roof

The Plus 8 sits alongside the other traditional roadsters, rather than the ‘modern’ Aero cars, in Morgan’s price list. But don’t be fooled. Yes, the hand-beaten aluminium bodywork mimics the traditional roadster’s (although it is somewhat bigger) and, to our eyes, it looks terrific.

But the new Plus 8 has the same BMW-sourced 367bhp V8 as the Aero coupé and Supersport, more than 1000 of which already ply the world’s highways. Naturally, it also gets the bonded and riveted aluminium chassis that has marked out the Aero 8 and all other Aero models since their inception in 2001.

The tiny windscreen frame makes visibility second to none. Just don’t expect the fragile wipers to brush away serious rainfall

The first Aeros were powered by a 4.4-litre BMW V8, which was some way advanced from the Rover unit that went into early Plus 8s. Since 2007, however, Aeros have been fitted with a 4.8-litre variant of the BMW engine, which the Plus 8 shares. It is mated to either a six-speed manual or six-ratio ZF automatic.

The Plus 8, at 4010mm long and 1751mm wide, may be the biggest traditionally styled Morgan to date, but the firm claims that it is the world’s lightest V8 production car to meet EU safety standards. Fully fuelled, our Plus 8 test car registered 1230kg on the weighbridge. That’s more than Morgan’s claim of 1100kg, but we weren’t particularly surprised – and certainly not disappointed – by the figure. Its 367bhp, we reckoned, would be more than enough.

Modern Morgans don’t come with a plethora of safety systems, but they get what you’d expect – and what Morgan needs for them to sell through its network of 10 dealers in the USA. ABS and airbags are standard and, while there’s no visible roll-over bar and you wouldn’t trust a toddler to sit on the windscreen lip without damaging it, the seats are reinforced. 


Morgan Plus 8 dashboard

Those who buy a traditional Morgan love the ambience and atmosphere that comes with sitting inside one, and the same ought to be true of the Plus 8. In some ways it is, but there are also niggles that let it down.

Your first mild puzzlement might come with the keys. There’s one for the doors, one for the lockable storage box behind the seats (there’s no boot), another for the fuel filler and one for the ignition. At least clambering in with the roof up is not the chore that it is in a Caterham: the door opens wide and the sill is limited.

Air-con is welcome when it gets hot under the hood, but it does take quite a while for it to chill more than just your left hand.

The driving position is snug – the seats are a touch high for some of our testers and more suited to the more slender among us. But we’re not going to quibble about that.

What we find harder to swallow is some of the fit and finish. Some bare wires behind the dashboard, for example, plus a glovebox cubby that extends to an unfinished section and a particularly unattractive steering wheel. There are some real ergonomic foibles, too. Moving the automatic gearbox's lever to Park is a knuckle-scraper, and there’s no way of opening the behind-seat cubby without having the key half-inserted in the lock to use it as a handle.

On top of that, the 12v power socket is underneath the dashboard, so if your plug doesn’t fit snugly, gravity will do the rest, and while air conditioning is standard, switching the ventilation fans to the appropriate setting is purely the work of feel. Hand-built eccentricities? On a traditional roadster, perhaps. But on a new Aero model that wants a significant investment before options? No.

We have less of an issue with the weather gear, which demands that you occasionally make adjustments to it. You can tighten the front catches, but that’s par for the course with a hood that will stretch and tighten with the seasons.

Likewise, the removable door windows want bending into position to create something approaching (but never achieving) a seal. A car that looks like this will demand such compromises.

Personalising your Plus 8 isn't a simple job with 8 standard body, 20 leather trim and six hood colours to choose from, that is before choosing the dash or carpet options.


Morgan Plus 8

Despite what we find wrong with the Morgan’s interior, there’s very little to complain about the pace with which it goes down the road. The sound the Plus 8 makes on start-up is eager. This engine, which has been gradually replaced by turbocharged units in BMW’s range (but which we know from many just-departed ‘50i’ models), offers genuine V8 woofle and character at any revs.

Step-off is brisk. The six-speed manual that comes as standard is heavy but direct, and complements the nature of the car. There’s considerable creep built into the six-speed automatic ZF transmission (which is used to lugging around more than the Morgan’s 1230kg).

Our noise meter was away being calibrated on the day of our test. Morgan should feel quite relieved by that

However, the gearbox largely does what it’s told if you sling it into its manual-override mode, whereupon it blips a little (although not enough) on downshifts, and changes up on your whim. It’ll still auto-upshift at the 6500rpm rev-limiter, but that’s fine by us. As is the way that, left in automatic, it mooches around at lower speeds.

Straight-line speed? As fast as you’d realistically want, we suspect. We returned 0-60mph in 4.9sec and don’t doubt that, in a manual variant that could hit 60mph in second gear, the Plus 8 would match Morgan’s claim of 4.5sec over the same benchmark. It’s a strong, lusty performer at any revs.

A tickle of throttle at low revs in a high gear is likely to get you where you want to go at a speed you could eventually feel slightly uncomfortable with, for reasons that we’ll come to in the next section.

The servo-assisted brakes are perhaps a touch sharp for easy modulation around town but overall, in the dry, it brakes quite well. In the wet, it is a different matter. There’s noticeable directional instability when you first hit the pedal, and thereafter the stopping distance is poor.


Morgan Plus 8 cornering

We’ve driven Aero Morgans before. We had an Aero 8 at our Handling Day in 2005, where it didn’t score terribly well. Its steering was inert for a quarter turn and then frighteningly urgent. We’ve since tried different iterations of cars with the chassis and, although we’ve always come away knowing that there is a fundamentally sound chassis beneath them – faithful, balanced and grippy – never have we felt totally at ease with the experience.

That is not quite true this time, though. The problem of ride remains; it is fidgety to the point of annoyance on poor urban roads and manifests itself as shivers and shudders through a chassis that is perhaps not as stiff as Morgan would like to think it is.

Braking in a straight line brings about only a little body dive, but the brake pedal is a bit tricky to modulate around the top of its travel

The power-assisted steering, though, has been improved over time, with a new hydraulically assisted system offered around six months after the car's initial launch. It isn't perfect, but it does give confidence.

At higher speeds, the Plus 8 tracks straight enough. Send it down a demanding road, however, and it’s kicked easily off line by ruts and camber changes. There is an inherent balance and fluidity to the chassis, but you do have to work hard to find them, and especially enjoy them.

There’s still a driving experience to enjoy here, mind you. It’s more of the ‘hang on’ variety than we’d like, but with this surfeit of torque and power, the terrific view and the wonderful noise, it would be churlish to say that the Morgan can’t be an enjoyable companion. Just don’t expect it to be a focused and neatly honed one.


Morgan Plus 8

Morgan hasn’t reached 103 years of age by offering cars that are bad ownership propositions and, for all its foibles, the Plus 8 is going to be a rare, desirable car.

So although our data experts do not predict great things from the Plus 8’s residual values, our testers are inclined to think that the car will fare rather better than those which pass as its rivals.

We’d choose a manual over the auto, and the sports exhaust is worth having

What is less spectacular is the fuel-efficiency of the Plus 8. Light cars usually fare well, even those with big engines, but during our track tests, the Morgan gave us 15.1mpg. Overall, it returned only 24.4mpg.

And, finally, a word on durability. It is impossible for us to comment on reliability and quality absolutely, but bear in mind that a fleet of Plus 8s will not have completed a summer in Death Valley and a winter in Sweden.

These are cars best treated as classics from the day they arrive.


3.5 star Morgan Plus 8

The Morgan would not get the star rating it does here if we judged it with the same objectivity that we apply to most other tests.

It doesn’t ride well, but this we could forgive alone. More worryingly, in places the Plus 8 feels unfinished inside.

The car has its charms, but you need to know what you’re buying into

It also demands more of you than we feel most owners should tolerate. It brings us – and, we suspect, Morgan – no pleasure in saying it, but the Plus 8 is not all the car it should and could be.

And yet the Plus 8 retains a certain something. Every one of us was swayed by its looks or its noise or the way it went in a straight line. And had those things been combined with the old-style chassis, we’d have adored this car.

However, its failings are harder to forgive when it has the latest architecture beneath it and it demands that you part with the far side of £70,000 before options.

So although it remains quite an easy car to like, you should be fully aware of what you’re buying.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Morgan Plus 8 2012-2019 First drives