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Morgan’s four-cylinder lifeblood model gets 21st-century underpinnings

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Last year, one of Britain’s oldest car makers entered a new, outward-looking modern era.

After the business had been owned and run by the Morgan family for more than a century, a controlling share of the Morgan Motor Company was bought by Italian-led venture capital firm Investindustrial (which also remains a minority shareholder in Aston Martin Lagonda). In the same year, the company’s first all-new model in decades entered production, based on a box-fresh aluminium platform and powered by an up-to-date turbocharged BMW engine never used by the Worcestershire-based outfit before.

In a car like this, you want as much physical connection with and involvement in what’s going on at the wheels as possible. The Plus Four’s manual shift feels meaty but not overly springy or obstructive

That was the range-topping Morgan Plus Six, of course, and now along comes that car’s slightly smaller, cheaper, lighter and more traditional little brother to be examined, probed, measured and interrogated as part of our road test evaluation.

Tradition is a concept that lies at the core of any Morgan’s appeal and yet it is a word to be applied quite carefully to this car, because it is the first four-cylinder Morgan not to use the steel ladder-frame chassis first introduced with the Morgan 4/4 of 1936. As much as 84 years is a pretty decent innings for any model platform, to Morgan diehards who have favoured what have become known as the marque’s ‘trad’ roadsters, ‘traditional’ is clearly the last thing that the new Plus Four may seem.

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The Plus Four still has four wheels and four cylinders, though. It uses a turbocharged BMW engine just like the bigger Plus Six – but, as we’re about to explain, the Plus Four’s ethos and its design cues are a bit more in line with Morgan’s classic English roadster recipe in other respects.

So exactly how modern does an all-new, classically appealing Morgan roadster dare to be in 2020?

The Morgan Plus Four line-up at a glance

Cars as simple as the Plus Four don’t come in model derivative ranges, which is why you can summarise the entirety of Morgan’s current showroom range using so few column inches as we have above.

There are far more options on colour and trim than mechanical specification for the car, but if you need help deciding which colours to combine for your seat/ dashboard hide, cabin veneer, hood and paintwork, Morgan’s online configurator offers specification ‘themes’ to give you a few ideas.

Price £62,995 Power 255bhp Torque 258lb ft 0-60mph 5.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 9.2sec Fuel economy 44.5mpg CO2 emissions 165g/km 70-0mph 49.5m

What Car? New car buyer marketplace


Morgan Plus Four 2020 road test review - hero side

Visually, it seems that the most significant change to this new Morgan’s design relates to the badging on its rear, where the previous ‘Plus 4’ lettering now reads ‘Plus Four’.

This tweak in nomenclature is no doubt intended to subtly hint at the sea change that has taken place beneath the skin (Morgan claims that 97% of its parts are new) and subtly mark this two-seat sports car out as being a product of the firm’s bold new era. In any case, the Plus Four’s gorgeous post-war design remains as idiosyncratically Morgan as ever – much to the approval of our testers and the general public alike.

No power adjustment here: you’ll need to get the wing mirrors in place by hand. It’s a bit of a stretch to get to the nearside one, so don’t forget to adjust it before setting off.

Beneath it all, the steel ladder-frame chassis that underpinned Morgan’s four-cylinder sports cars for more than eight decades has been replaced by the firm’s new CX-Generation architecture. This bonded aluminium platform is not only lighter than that which came before it (weighing just 98kg), but it is demonstrably stronger, too. In fact, with a torsional rigidity of 4377N/ mm, it’s 100% stiffer even than the aluminium chassis that previously underpinned Morgan’s cross-eyed Aero supercar.

Of course, Morgan’s iconic ash timber frame remains, sitting atop the new platform and forming the foundation on which much of the cockpit, doors and rear body panels are then assembled. Just upstream sits the new BMW powerplant. The longitudinally mounted B48 four-cylinder motor belongs to Munich’s TwinPower engine family and is related to the motor that appears in the 330i saloon.

Here, it develops 255bhp at 5500rpm and as much as 295lb ft of torque when paired with BMW’s eight-speed automatic transmission. In the case of our six-speed manual test car, however, that figure is capped at 258lb ft, which arrives at the rear wheels at 1450rpm. In any event, that should make for a fair amount of punch in a car that weighs a claimed 1013kg.

Stopping power comes courtesy of ventilated disc brakes front and rear, and ABS has been included for the first time. Curiously for a car that seems to champion a more analogue approach to motoring, Morgan has fitted electronic power steering to this latest Plus Four. Emissions regulations and a desire to make the car more marketable in the US were probably key influences in this regard.


Morgan Plus Four 2020 road test review - cabin

The Plus Four’s elegant, elongated wing panels may be narrower than those of the Plus Six, but it still takes a good-sized step to bridge them.

With the roof down and the cutdown doors open, boarding this car is still markedly easier than getting into a Caterham or Ariel Atom might be, though. Even with the roof in place, it’s not too physically testing a process. The worst of it is managing to avoid snagging your trousers on the exposed raised edges of metalwork around the car’s door latches as you slide in, and then making a concertina of your legs and swinging them through the fairly small door aperture.

There are seven ‘wood’ options here (and, yes, one. of them is ‘natural ash’) or you can have gloss-finished body-coloured plastic at no extra cost.

Apart from a slightly narrow seat and a snug-feeling driving environment, though, the cabin is surprisingly spacious. It’s laid out simply and has more than a hint of richness about it and plenty of charm. Although Morgan’s slightly truculent, stiff runners make the seat’s position a bit tough to adjust, there’s plenty of driver leg room.

Ahead of you, analogue dials for coolant temperature, fuel level, engine speed and road speed are all present, as is an analogue clock; and although they could have been given a little more material lustre and retro-cool design appeal, they strike the right kind of ambience for the car.

The cheap, shiny mouldings around the steering column aren’t so pleasing. No doubt they came as a job lot with the PSA Group parts bin column stalks and the holiday rental car key, but the car deserves better. Likewise, exposed electrical wiring has no place in a car at this price point, and we found a couple of examples of that.

The only digital screen anywhere in the car is one about 4in diagonally across that sits dead ahead of the driver and can be configured as a digital speedometer (the analogue one is on the far side of the dashboard) when it’s not temporarily relaying changes to your selected heater settings, for example. A smartphone cradle somewhere on the otherwise sparsely populated centre console would have been a practical addition, but you can well understand why Morgan didn’t include one.

Cabin storage around the cockpit is in short supply and there is no cupholder, but you can slot keys, phones and wallets into the ‘glovebox’ compartment, which would then be effectively retained by the elasticated mesh on the front of it.

Morgan Plus Four infotainment and sat-nav

The Plus Four doesn’t get any on-board audio system as standard and doesn’t even offer navigation as an aftermarket option. The simplified trip computer ahead of the driver provides per-journey fuel economy information as well as an electronic dipstick level, but anything beyond that is considered unnecessary for this car and, to be fair, probably is.

For extra cost, Morgan will fit into the woodwork of the rear cockpit frame a couple of nicely grilled speakers that are connected to a small amplifier, to which you can also connect your smartphone via Bluetooth. Alternatively, you can hook up an audio source via a wired 3.5mm minijack in the glovebox.

It’s a nicely integrated, discreet solution well suited to the car, although the speakers have slightly limited power and, with the car’s roof up or down, you’ll struggle to make out much detail in what you’re listening to with all the ambient noise. Just for some relief from the drone of a long journey, though, it’s worth having.


Morgan Plus Four 2020 road test review - engine

It’s tough to imagine a situation where you might accuse the Plus Four of feeling underpowered.

With so little weight to shift, the Plus Four accelerates at a rate that, on the road, would certainly trouble any four-cylinder sports car you’d care to name; and with torque being as readily accessible as it is, it does so pretty effortlessly, too.

Plus Four feels more enjoyable at a brisk pace than a press-on or rapid one, but its straight-line acceleration is quick enough to live with most four-cylinder sports cars.

On a dry track, the Morgan managed to hit 60mph from rest in an average time of 5.1sec and the run from 30mph to 70mph was dispatched in 4.3sec. That’s not so far off the four-cylinder Porsche 718 Cayman S we tested in 2016, which clocked an identical 0-60mph time and completed the 30-70mph dash in 3.9sec. With a consistently weighted clutch and the bulk of two road testers sat almost directly over its rear axle, getting the Plus Four off the line quickly wasn’t a desperately difficult undertaking, and its precise, keenly weighted gearbox aided proceedings once up and running.

Still, that’s not to say its powertrain is completely without fault. The power delivery can feel slightly boosty, and although there’s an appealingly rough edge to the motor’s four-cylinder soundtrack, that burble is accompanied by a fair amount of flatulent whooshing and whistling when under load. Slightly more disappointing is the Morgan’s overly long gearing. The car can hit 110mph in third, which seems like overkill in a lightweight sports car that, you’d hope, would promote a certain level of analogue interactivity over and above easy drivability and more palatable CO2 levels.

Nevertheless, braking performance is vastly improved by the addition of ABS, with the Plus Four hauling itself to a stop from 70mph over a distance of 49.5m. By contrast, the V6 Morgan Roadster we tested in 2004 required 61.3m in the dry and it violently locked its brakes in the process.


Morgan Plus Four 2020 road test review - on the road front

The Plus Four gives you plenty of driver involvement in the old-fashioned way.

The power steering is lighter and slower paced than you might expect in a one-tonne sports car, but it is much more consistent in both senses than Morgan steering tended to be previously. Its weight and pace also say plenty about the character of a car that’s by no means unwilling or incapable of entertaining when driven quickly but quite plainly still prefers the sort of pace at which top-down summer motoring can be really savoured.

Throttle on the exit of corners will coax out minute amounts of easily caught oversteer. Nothing heroic, but it feels great nonetheless

Even when driven in no particular hurry, the car feels animated and keeps you busy. The chassis is more softly sprung than most in the sports car class and so it’s quite pitch sensitive. Under power and when cornering, it doesn’t roll much but certainly likes to gather its weight around its rear wheels. The consequently varying front axle loading that results makes cornering with speed, stability and precision a bit of a challenge – although not an uninviting one.

Take the side screens off and you’ve got lots of leverage at the wheel, which you need in order to carry plenty of speed with the scope of steering input that’s necessary. The flex in those 60-profile tyre sidewalls doesn’t make for the last word in handling accuracy even when the chassis stays level and the car is in a steady state, and outright lateral grip is pretty modest. So you earn your corn if you can carry speed in a Morgan, now as ever.

You’re constantly adjusting and cajoling the Plus Four as you whisk it along, then. At a 60mph cruise on an A-road it needs regular little course corrections to account for its shifting mass and suspension deflection, and at fast B-road pace it requires a deliberate hand and plenty of concentration. On-centre steering feel is notably better if you drive the car in ‘S+’ mode, which is what most of our testers preferred.

Vertical body control on really testing surfaces is certainly loose enough to slow you down over bigger lumps and bumps and gives you plenty of pause for thought. This is a car that can feel oddly short on suspension travel; moreover, one that still seems to come up short on structural integrity and outright dynamic composure when really tested. At just the right speed, though, it rewards and engages in a disarmingly honest, simple way.

Driving this car quickly on Millbrook’s Hill Route is an undertaking that demands a bit of warming up to. With speed comes a heightened awareness of the Morgan’s fairly lax attitude to containing body roll through faster bends, as well as the really quite marked rear weight transfer that can accompany mid-corner applications of throttle.

It’s arguably in these instances where the Morgan is simultaneously at its most unsettling and exciting. As weight shifts rearwards, you feel the already mute steering go light, which makes sensing the point at which front-end grip becomes slip that much trickier. You often see the nose push wide before you feel it.

At the same time, your position out over the rear axle does mean you feel far more keyed in to any shimmies or slips on exit when you get it right, and the Morgan’s progressively geared steering provides decent scope for making those more minute, delicate corrections required to easily get things back in shape.

Comfort and isolation

Roof up or roof down, the Plus Four is not what anyone with working ears would call an isolated car. Morgan was initially keen for us to wait until its hard-tops were available before conducting this test, and you needn’t drive the car far with the hood up to appreciate why. With some 84dB of noise in the cabin at a 70mph cruise, it was fully 11dB noisier than the Porsche 718 Boxster we tested in 2016. A completely open, windscreenless Atom 4 is another 8dB noisier at the same speed.

There are equal amounts of road noise and wind intrusion evident as you drive, both out-shouting the car’s exhausts most of the time. With earplugs, it’s a noise level that you’d be willing to tolerate for reasonably extended periods. But quite clearly, when Morgan recommends a solid hard-top (which ought, at least, to better keep out the wind noise) to those who intend to drive their car frequently or to tour in it, it does so with good reason.

The car’s ride has much better suspension compliance and absorption than Morgan’s ‘trad’ roadsters and a notably more settled gait overall, but it still only really splits the difference between those old-timers and a typical modern sports car for ride comfort. It can feel a bit brittle over sharp edges, the car’s soft springing apparently willing at first to soak up some inputs but its shortness of travel and lack of progressive damping support making the gesture somewhat hollow.


Morgan Plus Four 2020 road test review - hero front

With a starting price of £62,995, the Plus Four is in risky territory.

Class-leading sports cars are priced in the same ball park, with the likes of the new six-cylinder Boxster GTS starting at £66,340, while the fantastic Alpine A110 can be had for a whole lot less, at £48,140.

There's huge scope for personalisation here, particularly with paint and upholstery colours. We’d go for optional 15in wire wheels. The sports exhaust is a good call, too

Although most Plus Four customers will be lifelong devotees of the Morgan brand who totally buy into the image and approach to motoring that its cars invite, we’d be remiss not to at least mention the alternatives.

The Morgan’s featherweight construction allowed us to record an impressive average of 44.5mpg, which extended to 54mpg under touring conditions. With its 46-litre petrol tank, this gives a theoretical range of 450 miles.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace


Morgan Plus Four 2020 road test review - static

To say that Morgan’s latest Plus Four remains an exceptionally niche product sounds like a statement of the obvious. Here is a car that retains so much of the old-school charm and sense of occasion that has historically been key to its appeal but it does so despite being based on an all-new platform and powered by the sort of turbocharged four-cylinder motor you might find in a present-day sports car or hot hatch.

It is, for all intents and purposes, a thoroughly modernised Morgan. That said, while our testers unanimously found it a hugely refreshing and entertaining sports car to pilot, it was slightly disappointing to discover that, in some ways, it still fell a bit short of what we had expected from a machine based on an entirely new architecture. Morgan could have made a slightly more polished, dynamically sophisticated sports car without sacrificing any of the essence that makes its cars so wonderful.

Refreshing and fun in that true Morgan way but lacks a little polish

If it had, there’s every chance the new Plus Four would have moved further up our rankings. But even as it stands, it’s hard to imagine Morgan fans will care one jot – and that’s surely what matters most.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace

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.