There is no such thing as a discrete delivery of a Morgan Plus Four. Even before the clamshell trailer had swung open to release my test vehicle, a small audience had gathered to watch the spectacle on the otherwise sleepy road. Not one to disappoint a crowd, the grinning Morgan delivery driver rubbed his hands and started the engine. A deep, bassy growl prompted a wave of approving nods as the Plus Four’s elegant form gently eased onto the tarmac for the first time since leaving the factory at Malvern. Talk about making an entrance.
I stood just out of shot, trying to avoid looking like some preposterously pretentious millennial taking delivery of a curiously old-fashioned car. I shouldn’t have worried. One of the watching builders sauntered over to admire it up close. “Now that’s a beautiful old thing,” he ventured. I agreed, quickly pointing out that I was just reviewing it and contrary to first impressions, this was the 2020 Morgan Plus Four with an excitingly modern BMW engine which should make it go like stink. “Very nice. Proper car, that,” he said, turning to me with eyes full of new-found respect. “Listen, you wouldn’t help me break back into my van, would you?”
That’s the thing about the Morgan Plus Four, or indeed any Morgan. It makes people think you are just a better sort of person; that because you drive this curious, handmade, historical car, you must have done something good to deserve it, or that you possess some kind of skills the rest of humanity lacks. I had to disappoint my new friend on this occasion, explaining that my limited talents as a motoring journalist did not extend to grand theft auto (although that would perhaps make it easier to get an Alpine A110 to review). Before I could vow to at least drive it like I stole it, he had unsheathed a rubber mallet and was advancing stoically towards his Transit van. To the gentle sounds of kinetic lockpicking, I cast my eye over the Plus Four and pressed the central locking button on the key. Click. That’s new, I thought.
It’s no secret that Morgans make a great impression, even on people not particularly interested in cars. It’s only the car people, however, who have always investigated further, peering under the veil of the Morgan aesthetics to find out where compromises had been made and what curious quirks you need to endure for all that beauty. With the Plus Four, Morgan would like you to believe that this is changing. A lot of work has been done to remove what made the Morgan experience imperfect and dated; not to rid the car of its particular character – perish the thought – but enough to make the driving experience acceptable for the 21stcentury motorist.
At the heart of this all is the chassis. The new CX-Generation bonded aluminium platform is heralded as the great enabler of everything from a roomier cabin to modern double wishbone suspension, and the possibility of a larger, more modern drivetrain (which in the future could even include electric propulsion, according to Morgan). This platform advances the lightweight integrated aluminium chassis ideas first deployed on the Aero 8 and is twice as rigid as previous iterations. It brings a level of structural cohesion, load-bearing capacity and component packaging opportunities which was simply unachievable on the previous steel chassis cars, changing the engineering paradigm of the car for the better while allowing the external aesthetics to remain unmolested. There has been development on the outside too, with some subtle tweaks to the bodywork and entirely new deep-dish spoked wheels housing modern disc brakes connected to an ABS system as standard. Debonair lockups are now, thankfully, a thing of the past.
Peer inside the bonnet of the Plus Four and you see the old and the new worlds come together. There’s the ash frame, still shaped in ancient jigs, their origins lost to the mists of time; deeper inside, there’s the decidedly novel BMW 2.0l four-cylinder turbo engine. 255 bhp and 295lb ft of torque from this power unit course through an automatic gearbox, giving you all the whooshes and dramatic crackles you’d ever want, as well as 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. Morgans have never been about raw speed, but if we are talking retro-modern thrills, that is as fast as a Testarossa or a Countach. That, friends, is fast enough.
To get a feel for the car, I escaped a sweltering London and spent a weekend ambling around our Cotswold test routes. While this decidedly modern Plus Four will now comfortably do a motorway trip, humiliating many a modern saloon on the way, you realise pretty soon that it yearns for the easy life, wafting along winding rural roads. The vintage Morgan experience is still there; you guide the sculpted front arches through rolling countryside at a reasonable pace with no idea of what gear you are in, and life is pretty good. Perhaps a touch less good when you encounter less even terrain which unsettles the soft springs and threatens to scrape the underside of this very low-slung car – but that is a small price to pay for the most civilised ride Morgan have produced to date.
The contemporary Morgan experience comes when you press on a bit, brake late and throw the car into corners on a decent road. When you do this the Plus Four has a lively yet poised feel about it, with a reassuring amount of underlying stability. While it is really not designed for thrashing about, and the front end does feel fairly light under load, spirited driving in the Plus Four is an engaging challenge for the driver nonetheless. Rocket out of a turn with enough intent and the rear end of the car will squidge out just enough for you to catch it. Smash the accelerator to overtake a middle-aged man in lycra weaving all over the road on his over-priced, under-utilised carbon racing bicycle and you can get just enough tyre spin to make it fun. The power steering has a well-judged weight to it which allows smooth corrections, and the brake pedal has some travel, but feels comfortably analogue and allows for good modulation once you commit. Not feeling like you are asking too much of the car in these spirited situations is very much a novelty, at least for this Morgan driver.
At this point some people may pipe up and shout about how modernity ruins the authentic Morgan experience and how the only kind of worthwhile motoring is of the stick-waggling variety, with a ladder chassis, drum brakes, leaf springs and no air conditioning, and what the hell is a BMW auto-shifter doing in the cabin, et cetera. I hold my hands up to that and say you are more than welcome to enjoy those very special and authentic motoring experiences and to consider all of this novelty a sacrilege.
However, the new elements of the Plus Four (and I admit this with some surprise) don’t feel anachronistic. You are still essentially enjoying a car in which the ratio between weight and power is firmly skewed towards fun, the kind of two-seater driving joys which have been the preserve of these cars for decades (and if you really want the analogue feel, just buy a three-wheeler and be done with it). The traditional experience really isn’t ruined by the presence of a small speedometer screen, disc brakes, ABS, icy air conditioning or an automatic gearbox; indeed, I’d venture it might even be enhanced. Besides, you forget about all of that as soon as the roof is down.
It is no secret that the Plus Four, like the traditional Morgan, doesn’t really belong in the city. Driving with the (very well engineered) roof up, while perfectly doable, is not what this car is built for. It really won’t be suitable as a daily driver for most people, luggage capacity is limited without a rack, and the prices and waiting times are as you would expect for a hand-built automobile. Yet none of this detracts from the undeniable charm of the Plus Four. In some ways, if a Morgan seems too impractical, you aren’t ready for it. And when you are, you really do get the best of both worlds: 21st century technology and heaps of early 20thcentury charm – the curious looks, the smiles, the little bursts of pleasure you bring to those who see the you float by. It’s a genuine thrill, and a reminder that you are driving something truly special.
Unlike the Plus Six, the Plus Four is not a beefy bruiser – it is a nimble and handsome country car with more than enough poke to have fun in. The automatic model is not what driving purists would go for, and is sniffed at by car-guy magazines; but with a passenger in tow, off on a jolly somewhere with driving as a mere ancillary pleasure, I don’t think you will miss the manual. I certainly didn’t – it frees part of your brain for having a chat, admiring the scenery, and just relaxing as you pootle along. And if you do want the manual, you save £2000, so everyone is a winner. At a time when heritage car companies like Bristol are going under due to a failure to move with the times, and the sports car offerings from modern manufacturers are somewhat uninspiring, Morgan’s formula of new-school charms in old-school garms is looking increasingly smart.
For all of its obvious inadequacies compared to do-everything modern sports cars, the Plus Four is the kind of car you promise yourself you will wait for, a car you’ll buy when you are a bit older, wiser and wealthier. To really enjoy it you’ll need all that, and a country road within easy reach. When that time comes, and you’re as wise and wealthy as you are going to get, it is a car that will have been worth the wait.