First Drive of the 2022 Morgan Plus Four: A Sports Car Like It Used to Be

It’s been nearly 34 years since I first sat behind the wheel of a Morgan. There hasn’t been much change. Everything, however, has changed. The 2022 Morgan Plus Four appears to be nearly identical to the French Racing Blue Morgan 4/4 I tested in 1988: same tall, centre-hinged bonnet with louvres on the top and sides, same flat windscreen with three tiny wipers, same sweeping fenders, similar cutaway doors, same grille.

However, over 97% of its parts and components are unique. This Morgan of the twenty-first century also drives extremely differently.

Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan created Morgan Motor Company in 1909, and his son, Peter, and grandson, Charles, have since taken over. Morgan is still owned by the family, although it has been majority controlled by Investindustrial, a private equity group created by Italian industrialist Andrea Bonomi, since early 2019.

Morgan automobiles are still handcrafted in the company’s historic red-brick plant on Pickersleigh Road in Malvern Link, England, which opened more than a century ago. And for the most part, the cars made there haven’t altered much over the last 100 years: The previous-generation Plus Four was based on a ladder frame steel chassis with sliding-pillar front suspension, which had been a feature of practically every Morgan made since 1910.

The 2022 Plus Four is based on Morgan’s all-new CX bonded aluminium chassis, which made its premiere in the new Plus Six (see sidebar) introduced at the 2019 Geneva Show. The CX chassis is 100 percent stiffer than the previous steel chassis and features modern multilink independent front and rear suspension. The hand-formed aluminium body panels are fastened to an ash frame that sits over the chassis, much as they have always been in Morgans, yet there is still wood in the 2022 Plus Four’s structure.

The Plus Four comes standard with a 15-inch alloy wheel with a vaguely ’60s/’70s vibe; classic wire wheels in silver, black, or polished chrome can be specified. The wire wheels are genuine centre-lock components that fit over splined axles, implying that cars bought this way are built from the ground up. The four-wheel disc brakes of the Plus Four are situated further inboard than is typical in modern practice to accommodate the wires, which have a very different offset than modern wheels.

In the Plus Four’s cockpit, the contrast between tradition and technology is more obvious.

The perspective through the flat windshield is a little different from that of any four-cylinder Morgan roadster made since 1936, despite the fact that the inside is significantly roomier than the old car’s and the 2022 model year cars get new seats with adjustable lumbar support. The three-spoke steering wheel, on the other hand, is a drab, plasticky affair, and the oddly rhomboidal BMW shifter protruding from the centre console on automatic transmission automobiles appears as out of place as the monolith in 2001:

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An all-new soft top is among the other upgrades for the 2022 model year automobiles. No more wrangling with rows of dot fasteners and stretching cloth: The front of the soft top is held in place by two toggle latches that hook into slots in the upper corners of the windshield, while the back of the hood is held in place by two catches operated by a door handle lever positioned beside the driver’s seat. When compared to raising a Mazda Miata MX-5 soft-top, it’s still a bit like putting together a tent, but it’s a lot easier than it used to be.

First Drive of the 2022 Morgan Plus Four: A Sports Car Like It Used to Be

Morgan has never built its own engines: “That’s not what we do,” said Jonathan Wells, Morgan’s design chief. Over the years, Morgans have been powered by anything from V-twin motorcycle engines to ferocious Rover V-8s, but the Plus Four’s forefathers were mostly Fords. Under the hood of the 4/4, I tested in 1988 was the unimpressive 1.6-liter Ford CHV four-banger that had previously served in the front-drive Escort in the United States. It only produced 95 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 99 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm when driven through a five-speed manual transmission.

Fortunately, the 4/4 weighed just 1,620 pounds, allowing it to get out of its own way.

Under the tall, louvered hood of the 2022 Plus Four is BMW’s delicious B48 2.0-litre turbocharged four—the same engine that powers the entry-level BMW Z4—with either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. If you order the manual, you’ll receive 255 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Order the automatic, and you’ll get 255 hp but 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s a significant improvement over the old 4/4, with two-and-a-half to nearly three times the power and two-and-a-half to nearly three times the torque. Especially considering the 2022 Plus Four is only 40 percent heavier.

While waiting to drive the riotous steampunk Plus Four CXT “adventure roadster,” I sampled the basic Plus Four in manual trim. Morgan insiders, on the other hand, thought that the Plus Four automatic was the superior vehicle. And after a couple of hundred miles in the eight-speeder on quiet back roads in southern England, I’d have to agree, not least because there’s nowhere for your left foot to rest without a clutch pedal taking up space in the cramped footwell. The Plus Four manual is a visceral and slightly challenging drive, but the automatic adds a degree of performance that will make you laugh out loud every time you press the throttle pedal.

Consider this: Morgan boasts that the manual Plus Four can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, with a top speed of 149 mph. At the top end, the automatic is no faster. However, it takes four-tenths of a second less to reach 60 mph. The Morgan Plus Four automatic will give a standard 300-hp, 280-lb-ft, PDK-equipped Porsche 718 Boxster a run for its money, even if it looks like it’s right out of the 1930s. Until that square-rigged bodywork collides with the aerodynamic brick wall, that is.

However, the basic data don’t tell the whole storey. On the road, the Plus Four seems nearly supercar speedy, especially between 45 and 100 mph, when the engine is switched to Sport + mode and manual shifting is done with the fixed paddles behind the steering wheel.

The BMW engine’s hefty midrange thrust—all 295 lb-ft is available from 1,550 rpm to 4,400 rpm—punts the Plus Four hard out of corners and readily takes it past slow-moving traffic on short straights. This Morgan is exhilaratingly speedy on small, winding two-lane roads, being more than 20 inches shorter and 5.0 inches narrower than a 718 Boxster.

The 2022 Plus Four offers light, accurate power steering that isn’t overly expressive. It features antilock brakes as well, although due to the car’s small weight, you rarely go close to the intervention level. Avon ZV7s in a generously sidewall old-school 205/60 R15 shape are standard.

The Plus Four will happily mooch around at low speeds with the powertrain in Comfort mode, with the eight-speed automatic defaulting to the highest gear available as fast as feasible to increase fuel economy—on a mild throttle, it’s in third gear by 15 mph and sixth gear by 30 mph. Sport mode is activated by flicking the shift lever sideways like it is in any BMW. A button on the middle console activates Sport Plus.

The Plus Four prefers to be braked early, turned in early, and have the power fed in early. The pedal on our test car was a little softer than we’d like. There’s no traction or stability control, which, when paired with the Morgan’s tight, short-travel suspension and the BMW engine’s relentless torque, can make it seem a touch shaky if the road surface is greasy and lumpy and you’re using your right foot too aggressively.

Unlike the old 4/4, which I recall bouncing and bucking like a runaway Conestoga waggon, the Morgan tracks true even on straight, rocky roads, despite the fact that it can feel very busy across its vertical axis. And once your backside is tuned to the reality that it’s barely a foot in front of the rear axle and around six feet behind the front, yaw motions in corners feel rather calm.

The most important part of getting the most out of this car is figuring out what’s going on upfront and learning how to compensate for it so the Plus Four can change direction when you want it to. Hustling hard can be difficult, but only in the sense that you must be aware of its intricacies and push it properly. In the truest definition of the term, the Morgan Plus Four is a driver’s automobile.

First Drive of the 2022 Morgan Plus Four: A Sports Car Like It Used to Be

This isn’t a highway cruiser. The wind howl past that flat windshield and over that unlined soft top is deafening, and a flow of air will blast through the inadequate door seals, even with the roof raised, even though the Plus Four will cruise at 80 mph with the engine churning only 2,000 rpm in eighth gear. If it’s freezing outside, your shoulder and leg will quickly become ice-cold.

The gas tank contains little over 12 gallons, which is adequate for more than 300 miles of driving range based on the Plus Four’s 26 mpg averaged over 200 hard-driven miles. That’s more than enough. Before that, you’ll want to grab a cup of coffee.

Almost every mile in the Morgan Plus Four will make you smile on any other road, whether you’re merely bowling along or pressing on. It’s weirdly appealing and deeply fascinating despite being eccentric and charismatic, the polar opposite of many of today’s sterilised and smirkingly proficient sports cars. When you have nowhere to go and all day to get there, the Morgan Plus is ideal. Even if it’s chilly outside, bundle up, turn on the heating, and lower the roof.

That’s what it’s all about when you’re driving a Morgan.

In a nutshell, think of it as Morgan’s Cobra—the that’s Morgan Plus Six I also drove.

Even as the eight-speed automatic shifted into fourth gear, the rear wheels continued to spin. The open cockpit was filled with acrid smoke, which obscured the view ahead. I ascended and returned my gaze. A dense white-blue cloud hung between the hedgerows, replacing the tranquil English lane. From Corvettes to Bentleys, I’ve burnt the tyres on them all. The 2022 Morgan Plus Six, on the other hand, might be the finest burnout vehicle I’ve ever driven.

Other British sports car producers took notice when Carroll Shelby came up with the concept of replacing the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that drove the AC Ace roadster with the 289 Ford V-8 to create the original Cobra. Sunbeam created the Tiger by cramming a 260-cubic-inch Ford V-8 into the Alpine roadster’s engine bay. MGB introduced the GT Coupé with V-8 power in 1973.

The Plus Eight, a revised version of the long-running Plus Four with Rover’s Buick-based 3.5-litre V-8 under the hood, was introduced in 1967 by tiny Morgan. That Plus Eight, which was Britain’s fastest-accelerating automobile in the 1960s, remained in production until Rover discontinued the V-8 in 2004. In 2012, BMW introduced a new Plus Eight with a 4.8-litre V-8 engine.

The Plus Six is the successor to those automobiles, based on the CX platform. And, as is customary, it’s lightning-fast. In fact, I’m faster than any of them.

BMW’s B58 turbocharged inline-six engine produces 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is the only option. The CX chassis is the same as the Plus Four’s, but the Plus Six’s track is 4.1 inches wider thanks to longer front and rear suspension arms, and it rides on wider 18- or 19-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tires—Continental Sport Contact 6s, 225/35 ZR19 upfront and 245/35 ZR19 on our test car.

In basic terms, the Plus Six produces approximately 30% more power and 25% more torque than the Plus Four while weighing only 6.5 percent more. Morgan claims it will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds. The top speed is claimed to be 166 mph. And it moves at a breakneck pace.

In every sense, it’s a far more urgent automobile than the Plus Four. The wider track and lower-profile tyres, along with 100 percent stronger front spring rates and 16 percent stiffer rear spring rates, sharpen the dynamic responses, yet the ride isn’t notably worse than the Plus Four. The BMW six seems like it’s always on since there’s so little weight to move.

The Plus Six is a vintage-style roadster with a similar power-to-weight ratio to a Z51 C8 Corvette Stingray, a car that must be treated with respect because of its immediacy—and the fact that it lacks traction and stability control. Your right foot will bite you if you are sloppy or reckless with it.

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