I have a confession to make. When I first saw the Marlin 5EXi-R I wanted to point and laugh. I wanted to make fun of its size, its "look-at-me" styling and the way it smiles at you if you look at it from the front. It has that look of being fun and unserious. You just want to pinch it by the cheeks, really.
Yet, these weren't the reasons for my cynicism. I was sceptical because the 5EXi-R is a kit car. And kit cars are usually made by people who think they can do a better job than the established manufacturers using only a hammer and some leftover bolts - in their garden shed.
Apparently, there are quite a few of these people around. In fact, there are so many of them that the British kit-car industry alone eclipses that of the rest of world put together. Most of the kits are variations of the same Caterham 7 or AC Cobra theme and don't survive very long.
Marlin, although you may not have even heard of it, has been going for 26 years. It tried to build something distinctive when it created the 5EXi, and now the 5EXi-R. You can see why, the EXi has a fresh face; it's more original, more distinctive and, dare I say the word, somehow quite cool. It stands out.
Driving it is quite interesting, too.
First, you don't just get in it and turn the key; you clamber through the top via a race-spec roll cage (doors are optional extras) and slide yourself inside, into the snug racing seats. Then you acquaint yourself with its moving parts.
The first major thing you notice as you set off are the controls: the sensitive throttle, the heavy racing clutch, the solid middle pedal that has no servo assistance and the wheel, which has only one turn lock to lock.
At first, the sensation is quite physical and wieldy, especially in town when everything is done in slow motion - but once you set off into some twisting country lanes, however, you begin to understand what this car is all about.
The little EXi-R loves corners. As you turn into a bend, the wheels follow your steering inputs to the centimetre. There is hardly any roll in the chassis and it simply grips and grips. I can assure you that you will give up long before the car does. It's a serious bend-eating tool.
Corners arrive just as quickly as going through them. Use the second half of the rev range to its limit and you'll be hitting the 60mph mark in a face-bending 3.7 seconds. In other words, this little baby gets up to supercar speeds.
This is mostly down to the engine, which comes courtesy of the Honda Civic Type-R - it's one that's renowned for its hunger of revs and reliability, so you won't have to take a spanner to it every other day. Incidentally, Honda once tried to use Marlin's name and logo for one of its cars. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, after all. (Marlins can also use Rover K-series units.)
The incredible turn of speed is also down to the fact that this car weighs only 560kg. It is pared down to the absolute bare minimum. With the engine developing 197bhp, that gives a power-to-weight ratio of 351bhp per tonne - or to put it into perspective, more than a Porsche 911 Turbo.
The top speed is far from embarrassing, either, standing at a handsome 155mph, and when you have no roof and that screaming VTEC engine right behind you, the sensation of speed is multiplied tenfold.
And anyway, this car isn't about speed. It's about the connection, about feeling how the car reacts through responses in the steering (and there are plenty of those) and in the seat, through the sheer simplicity that is your bottom.
When you've driven the car through a road with some gusto, you'll know that it was your driving that kept you out of the hedge, and not some nanny-state electronics. You won't find any anti-lock braking system, traction control, airbags or air conditioning in this box of tricks. Or, as Mark Matthews, the owner of Marlin Cars, puts it: "This isn't a car to go to the supermarket in."
Admittedly, the hardcore focus of this car may perhaps put some people off. And perhaps its price tag of £24,995 may seem a little extreme for something that doesn't even have a boot. But you can build a 5EXi-R yourself for £13,995, and when you think of the performance and sheer thrills this car gives you, you'll be hard-pressed to find a similar experience.
Quite simply, this is one of the purest experiences that you can have of man and machine working together, with absolutely nothing else in between.
OK, twist my arm, I admit it, the little Marlin has totally won me over.
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