Morgan Plus 8

The new Morgan is driving by the seat of your pants

Price: £85,200
Engine: 4.8-litre V8
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 367 @ 6,500
Top speed (mph): 155 0-62 mph (seconds): 4.5

Pulling up at its factory in Great Malvern, it is clear that the Morgan Motor Company isn't your average sports car manufacturer. The site is small and men in brown coats are wheeling around shells of the sort of "motor car" that Cousin Matthew might choose for his run home to Downton Abbey from the hospital. While inside, there isn't a robotic arm or automated paint shop in sight.

This is car manufacturing as it has been at Morgan for more than 100 years. Of course, some techniques have changed but the new Morgan Plus 8 I'm here to test looks much the same as the first model did nearly 45 years ago. At first it's not even obvious what is new, but it's actually a rather modern beast (with a BMW engine) in an old-fashioned body.

Parked outside the workshop it looks like it's come straight out of the pages of a 1930s spy thriller or Second World War tale of bravery. If you squint and imagine it in black and white, it's not hard to see Biggles zipping around in one while on leave from his Spitfire squadrom. This is a car that oozes charm, plucky British grit – part of its body frame is still made from wood for goodness sake – and class.

The roof down, my companion wrapped up in all the glamorous (fake) fur she owns and with the outside temperature dropping close to zero, I make myself comfortable for a winter afternoon squirt into the Welsh borders. The first thing you notice is how difficult it is (at first) to place the Plus 8 with precision. It's light and visibility is good but the steering is fairly vague and the whole experience (and noise) is just so radically different from anything else on the road today.

Let yourself warm to it though, find an open stretch of road and you become aware of just how wonderfully bonkers the Plus 8 is. The BMW V8 engine is staggeringly quick and responsive, but if you're not careful you'll quickly become unstuck. The steering is easily distracted by bumps in the road and if you put your foot down at the wrong place the back end will give up the grip, fight with the road and slide sideways.

This is all part of the fun and exactly why you'd spend £80k (that's Porsche 911 money) on a Plus 8. Squirting along narrow lanes the engine blips and fires as you shift down and you soon know you're driving a car , without traction control or any fancy onboard computers, that demands to be driven, not just guided along the road. Nothing but your skill and judgement keeps you on the road.

Morgan is yet another British motoring success story at the moment with exports expected to rise by a third this year (thanks, as usual, to booming Chinese demand), but the Plus 8 isn't perfect. Far from it. It's incredibly expensive for something that should be seen as a "new" classic car rather than as an everyday performance motor. And the interior, while wonderfully heated and coated in leather, feels a little cheap and slapdash in places. The ride is fidgety to the point of distraction, too, and will make you suffer on long journeys. It's also best not to mention fuel economy or the long waiting list to actually get hold of one.

For all this the Plus 8 is still a magical thing. Yes, it's totally bonkers but that's not the point. Anyone with £80k can buy a Porsche 911 or a Jaguar XK, but the Plus 8 is something special that needs to be driven, and driven properly with the top down all-year round. That probably makes Morgan owners brave but certifiable, but you can't help but admire them for that.

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