Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The £815,000 insurance bill

Had the good fortune to spend some quality time with a pre-production Noble M600, showroom demo Lexus LF-A and a Lamborghini Murciélago SV press car last week. I like to think not many people get the same good fortune so I felt it only right that I should share my experiences.

A lot of people came by to chat to me about these three cars over the few days I was around them. Overwhelmingly, the Lamborghini attracted the most favourable opinions. I think this was chiefly because it was the one in the trio most easily recognisable as a "supercar". The huge carbon fibre rear wing and hexagonal glass engine-bay cover [that wouldn't look out of place on a Revénton] both played their part.

So too the pearlescent orange paintwork the Italians prefer to describe as "Arancio Atlas" where I would use "look-at-me!". Infamous Italian flamboyance was also evident in the name which amounted to, "Lamborghini Murciélago longitudinale posteriore seicentosettanta-quattro superveloce berlinetta". Descriptive? Quite.

In its company, the other two took the role of 'gatecrashers' at the hypercar party as they were criticised for having price tags their badges might not quite manage to carry.

If one were to be as polite as some were - "How much?! Who's gonna pay that for one of them?!"

Another made the astute observation that if they had seen the LF-A on the street and someone told them it was a £50,000 car, they wouldn't have flinched in the slightest.

Oddly enough, at idle, the Lexus was louder than the 'raging bull' and having talked to someone who has driven both in anger, I can reveal, it shouts louder too! The Lamborghini was also much more tame at parking speeds and didn't shoot forward every time you brushed the accelerator pedal in the same way the LF-A did. While attempting a 9-point turn in the LF-A, I also discovered a bewildering control layout that left me wondering whether it was set out that way to remind those who got in the driving seat that while it was a car, it was nothing like other cars they had experienced before.

"Lamborghini - the friendly supercar". You know where you heard it first.

This thread extended to the keys with the key fob for the SV looking like it could have been one from any other car made by VWAG - albeit with a Lamborghini badge skillfully blue-tacked onto it. Not so the naked carbon-fibre Lexus key - presumably to show your mates in the pub what a special car you own without first having to take them and their pints to the car park. The Noble key on the other hand (no pun intended), had been borrowed from a Ford [that I'm certain wasn't the GT] and the immobiliser/central-locking fob was after-market. "Pre-production M600, y'understand?" Left me considering whether they were waiting to show the full production version when they had applied the same chutzpah to it that they had to the switch for the traction control.

Doors? The SV had the trademark scissor-style doors Lamborghinis have had since the Countach and though they "look really cool", they do mean worrying about banging your head at every ingress/egress. On the conventionally opening doors of the LF-A, only the placement of the door-handle was worthy of note; (inside a deep channel that directs air to the C-pillar intake). The Noble's door was special for its interior panel being deliberately left untrimmed to show the exotic material it was fashioned from.

There was carbon-fibre everywhere inside the Noble! The whole centre console stack was made from it and so was the golf-ball gear knob. The rest of the dash probably was too but I can't confirm this as, at the time of viewing, it was hidden under leather. The CFRP was aesthetic garnish in its use on the fascia though not so, in its use in the bodywork - the M600's modest kerb weight in comparison to the LF-A and the SV forming all the justification needed. The Lamborghini's interior was dominated by alcantara held together by yellow stitching whereas the LF-A's interior impressed upon me; "loads of plastic!" "Very high-quality, tactile plastic". "But plastic nonetheless".

The view behind in all three cars was purely conceptual, whereas the view out front in the Noble was the best and served well to emphasise its superior compactness. The Noble had a higher quoted top-speed and so was potentially the fastest of the three in a straight line (slower official 0-60 probably due to requiring a gear-change). This, as well as its lower weight and more advanced under-body aero is probably why it placed so much higher than both the SV and the LF-A on the TopGear power laps board despite costing at least a Range Rover's worth less than the next most expensive, the SV.

At the end of my little episode with this trio though, I would have had the Lexus LF-A.

Only because it was not derivative in the same way the other two were. The Lamborghini was like a modernised, angularised Diablo whereas the M600 was like a Ferrari F40 reboot. I also prefer function-driven aesthetics in a car and while this approach was readily evident in the LF-A and the M600, it was probably the only thing subtle about the styling of the Lamborghini. While I also admired the desire behind it's makers' to deliver to willing punters, an unadulterated driving experience, the M600 would have probably been too much of a handful for someone of my limited ability. Connoiseur's choice if you will.

The Lexus, in contrast, was filled with sort of technology that flatters a driver and their lap times while [and as a result of] keeping them on the black stuff.

I liked the fact that the Lexus redlined at 9,000rpm and that when it did, it sounded not very much unlike the Aston Martin Le Mans prototype car. Quite a good analogue because more than the other two, it represented race high-tech applied to a road car. Easy choice then for a motorsport fanatic.

Click the image below for a table of some interesting stats: