Plus 4: The 2014 version

[First published in MOG Magazine in 2014]

Words: Chris Pollitt

Photos: Jan Sedlacek

The Morgan Plus 4 stands as the everyman vehicle in the Malvern manufacturer’s range. The 4/4 is often a step into Morgan ownership, the Roadster and Plus 8 stand to satisfy the needs of those with speed and power firmly on the agenda while the Aero cars represent the pinnacle of hand-made supercar motoring.

When you look at it like that, it’s easy to see just how important the Plus 4’s job is. It has to be everything to everyone, it has to be enjoyable yet (as much as a Morgan can be) practical, it has to offer a spirited drive but not to the detriment of the budget for fuel, it has to evoke those emotions you get when you look back at your car – the kind that fill you with a satisfying warmth. It just has to be right.

So, when Morgan decided to freshen up and revamp the Plus 4 for 2014, the balance had to be perfect. One tweak, one alteration too far, and the integrity of Morgan’s definitive ‘go to’ model would be tarnished. So, did they do it? Morgan gave us the keys to one of the first 2014 Plus 4s so we could find out.

It’s been a busy month not just for MOG, but for Morgan, too. The impending Geneva Motor Show for them, deadlines for us. It’s all been going on. To be honest, there was more than one point this month when we thought this road test might not happen. So, to take our focus off the stresses of trying to put together a magazine in roughly three hours, we instead pinched a 2013 Plus 4 from the Morgan factory and headed out into the Worcestershire hills.

Roof down motoring with the soundtrack of an eager and popping Duratec filling our ears is a scenario synonymous for being the perfect antidote to professional stress, and as it turned out, a great motivator, too.

The motivation took us in the form of wanting nothing more than to get behind the wheel of the car you see here – the 2014 Plus 4. We’d been out and about enjoying a near-as-dammit brand new 2013 Plus 4 which made us wonder: what could the most modern version possibly have or do to trump the current car?

As it turns out, not a lot. But stay with us, we’re not saying that’s a bad thing. Let’s face it, the latter day Plus 4 is very good at what it does. It’s a treat to drive, even if that treat is only earned after pushing the car a little. It’s beautiful to look at and as ever, it offers the perfect balance of being a driver’s car and also being something that can be enjoyed equally as much on a gentle Sunday afternoon drive. So why change it? And if the change has to happen, just what does it consist of ?

In a nutshell, it’s all about the engine when it comes to the new car. Even then, the changes aren’t drastic, but they do make a pleasant difference with a little more torque and a little more brake horsepower now at the driver’s disposal. The main reasoning behind the change is to future-proof the Plus 4, at least in the sense of preserving it as the car it currently stands. There was also the factor of the old 2.0 Ford engine becoming increasingly harder to source, what with Ford’s model range moving forward also.

“It’s beautiful to look at and as ever, it offers the perfect balance of being a driver’s car and also being something that can be enjoyed equally as much on a gentle Sunday afternoon drive”

The new engine is still a 2.0 Ford unit, though this time it has direct injection and it meets Euro 6 emission regulations, so it’s a bit greener. The main thing though, is that it’s also a bit faster and a bit more responsive, which is always a good thing in a car like this. Morgan could have followed the contemporary route and adopted a smaller capacity turbocharged engine, much like most manufacturers are doing. They didn’t though, because the Plus 4 stands for honest and (is it a cliché to say?) traditional motoring. Plus, a Morgan with a turbo just doesn’t sound right. The Plus 4 GTi? No, that’s de nitely not for us.

The new car has 115kw, which is roughly 155bhp in old money. That’s an increase of around 10bhp. Not spectacular, but then again Morgan didn’t change engines in a bid to make this a powerhouse. As we said, it’s all about staying modern and using an engine that’s readily available.

 

That extra 10bhp or so is nice – we all like a bit more power after all. However, it’s the torque that goes with it that produces the real excitement. After all, power is nothing in a car without torque, which the new Plus 4 has a lot more of. There are 201 of Newton’s meters to be precise, some 60nm more than the old car. That’s quite a leap, nearly an entire VW Up! of torque actually. And if that increase alone is enough to move an entire car, think what it can do when added to the already respectable 140nm of the Plus 4. In fact, don’t think about it, let us tell you instead.

Basically, it does a lot. The 63 plate Plus 4 we were driving was a hoot. There’s a great many of you out there with late-model Plus 4s who we’re sure will agree that it’s a great car to drive. Chuck in that extra torque though, and it becomes even better.

There’s no hesitance now. The car doesn’t bog down mid-gear, nor does it have to be on the limit in the name of extracting everything the engine has to offer. It just seems keener. Okay, so it’s no supercar, but it is more willing to be worked hard now. The previous incarnation of the Plus 4 had to be pushed to get the most out of it. If it wasn’t being pushed it was simply a gentle cruiser. There was no middle ground, it was on or off, as it were. The new car doesn’t have that issue. The improved engine bridges the gap, allowing a driver with even the most limited skillset to feel like they’re a driving god. It’s more rewarding, that would be the best way to describe it.

That may have something to do with the brain of the engine, its ECU. is time it’s controlled by a Morgan-developed system, rather than adapting the box sent by Ford.So now rather than having an engine in a lightweight car that actually thinks it’s still in a Mondeo, the new engine knows its job. It’s programmed to pull a smaller vehicle and with that, it’s less stressed and more capable. is pays dividends on the road, and further separates the new car from the old.

Sun out, roof down, we were still subjected to the familiar aural assault of the popping exhaust when letting off the throttle. Our wood and leather surrounds were still familiar and most importantly of all, the car still felt like a Plus 4. The added power and torque are wonderful and welcome additions, but they don’t serve to diminish the appeal of the old car. The previous generation is still great, the new one is just slightly more polished and for those with a propensity toward gtting the most out of a car, the new Plus 4 is just that little more complete.

Still, it’s not all good news as there are a few things that irk and irritate. The first – and forgive us if we’re being petty – is the stupid and irritating noise produced when indicating. Something akin to a Dalek being poked with a knitting needle, it just doesn’t belong. Yes, it’s a little thing, and we appreciate that there needs to be a noise for those days when the roof is off and wind is rushing past the driver’s ears. However, does it need to be that noise?

“Sun out, roof down, we were still subjected to the familiar aural assault of the popping exhaust when letting off the throttle. Our wood and leather surrounds were still familiar and most importantly of all, the car still felt like a Plus 4”

Secondly, the pedal-box is still awkward. The accelerator pedal sits somewhere near the offside front headlight, while the brake pedal seems to be located in the glove box of the car behind. The clutch hovers at a level somewhere between the two. The step up from the accelerator to brake is a good four to five inches. We couldn’t help but feel that a sudden situation demanding an emergency stop could be perilous, with the driver probably kicking the side of the brake pedal rather than stamping on it safely.

Further on-road habits also plague the Plus 4. While it’s no secret this car isn’t a racer, it does seem to move about on its tyres an awful lot. By that we mean there’s a great deal of flex in the tyre wall, which impedes the Plus 4’s ability to turn in sharply. The car has to catch up with what the tyres are doing, which can be a bit disconcerting if you’re not expecting it. Okay, so this car doesn’t claim to be a race car, but it is a sports car so decent cornering habits aren’t beyond the realms of what we’d anticipate. And while we’re on the subject of cornering, the steering is a little light sometimes. Presumably this is to do with weight transfer across the front when driving, but that doesn’t excuse the sudden extremes of heavy and then ridiculously light steering at a moment’s notice.

Thankfully the positives far outweigh the negatives. The steering – when it’s behaving – is, on the whole, direct and offers plenty of feel. It’s just as engaging as it’s always been, with the beautiful Moto Lita steering wheel finishing things off nicely. The sporadic jumps from heavy to light tend to happen at lower speeds, so the drive on a winding country road doesn’t actually suffer too much.

The build quality is also worth taking note of. The car you see here is a pre-production model, but even so it stands as a perfect representation of Morgan’s ever- improving focus on quality. Trimmed to a high standard and painted perfectly (we all know black is a shameless colour – showing every single imperfection), this Plus 4 honestly felt every bit like a £35,000 car and it was easy to identify just what that money buys. Maybe it was the black on black colour combination; maybe it was just the whole package. Either way, this car felt somehow more special than the 63-plate car we’d been driving earlier.

And then, of course, there’s the new engine. As we suggested earlier, this newer 2.0 Ford unit doesn’t nullify the role of its predecessor – the Plus 4 with that engine is no less of a car–but it does offer more reward and more satisfaction when being driven. The power is always there and you get the impression there’s plenty in reserve, too. It’s more eager to please as well as being more keen to chase a after the horizon. Put it this way, the new engine serves to make the Plus 4 more pure and focused, it’s now the car it needs to be unlike the older version which somehow seems to drive like the car it wants to be, falling slightly short of the mark in the process.

“The car you see here is a pre-production model, but even so it stands as a perfect representation of Morgan’s ever- improving focus on quality”

The usual Morgan foibles are still present and correct, of course: the wind noise, Perspex windows, its inability to keep rain on the outside of the cabin and a fuel filler that requires near surgical precision when throwing in the super unleaded. That’s okay though, those are the idiosyncrasies we love about Morgans. They also keep it grounded, reminding both you and it just exactly what it is – honest, hand-built and British.

Is it a revolution within the range? No, not at all. Does it muddy the appeal of the old Plus 4? Not on your nelly. Is it a well thought out and welcome evolution of one of Morgan’s most favoured models? Very much so.

Make no mistake, this Plus 4 has a new engine because regulations and emissions dictated so. However, rather than continue with the Plus 4, the change has instead evolved it. Future-proofed it for a few more years, in fact. Don’t get us wrong, small, turbocharged engines are the future and very much the norm in modern cars, but they’re not Morgan. A Morgan represents something more pure and engaging. Though there’s little doubt that the day a modern engine with forced induction does slide under a hand-beaten bonnet, Morgan will make it work. But for now, the charm of natural aspiration is still present and correct.

It’s another example of Morgan’s dedication to bringing something traditional to roads filled with drab, mundane, beige ubiquity. And do you know what? The roads and Morgan are all the better for it. Though a better pedal box wouldn’t go amiss.