Words: Elliott Hughes | Photography: Nick Dimbleby
Sweeping arches and running boards frame knobbly Maxxis tyres, while an angular roll cage encases the roof, crowned by a quartet of spot lamps. A purposeful skid plate protrudes from the front, meeting the base of the familiar arc-shaped grille. The Morgan CX-T is an automotive oxymoron; if the plot of Mad Max had inexplicably taken place in The Wind in the Willows, this is exactly how Mr Toad’s car would look.
Luckily, this isn’t a vehicle confined to the pages of fiction; it’s very real and sits in the car park of Silverstone’s Rally School. The key is anonymous enough; small, buttonless and plain, it’s a far cry from the chunky bijoux fob you’re likely to be clutching from any other £170,000 car.
The Morgan’s doors are no longer than the length of your arm. Reach below knee height for the archaic metal handle, swing open the lightweight aluminium door and climb inside – be careful not to scuff the running boards or knock your head on that roll cage.
Grab the leather door pull and close the CX-T’s tiny door. Once inside you’re greeted by swathes of Bridge of Weir leather, aluminium trim and a centre console and dashboard finished in dark raven wood. Adjust your seat, shove the non-descript key into the ignition barrel and give it a twist. The silver start button in the middle of the dash glows invitingly, the screen behind the steering wheel illuminates.
Bury the clutch with your left foot – it’s heavier than you expect. Press the start button. A guttural rumble from the side-exit exhaust pipe follows. With the clutch still pinned, your left hand reaches for the shapely alloy gearknob and an intuitive snick lets you know you’ve found first ratio.
A customary check of the mirrors follows. Not one is in the right position, but that’s okay – you only need to see through the windscreen on a rally course. Luckily there’s no rain, so no need to test the effectiveness of the flat, visor-like windscreen’s quaint triple wipers.
Let out the CX-T’s clutch and squeeze the floor-hinged accelerator pedal. The exhaust poking through the rear arch rumbles away over your shoulder. As the speed and torque swell those knobbly tyres grip with defiance, and dust is churned into the air, extending behind you like monochromatic peacock feathers.
The Morgan then clatters over bumps, through potholes and over cambers. It feels cruel, like you’re masochistically abusing the car; the view of a long, vented bonnet and curvaceous arches shouldn’t accompany driving such as this.
But the plucky CX-T doesn’t flinch – its lightweight aluminium CX chassis is perfectly rigid and remains composed. The steel skid plates protecting the underside shrug off rocks and bumps, and the all-round double-wishbone suspension and rally-bred EXE-TC dampers revel in the abuse.
Your confidence in the car soon builds, and the precedent for the CX-T begins to make sense; it harks back to Morgan’s success in off-road trials and rallies in the early 20th century, when asphalt was a luxury and moustachioed passengers bounced in their seats to help cross-ply tyres claw through the mud.
Throw the CX-T into the Rally School’s long sweeping left-hander, squeeze the throttle and the car breaks into a glorious slide. The surge of torque from the 255bhp BMW-sourced four-cylinder stops the car from bogging down and invites you to push. A rally-spec airbox is hidden in the saddle bag just in front of the door – it sounds fantastic, whooshing away as you accelerate out of the corner.
Press the S+ button on the centre console and the engine’s responsiveness improves, its turbo keenly serving up dollops of boost while the exhaust pops and crackles like a vintage rally car. As your speed into corners increases, you become more aware of the steering and front-end grip. The combination of the car’s long nose with its engine mounted behind the front axle, and chunky spare wheels hanging over the back, mean some patience is required when entering a corner, but once you make the mental adjustment the balance is surprisingly good, even if the electrically assisted steering feels a little vague.
After what feels like five minutes the car is parked and cooling down, having taken everything you can throw at it. Your clothes and face are coated in dust, your hair feels matted. Time has a cruel habit of passing very quickly when you’re enjoying yourself, and that’s certainly the case when behind the wheel of the CX-T.
Experiencing a Morgan of any kind is often described as an adventure. Every journey is an event; people point, wave and smile. A stop in a petrol station is bound to strike up a friendly conversation with curious strangers. The CX-T has all of that in spades, while adding to the feeling of adventure in a very literal and authentic sense. You can tell this car has been co-developed by the Rally Raid UK Dakar Rally outfit. Nothing breaks and every detail has been thought of, from the dashboard-mounted map light to the tool kits, food pouches, jerry cans and sand ladders.
This really is a car you can depend on for an intrepid overland journey through the plains of Africa or on snowy Scandinavian roads. In a world of cynical crossovers and SUVs, it’s refreshing that Morgan continues to stand alone as a tweed-wearing maverick.
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