It's hard to know what people made of it when they came around a corner on a road through the San Jacinto Mountains and discovered a 220-mph Le Mans racing car going the other way. We have to say that driving the Saleen S7 on a mountain road is a little bit like flying a jet fighter around your living room. It easily keeps its temper, but it's useful to remember that it might tear off your head at any moment. Refrain from childish muscle car antics like romping on the gas pedal, or else things will go bad in a pillar of tire smoke as the turbos light off. On a positive note, the broad field of view forward through the S7's canopy inspires cornering confidence, and the 2750-pound Saleen's 106-inch wheelbase and lengthy overhangs even help the car ride very comfortably.
We were expecting the Noble M400 to be much the same proposition, as previous iterations of this basic car have made its reputation as a track-dedicated device. When you sit in the dark interior, as barren of visual interest as a farm implement despite the suedelike trim throughout the cockpit, you steel yourself for a harsh and unpleasant experience.
Yet it turns out that the M400 loves the open road. Its combination of 425 hp and only 2337 pounds delivers the kind of miraculous vehicle dynamics that make a driver feel close to omnipotent. The M400 really is brilliant: direct like a track car and yet docile enough for the street. Noble also deserves a lot of credit for recently civilizing this car with good seats, low-effort power-assisted steering, and a new, resilient suspension setup with Multimatic-tuned dynamic dampers. Still, the steering lacks on-center feel, and when a front wheel compresses over a bump, there's a strong steering effect. While the Noble is street-friendly, it's set up for narrow, bumpy country lanes in England, not highways in America.
The Morgan Aero 8 is equally British, despite its makeover with a modern chassis fabricated from aluminum. The suspension calibration is soft enough to keep the tires firmly on the road, delivering a breakthrough in cornering grip for the Morgan nameplate. The car is quick, too, as the 325-hp V-8 has just 2520 pounds to motivate. The trouble is, the Aero 8 still feels quite willowy in the process, as both the chassis and the bodywork shudder over bumps.
The Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder is the most modern car in this group, a carefully engineered convertible that manages to feel stout enough for serious speed. It rides extremely well on bumps (although it hates choppy pavement), yet there's so much roll stiffness assigned to the front end that the car steers with razorlike sharpness, like a great big go-kart. Unfortunately, the 3462-pound Gallardo also occasionally feels like a great big go-kart, as the steering effort for this all-wheel-drive car is quite high and the brakes require a firm push on the pedal. Even so, the Gallardo always feels completely usable, and you're never hesitant to use all the power and cornering grip at your command.