Morgan has never followed the herd, and as bigger and more sensible car makers continue to shrink their powerplants (or switch completely to electric power), the British sports car maker has gone the other way. The last Morgan 3 Wheeler used an air-cooled two-cylinder engine, but the new one has been upgraded with a more advanced water-cooled three-cylinder. Don’t worry, that’s the conclusion of this Morgan’s sanity.
Simply categorizing the new Super 3 is a challenge. It is not a car, as it still lacks the fourth wheel, which is widely regarded as an essential qualifier for a car. But it’s not a motorcycle either, with its handlebars, gearshift and pedals, plus that extra point of contact with the ground. As a motorized tricycle, he has divided the legislators of the world. In Europe the headlamps have to be mounted outboard like a car, as you can see from the images from our drive in England. But in the United States, the lights will sit in the central opening as if it were a three-wheeled motorcycle.
While the Super 3 model is an all-new vehicle, the basics remain very basic. It lacks doors, a roof, and a windshield beyond tiny bolt-on Plexiglas deflectors. But by Morgan standards, the Super 3 is a feat of engineering, the first vehicle the British company has produced in its 113-year history with a unibody construction. Unlike every previous Morgan, including the company’s current four-wheel models, there is no longer an old English wood frame under the bodywork. In the Super 3, aluminum profiles are welded into an integrated structure.
The old 3 Wheeler’s Harley-Davidson style V-twin was a hugely charismatic powerplant, but also an outdated one. That air-cooled engine struggled to meet even relatively mild motorcycle emission standards, which was reflected in the gradual loss of power. It made 116 horsepower when launched in 2011, but only 82 horses by the time it retired, having been strangled as a Malaise-era V-8. The new 1.5-liter three-cylinder comes from Ford (Morgan has always been agnostic when it comes to choosing powerplants) and delivers peak horsepower of 118 ponies and 110 pound-feet of torque. The Super 3 weighs only 1400 pounds or so, giving it a lively power-to-weight ratio for something with one drive wheel. Power reaches the rear tire via a five-speed manual transmission from an older-generation Mazda Miata, plus a bevel gear drive belt.
The Super 3 looks ridiculous and awesome at the same time. Morgan has given the new car – which loses the polished jewels of the old’s twin-cylinder heads – a more modern front end with a curved hood above the alloy crossbar locating the wishbones. Beyond that, the basic shape of the car is very hull-like, but with flat side panels hiding the radiators and mounting points for what Morgan promises, a range of luggage bags and accessories. There is also a small amount of space under the trunk.
Getting in was easy, although probably more of a challenge for those with shorter legs. There’s a carefully angled step plate for the seats where you swing an ankle on, then brace yourself on the roll bar before sliding down. The chair cannot be moved; like a small plane, the Super 3 is very sensitive to changes in mass. But the pedal box can be adjusted, as can the steering wheel angle. We found it easy to get comfortable even though our elbows were hanging out of the cockpit in the slipstream. The windshields withstand a fair amount of wind (and rain), but Super 3 riders would do well to wear some form of eye protection.
Instrumentation is provided by two circular digital dials – one for speed, one for engine speed and fuel level – with switches limited to a turn signal lever and switches for the lights, horn and, under a flap, the engine start button. The good news is that the interior is completely waterproof. Especially since, in the best British summer tradition, it was raining steadily as we started our test drive from the factory in Malvern.
It is immediately apparent that this three-wheeled Morgan is built and built to much higher standards than the old one. The last 3 Wheeler was big on charm but short on sophistication. It was rough, uncomfortable and inconsistent, with the combination of its less-than-solid structure and primitive suspension making it hard to predict what it would do next. The new one is a lot better. The car we drove was a late-cycle prototype, with Morgan’s chief designer, Jonathan Wells, particularly keen to point out that the boot lid opening will be smaller on production cars. Still, the driving experience was representative of what customers will experience.
Morgan’s shift from air-cooled to water-cooled engines rivals the significance of Porsche’s similar transition between the 993 and 996 generations of the 911. The new engine is a good match for the Super 3. Morgan has long managed to make everyday powertrains feel special , and the combination of smart throttle calibration and a rorty exhaust gives the impression of enthusiasm – one that is confirmed by lively performance. The company’s claimed 60mph time of 6.9 seconds may seem relaxed by the unhinged standards of modern sports cars, but hard acceleration in the Super 3 feels much more exciting given the lack of weather protection and the rear tire’s frequent struggle to traction. Since the tachometer displays numbers rather than a molten needle, the numbers change color and shake as the three-banger approaches its red line of 6900 rpm.
The narrow 20 inch front tires are specially developed Avons size 130/90R-20. Their convex sidewalls make them look like classic motorcycle tires, but their flat tread makes them effective car tires, better suited to skid angles than the rounder profiles of bicycle rubber. Slip angles are something the Super 3 is good at, especially on wet surfaces. The front grip is modest, but gives in gradually and the transition is clearly communicated by the unguided steering. A purposely non-sticky 195/65R-15 all-season tire is mounted at the rear to balance adhesion levels front to rear. This balance is enough to easily change the cornering line of the Super 3 with the accelerator pedal. At higher speeds, if you push harder, the car gets a gentle understeer, while letting go pushes the nose in. At slower speeds, the rear can be coaxed to slide, and on gravel or wet grass, the Super 3 can rip sick donuts.
Indeed, the Super 3’s low handling limits don’t limit the fun. It feels exhilarating even below 60mph, and the idea of trying to verify the claimed top speed of 130mph is downright terrifying. The lack of any kind of traction or stability control, or even ABS, means the Super 3 needs to be driven with more respect than most new performance cars. Even with the front tires about to lock up under braking, it doesn’t seem to slow down particularly quickly. Still, the well-weighted, precise controls and crisp feedback give a lot of confidence for what’s to come. Great attention has been paid to details, such as the weight and positioning of the pedals, to encourage heel-to-toe shifts and ensure that the five-speed transmission’s shifting action is just as sweet as in the Miata it was originally designed for. .
For a vehicle with almost nothing out of the ordinary, the Super 3 will be hugely configurable. Buyers can choose both exterior graphics and base colors, plus a variety of accessories that can be attached to the body’s clever mounting system. The company estimates it’s likely every build will be different, which, if you think about it, is pretty eccentric. While that’s standard on every Morgan, the new Super 3 promises to take it to a new level when it hits the US later this summer.
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