Marcos GT2 vs. TVR Sagaris: EVO’s review

Marcos GT2 vs. TVR Sagaris: EVO’s review

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Something doesn’t compute. The Sagaris’ throttle is cracked wide open, the Speed-Six engine’s howl swirling around the cabin, the wildly slashed bonnet raised slightly as the rear squats hard, and there’s a target filling the windscreen. No problem; in these situations TVRs are at the very top of the food chain. But this is a new target and even with the shift lights blazing in every gear the tiny chiselled rump of the Marcos GT2 just keeps on getting smaller…

There’s a harsher, angrier noise discernible over the Sagaris’ thrashing valvegear and hollering exhaust, the punctuations short and precise – a momentary chance for the TVR to steal a few yards – but when the Marcos’s V8 is fully hooked-up its hard, flat note slowly ebbs away and with it any chance of the Sagaris winning this improvised drag race.

The GT2’s bought-in 422bhp 5.7-litre V8 doesn’t exactly monster TVR’s characterful home-grown 406bhp straight-six, but the advantage is both consistent and undeniable. We’re used to TVRs being the loudest, fastest sports cars that £50,000 can buy, but the Marcos GT2 has just driven away from Blackpool’s loudest, fastest export. It’s an early blow for the super-aggressive Sagaris, and a telling glimpse of the GT2’s startling potential.

Of course it’ll take more than straight-line fireworks for the Marcos to succeed, but the Chevy V8 fitted snugly behind the GT2’s front axle puts a big red tick in the box marked ‘able to eat Porsches for breakfast’ – a must for any new sports car. If it can bite chunks out of a TVR, then we might just be witnessing the emergence of a serious new player.

It seems odd to describe Marcos as an emerging force, but the new-generation TSO and GT2 are a complete break from the old-school steroid-infused Mantises that used to trickle out of Wiltshire. There’s a new owner, new design and engineering team, a new production facility and a new impetus at Marcos. Production of the drop-top TSO and coupe GT2 is slowly ramping up at its Kenilworth base (the site belongs to Prodrive, which has been working on Marcos’s chassis design and set-up since the project started), with first customer deliveries scheduled for January next year. We visit lots of aspiring manufacturers and you quickly get a sense of whether they’re in it for the long haul; from very early on it was clear that the new Marcos team was very serious about producing desirable, reliable and meticulously engineered sports cars.

This is our first chance to sample the GT2 with a fully signed-off chassis set-up and engine package. At £49,995 and with a mighty 420bhp chewing-up the rear tyres, its natural rival is the car that has reinvigorated TVR’s production line, the stunning Sagaris. The Sagaris is perhaps the ultimate expression of TVR in 2005 and a world away from cars like the Chimaera and Griffith – whose magic and customers Marcos would like to recapture with the slightly more reserved, laid-back, V8-powered GT2 and TSO.

We’re in France, near Boulogne, and ahead is one of those epic French N-roads draped across flowing hills that sit just behind a jagged shoreline, and it’s rushing towards the Sagaris in a dense, fluid blur. I’ve been clamped into the TVR’s dramatically curved cabin for only a few minutes, but already I feel at home. Marcos has got a huge job on its hands.

There’s a sense of integrity about the Sagaris, and you can feel it through every control. The ride is superbly controlled; since TVR adopted Bilstein dampers a few months back, there’s been a marked improvement in the way its cars deal with nasty surfaces and distracting cambers. The steering is still ultra-quick by most standards, but the front tyres have little trouble obeying the demands put upon them, and the rear of the car feels in tune with this scalpel-sharp set-up.

Hit the middle pedal and you’ll find it barely moves under the force, but the stopping power feels immense, and although the Sagaris will tramline on bumpy surfaces it’s by no means unruly. It’s this sense that the car is working hard underneath you, but also that it needs your help, that dominates the Sagaris experience. It involves you, demands your concentration, but it feels on your side. It’s you and the car versus the road.

You need to get physically involved to get the best from the Sagaris, and it always feels alive to both your inputs and the road surface. But where once you’d climb out of a TVR with sweaty palms and a sense of relief, the Sagaris leaves you enthralled and excited about the prospect of jumping back in and doing it all over again. It’s the traditional TVR recipe distilled into a purer, more forgiving but much more rewarding experience.

From Marcos’s point of view, TVR’s progress in ride and handling (also evident in the Tuscan 2 and new Tuscan Convertible), matched by apparent improvements in build quality in the last year or so, aren’t great news. However, Marcos is confident that the GT2 is a unique proposition: slightly more supple, easier to drive both at low speeds and when extending the bulletproof Chevy V8, as much about low-end torque as high-rev drama, and less outrageous in its smooth, sophisticated suit.

Park them side-by-side and the Marcos seems to have been built to a different scale than the TVR. It’s incredibly low and much narrower than the bulging Sagaris. No wonder it weighs just 1170kg. It’s a great shape, though. The rear three-quarter view is fabulous and it’s one of those cars that looks better the more time you spend with it. The GT2 won’t ever grab as much attention as the wild Sagaris, but its neat mixture of restraint and sleek aggression might just find a wider audience than the like-it-or-loathe-it Sagaris.

Pop the GT2’s featherweight door by pressing the rubber button mounted on the upper edge of the door and it swings open to reveal a beautifully trimmed and cleverly detailed interior. Both designer Damian McTaggart and senior engineer Ben Thompson are ex-TVR, and you can see and feel the influences they’ve brought with them. The aluminium centre console has door release buttons to keep the door cards clean, the indicator stalks are bought-in items but covered in metal casings and a suede gator to hide their origin and create a bespoke look and feel, and the big things – like the centrally mounted dial cluster – are all built to Marcos’s own design. The GT2 also has an integral rollcage, trimmed in leather where it cuts through the rear parcel shelf and cloaked in Alcantara along the side and header rails. Overall, the standard of materials and construction is excellent. Marcos knows that the sense of occasion imparted by a stylish cabin can be as important as how rabidly the GT2 can headbutt the horizon.

Access to the cabin is surprisingly easy considering the GT2’s narrow door-opening and low roofline, but once you’ve squeezed into the seat you realise that the inside is just as diminutive as the exterior. The seat-back is very upright and fixed (although it will be adjustable in production models), and the height of the seat cushion means there’s precious little headroom. Marcos has lowered the floor and raised the roof for production cars and, in combination with a new thinner seat-base, the driving position is said to be much improved. But with a thick header rail, shallow windscreen, wide centre console and narrow dimensions it’s always going to be very snug in here.

Ahead, the chunky Momo steering wheel is well-positioned but it seems odd to have no dials set behind it. The centrally mounted instruments look great but are tricky to read even when you’re stationary. If they were angled towards the driver it’d make a huge difference, but their position is a neat trick to get around re-engineering issues for future left-hand-drive production.

Twist the key, hit the starter button and the big Chevy LS6 engine catches instantly. The car rocks gently to the V8’s beat, but the funky-looking exhausts create a trebly, racer-like howl rather than a deep-chested old-school rumble. It’s a deliberate move to make the GT2 sound more modern, more aggressive and more sophisticated than it would with a Rover V8-style woofle. It works, and as you slot first on the heavy but precise six-speed Tremec T56 gearbox, the idea of unleashing the engine’s full might feels slightly illicit.

So you don’t, not initially anyway. But such is the V8’s torque that even short-shifting up to fourth and gently tickling the throttle thumps the GT2 up the road with effortless and enormous force. From 1500rpm to its 6250rpm cut-out it offers savage, explosive acceleration. God knows what the ‘hot’ 475bhp version will feel like. The ride, meanwhile, is firmer than you’d expect of a car with GT aspirations (Marcos’s aim is to offer ‘an Aston Martin for TVR money’), and the steering feels quick and light, perhaps a shade too quick for smooth progress at low speeds.

Unlike the TVR, the Marcos has quite a lot of travel in its brake pedal. Equipped with a huge AP Racing set-up and with so little weight to contain, you’d expect a very firm pedal and eye-popping retardation, but the GT2 feels almost unservoed and requires quite a lot of pedal travel to really start to haul the car down from speed. As with the TVR there’s no ABS.

It takes a little time to acclimatise to the GT2’s compact dimensions, massive grunt and rapid steering response. Up your commitment and things start to make sense. The steering feels much more natural the faster you go, the ride smooths out and the hefty gearbox throw and deliberate brake action match the epic delivery of that mammoth V8. The Marcos is an easy car to drive smoothly but only when you’ve accepted that it requires a fair bit of physical involvement. Much like the Sagaris, in fact…

Incredibly, the GT2’s unfashionably slim rear Bridgestone Potenza RE050s (235/40 ZR18s) cope with the rampant power with barely a murmur. Wheelspin isn’t a problem even when pulling away quickly in first, and the traction out of corners is gobsmacking. Lateral grip is enormous, too, so once you’ve turned the car in you can really jump on the power and let the engine fill its lungs. There’s lots more body-roll than in the Sagaris, which may help press the tread-blocks into the road; against expectations the GT2 carries considerably more speed through the corners than TVR’s road-racer, and compounds the advantage by getting its power down with more security.

After a series of three wicked turns – a plummeting left followed by an arcing uphill right and then an open flick back in the other direction, all taken in third – the GT2 pulls out a good five car lengths over the Sagaris. Motoring editor Barker is stunned: ‘You really wonder how on earth it gets all that power to the road on those tyres… yet the rear wheels of the Marcos don’t just cope, they effectively deploy just about everything the engine delivers.’

Perhaps even more impressive is that the massive grip doesn’t just suddenly disappear when you finally defeat the tyres, but slowly erodes, allowing you to play with the car’s attitude almost at will. Barker elaborates: ‘It’s so solidly hooked-up through that sequence that it will take full power almost from when you turn in. And if you need more front-end bite you just turn the steering wheel more. It’s not snappy when the rear edges out, either – you’ve got to be brutal to fully unstick the back end and consequently you’re ready for the effect.’

At less than ten-tenths the GT2 isn’t flawless. The damping doesn’t feel quite as controlled as it could, the wheels occasionally hopping and skipping over a rapid series of bumps, while over crests the body momentarily floats, the steering lightens and you feel, just for a second, that you don’t know quite what the car is doing. Personally I’d like it to be tied-down a little tighter, even if it’s at the expense of ride quality.

The TVR is more consistent in its behaviour. It’s got a firm ride but backs it up with almost roll-free cornering. The steering is super-quick, but the car responds in kind. And although the straight-six may just lose out in terms of power, it edges the Chevy V8 for character
and delivers all the performance you could reasonably want.

After a back-to-back thrape along the same stretch of fast, flowing French N-road, Barker is deeply impressed by the Sagaris: ‘Stepping from the Marcos into the TVR, you almost breathe a sigh of relief to be free of the GT2’s slightly claustrophobic cockpit,’ he says. ‘The TVR seems more naturally in touch with the road, too. Its steering is quick but not nervous, its traction strong but less invincible, which means it’s easier to get to grips with what the TVR is capable of, where its limits lie.’

However, despite the TVR’s lower limits of adhesion (which in ultimate terms are still pretty darned high), it’s the Marcos that has the more indulgent chassis. The Sagaris corners flat and has less progressive break-away characteristics. The quick steering helps you to catch the slides almost before they begin, but you’re certainly less keen to provoke and play with the Sagaris above and beyond the limit. And along the same stretch of road, tackled at a similar pace, you’re busier at the wheel in the TVR.

It’s this ease of use that Marcos has been trying to achieve all along, not only to set the GT2 apart from TVR, but also because the company believes the inherent reliability advantages of the Chevy V8 engine will mean that its cars cover much bigger mileages than cars like the Sagaris. The primary aims were to make the GT2 more comfortable in terms of ride quality, more progressive in its on-limit behaviour, more relaxing to drive at low speeds, and more eager to give up its huge performance without massive effort from the driver.

It has hit some of its targets. Clearly the torque of the V8 ensures easy access to the performance, and the GT2 is also slightly easier to drive at its limits. But we’re not sure that it’s more comfortable, or more relaxing at low speeds, and the ride quality is no more serene than the nuggety Sagaris. Barker feels that the TVR plays the GT role just as effectively as the Marcos. ‘In fact it’s the TVR that feels the more easy-going car at a stroll, the Marcos’s ride and steering somehow edgy,’ he says.

For all its pace, the Marcos has something of a dichotomy at its heart. After two days and hundreds of miles, Barker is still grappling to get a handle on it: ‘How can its steering response feel relaxed and malleable on the edge but, at certain times, slightly too alert to small inputs? Why does it feel firm in a straight line but soft in roll? It’s probably the key to its sensational traction but I expect a GT to be supple in a straight line and firm up in the corners. Dynamically, TVR and Marcos are not alike, but which is the GT? And which the sports car? For me, with different dynamics they arrive at almost the same result.’

Now, the fact that the GT2 is perhaps closer to the Sagaris than Marcos would like isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Sagaris treads a well-judged balance between balls-out supercar-chaser and usable GT. It’s a great car. That the Marcos is quicker, grippier and less extrovert should be enough to win it a legion of fans and considerable custom.
Right now it can’t match the Sagaris’ ability to serve up heart-pounding excitement and simultaneously transmit subtle tactile thrills, but it’s clearly got the potential to be a truly great drivers’ car. TVR would be wise to sit up and take notice. Marcos is here to stay.

Source: EVO Uk

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