Behind the wheel of Morgan’s Plus Four CX-T

Morgan’s history is as rich as they come. The Malvern-based sports car manufacturer is rooted in the past but very much aware of the future, with the company’s latest models using the very latest engines and technologies wrapped in a distinctly old-school appearance. Yes, there’s still wood in the construction, but this is supported by lightweight and cutting-edge materials.

But Morgan also has a time-honoured reputation for trials and hill climb events. Usually conducted over demanding British countryside, these sessions – which still run today – take in steep gradients, grassy declines and slippery surfaces.

Morgan CX-T
Even more challenging terrain doesn’t stop the CX-T

And this brings us to the Morgan Plus Four CX-T. That ‘T’ refers to ‘Trail’, while the CX alludes to the CX bonded aluminium chassis underpinning the whole thing. Again, it’s a blend of the historic and the modern, but there’s a lot more going on here than just references.

Because it could’ve been so easy for Morgan to simply stick a pair of larger wheels on its Plus Four, lifted the suspension and called it a special edition. But instead, it called up off-road specialists Rally Raid in Northamptonshire, to infuse some of their rallying know-how into the CX-T.

Morgan CX-T
A huge amount of underbody armour protects the CX-T’s mechanicals

So that means this is no aesthetic-only model. Underneath, there are thick metal plates protecting the car’s underbelly while the engine’s major electrics have been raised up to improve wading depths. Beefy EXE-TC coilover assemblies and suspension arms from the larger Plus Six combine with chunky off-road tyres to give the CX-T 230mm of drive-over obstacle clearance, while the car’s BMW-sourced xDrive system has been tailored to allow the locking rear differential to get the car out of the stickiest situations. Notice anything about the side-mounted bags? One of them contains the rally-grade air filter, hooked up to sit within a custom-made bag. The other is a tool kit packed with essentials.

Morgan CX-T
The CX-T will gladly skid around

The result is a car that’ll go where no Morgan has gone before. Of course, it’s still a sports car at its heart, so it won’t tackle the most extreme of conditions, but the Silverstone Rally School course? No problem.

And that’s exactly where we got a handle on the CX-T.

We get some flying laps in the CX-T to see just how far it can be pushed. The underlying feeling is that it does what a Morgan has no right to be doing; it practically bounds over ragged surfaces, leaving you bracing for a mechanical disaster that never occurs. The surface of the Silverstone Rally School is almost comically bad, but the little CX-T skips and darts over it, with the only real protest being the ‘plink’ of stones battering off the car’s protected belly.

This is all drawn together by a rasping, vocal soundtrack as that air filter sucks in the environment around you and the exhaust crackles away behind. It’s an overwhelmingly positive experience, not least because of the fact that you’re tackling all of this in a Morgan.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine under the bonnet – which is linked up to a six-speed manual gearbox in the Plus Four – is wonderfully strong and responsive and though the rally course only really requires first and second gears, you can tell that it’ll keep pulling. We’ve already seen how effective this powertrain is in the regular Plus Four, so its adaptation to off-roading is predictably successful.

Morgan CX-T
High-strength tubing provides an exoskeleton for the car

There’s traction if and when you need it, but the CX-T is happy to be the hooligan too, swinging its tail out in predictable slides. You just get the overarching sense that this isn’t a half-cocked attempt at a trail-hungry Plus Four, this is a car that has been thoroughly developed by some of the best people around. Rally Raid’s Dakar-bourne knowledge is evident in the CX-T; its level of refinement over genuinely apocalyptic surfaces is only something you get in the very best off-roaders.

But looking around you, there’s still that fit-and-finish you expect from Morgan – and expect from a car costing over £180,000, too. The quality of the leather is excellent, while the dials and buttons all work just as they should – this is no prototype.

Morgan CX-T
Morgan CX-T

The CX-T’s greatest achievement is, in our minds, that it even exists. These days, cars take years to appear on the road and when they do, they very rarely reflect the striking concepts that they started out as. The CX-T is different. It’s a prime example of what can happen when car companies don’t take themselves too seriously but take their products seriously instead.

Just eight examples of the CX-T have been made – with all of them finding buyers – but we’ve got our fingers crossed that Morgan will extend the off-road package to its road-going Plus Four as an optional extra. If these initial cars are anything to go by, there would be people queuing out of the door to get one.