I like Newman tuned cars. I should know, my Nimessa tuned one has finally arrived. But before I pick that up, I'm test driving its bigger brother - the Altrea Newman R, and I've made an assurance that I won't just divulge into talking about much a love the Nimessa...promise!
The Altrea Newman R is the vintage Addidas tracksuit of the midsize performance market. Everyone who looks at you while driving it knows you're driving something fast, and that in turn, you want them to know you're driving something fast. Some will call the massive rear wing and fat twin exhausts childish, but I feel they're neccessary. This car's aesthetic is one of the biggest selling points, and it has a youthful, shouty air about it incomparison to the loud-but-finnessed Bonham and the uptight, conservative Rennen. This one I have is in white too, which really hightlight the black plastic details. It looks awesome; far from pretty, but they've styled it just right in terms of what they're trying to convey.
Step inside and - shock horror! - the interior is sporty. There's a bit of leather hear and there, but this is clearly a lightweight interior that's designed to hold you in rather than comfort you. It's less well equipped than its rivals, and nor is at as comfortable. But something tells me these are all necessary sacrifices for its performance.
Hitting the road, we leave the West London dealership and blast down the M3 towards Hampshire in search of country roads. Quickly, you get the feeling that this is not a car that has been designed in the same mind as the other two; manual gearbox for one, all active suspension, 3.0l turbocharged i6 producing 422 hp. So, it's less powerful, has fully active suspension and not DCT gearbox. It needs that active suspension though, as without it set in comfort mode, this thing is not comfortable at all. More sacrifices, it seems. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
That engine is unusual though. It's got VVT/L, so you'd expect the torque to stay fairly flat after the turbos kick in and to increase by the end of the rev range. But it doesn't. In fact, I can't actually hear any chance or feel any change the higher you climb, almost as if the VVT/L hasn't actually been setup to adjust the valve timings, which, er, makes it a bit redundant. It's not much of a problem, as the torque remains fairly consistent up until 6000 rpm, but why add in the extra complexity and weight of such a system if it isn't going to do that much?
Off the motorway and onto the backroads around Basingstoke and Farborough. First thing I notice is how much I miss a manual gearbox. Second thing I notice is how tight this thing is. It's razor sharp, superbly chuckable and so, so light. The weight balance is 52/48 F/R, so not quite as perfect as the Chaucer Brooklands estate, but the lack of those extra kilos makes such a difference. It feels taught. It feels precise. It's wondrously rewarding in the bends. You know what I'm going to say next, because it's what they say about all cars with manual gearboxes; it feels so involved to drive.
Thing is though, compared to the others, it is. It's far more of an experience, and to be quite honest, far more exciting to drive on these roads. The acceleration is slightly off, at 4.1 seconds from 0-60, and you won't get the hit with a sledge hammer feel of the Bonham, nor the power surge feel of the Rennen courtesy of its AWD, but it's more engaged through the gears.
The only thing that lets this involved feel down is the all-active suspension. It does get a bit in the way sometimes, though after pulling over and pressing a lot of buttons on the dashboard, I did manage to get it as turned off as I could get it. But, that's not something most owners are going to want to have to do, which is a bit of nuisance. But then again, it's hardly comfortable in this mode, meaning having that active suspension is worth it to make it usable as an everyday car...just.
It also understeers a lot earlier than you'd expect. Not sure if that's because the suspension is so tight that it ends being too stiff, or whether it's the difference in wheel diameter between front and rear. That's something that I reckon could be solved with aftermarket wheels, but I still feel it's something that should have been dealt with a little better in the design phase.
Refinement then isn't quite what you get with this car. It's not that it feels rushed, just a little sloppy and uncaring. Then again though, such a sharp car is what we need to balance this market out, and there's no denying how much it stands out against the other two. It's a really different approach to such a car, and I like that. The real thing that gives this car the upper hand is its price; just $50k, much cheaper than its rivals. That's not to say you should buy this car if you're going to miss a high-end sound system, leather seats and lots of comfort, because it has very little of that. But, if you can sacrifice such luxuries in favor of that brilliant manual gearbox and stunning feel through the corners (once you've set it up properly), and you can forgive it the slightly odd engine setup, it's wholeheartedly worthwhile.
This is the purest car I've tested so far in this class, and certainly the most exciting. It takes a bit of work to get the most of out of it, and good god, I wouldn't recommend this if you need premium features. But as a performance machine, it stands out against the rest. Newman know how to tune a car (save for the slightly off bits of this car), and it feels like a much more natural performance machine compared to the other two, which, even though they are both brilliant, don't feel quite as natural as this car does. The Newman R is the most logical progression of the Altrea, if you get what I mean, while the other two feel more like they're being pushed to their limits (in a good way). If it's a more fulfilling driving experience you're after, the Altrea Newman R is the one to go for.