x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The modern classic Wiesmann MF5 V8 is a Wies investment

The looks of a classic and the power of a modern car make the Wiesmann MF5 a hit, says Nick Hall

The MF5 isn't kitted out with the technology of a Ferrari 458 Italia or a Lamborghini LP560-4 but it still provides fantastic, hair-raising fun on a race track. Lyndon McNeil for The National
The MF5 isn't kitted out with the technology of a Ferrari 458 Italia or a Lamborghini LP560-4 but it still provides fantastic, hair-raising fun on a race track. Lyndon McNeil for The National

Classic sports cars from the 1950s and 1960s are still held dear throughout the world, but they are looked at through rose-tinted spectacles. Sure, there is a unique charm in buying a slice of yesteryear wrapped in a beautiful, vintage body, but we have become used to basic tenets such as reliability, agile handling and even safety in modern motoring.

For anyone who has driven even the most basic of today's cars, an icon of yesteryear can be a soul-crushing disappointment once behind its wheel; I have less than fond memories of a Jaguar E-Type trying to kill me at every turn of the Mallory Park circuit in England. Often, like the saying goes, it is simply better not to meet your heroes.

But there is a way to have all that charm, elegance and beauty of olde-world sports cars in a thoroughly modern package. And a very exciting package, at that.

The Wiesmann MF5 V8, a low, long-nosed, open-cockpit beauty hand-built in Dulmen, northern Germany, is constructed around 555hp of BMW M5 mechanical goodness. The drivetrain is virtually untouched, which means it's bulletproof, and then it's dropped into a chassis that weighs 30 per cent less than the car it's pulled from. Which means it's an awful lot of fun.

This is a genuine supercar wrapped up in the prettiest shape I've seen in recent times. It's a left-field, oddball choice, but it will stand out in a sea of Ferraris and Lamborghinis and will hang with them on track, too. It is also one of the finest drift cars I've ever experienced, as I'm finding out first-hand at the Estoril circuit in Portugal.

Brothers Martin and Friedhelm Wiesmann founded Wiesmann in 1985 and its roots lay in providing convertible soft tops to the automotive industry. But things have progressed rapidly and the brothers have realised their dream of creating a modern interpretation of the Austin-Healeys, Jensens, Cunninghams and other classic sports cars that they grew up with. Their genius was to harness the beauty and charm of those cars and infuse them with a Germanic precision to create the best of both worlds.

The MF5 follows on from the smaller-engined MF3 and MF4. It's the range topper and, until recently, came with the 5.0L V10 screamer from the last generation M5. Now, though, Wiesmann has its hands on the 4.4L twin-turbo V8 from the latest generation Bavarian super saloon. There's 680Nm of torque on tap, way more than the rev-hungry V10 it replaces, which makes the MF5 GT a totally new car. And it's a better one.

With a 0-to-100kph time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 311kph, this car can hang with anything on the planet and you can expect it will hit 200kph much faster than the M5's released figure of 13 seconds. The twin-turbo doesn't quite match the old V10 for soundtrack character, but it's got more than enough firepower and it just screams through the dual-clutch gearbox that is a massive step forward compared with the clunky last-generation, single-clutch automatic gearbox.

It weighs just 1,410kg and it feels compact, built around the driver with the rear wheels seemingly just behind the hips and that long, sloping bonnet up ahead. Unsurprisingly, it feels a touch front-heavy, but there's more than enough power to push through that into a lurid slide. Thanks to the BMW electronics, it comes with three-stage traction control that can be turned off entirely.

Do that and the Wiesmann reveals an edge to its character. Going hot out of the corners, it threatens to spin more than once and it takes a skilled hand on the tiller to keep pointing the thing the right way. It's a bit of an animal on the limit, but then surely a car like this should be a challenge on the relatively rare occasions it ventures out on track. On the road, it just maintains its feel without ever giving up grip, thanks to a slightly softer-sprung set-up.

There's a long, fast right-hander that leads on to the straight at Estoril that stretches a car's grip to the limit, and yet the Wiesmann stays flat and holds the line. It's composed but insanely fast and takes just a click of the right finger to shift up and fire it down the straight towards the daunting run of corners that starts a lap, where it then takes a giant jump on the brakes to slam it down from 230kph to 50 before throwing it in.

Without the advanced driving systems and adjustable suspensions of other high-end supercars, dynamically there's just no way it can quite match the techfest that is the Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini LP560-4; it would lose fractions on every corner and simply isn't quite as much of a finely tuned racer. That is a shame because, at about Dh920,000, that's the price bracket it sits in. But the Wiesmann comes with other qualities.

It's a great car to drive off the track, too. Wiesmann has seemingly perfected the set-up of the dampers to swallow bumps and ruts without it even flinching, and with the epic torque it could also lope round town in automatic and still respond instantly to throttle inputs. It feels more like a Porsche 911 or Audi R8 out on the road, more usable, and that's a good thing.

And then there's also that "Wiesmann effect". Ferrari has increasingly become a victim of its own success, it's the identikit supercar that everyone buys (everyone wealthy, that is); in certain places in the UAE, they can almost seem bland. But the Wiesmann simply draws a crowd wherever it goes. Nobody knows what it is, but everybody loves it. The swooping old-style curves and big grille are genius and yet the overall shape is clearly a modern interpretation, as vents and a low-profile wing are essential to keep the car on the ground and enough air ramming into the forced induction powerplant. The lesser-powered MF3 is perhaps more convincing as a classic - it looks like it could have teleported from the 1960s.

Most Wiesmann customers have been through the Ferrari phase and crave something different; they want something that stands out from a crowd and draws one at the same time. For them the first drive of a Wiesmann MF5 will be almost like meeting a hero, but there's no way they could leave disappointed.