The massive rear wing appears to have been removed. Prodrive’s good folks unloaded their new car from a trailer and threw it into central London. It was not much less noticeable.
Heads turn. The cyclists stop. Runners take pictures. Questions come. What? How many? How many? How fast? Is Fisher-Price making a 4×4?
Then, what? This sand-colored blob, the “Ferrari of the desert”, as Prodrive boss David Richards calls it, is the Prodrive Hunter. It barely fits on the trailer it arrived on.
Its length is not a problem. At only 4.6 meters, it is shorter than the BMW 3 Series. It’s also shorter than the Range Rover at 1.85m.
It is only 2.3m wide, which is 100mm more than an original Hummer. You will be able to recall how wide that was. Sean Connery could not drive it around San Francisco in The Rock, and there is a lot more space than in Knightsbridge.
The Hunter is a bit narrower than most of the trucks allowed to conventionally plough Britain’s roads. It’s also left-hand driven, so the mirrors on the doors don’t adjust and the side windows are too small. There’s no rear view.
It seemed like a smart idea to bring it to London. London is home to some ridiculous supercars, and the wealthy, but this might be less frequent than usual, and it would still seem odd.
It would be fun to drive the car around all of the absurd places it could, as suggested by someone who obviously wouldn’t actually have to do it. That sounds fun. It doesn’t stop after I get in. I’m quite scared.
Before we go, let me tell you the story. As you know, Prodrive makes great competition cars. Most notably, GT and rally cars. Sebastien Loeb won the Dakar Rally’s second place for one of these cars in January. This effectively makes it a road-going customer version.
Although technically it is a road prototype, and therefore registered as such, it is also the first customer car for 25 and was intended to be used by the Bahraini royal who funded and assembled the race team. Each Hunter is priced at PS1.5 million before options and VAT, and there are three of them.
Cross-country rallying, a brutal form motorsport, is perhaps the most extreme. However I imagine Icelandic hillclimbers may have something to add. The Dakar is the Dakar’s pinnacle event.
The rally is now held in Saudi Arabia, as its original North African routes are too dangerous for competitors. Saudi Arabia is primarily dangerous for minorities and human right activists. However, the rally itself remains extremely demanding.
It takes 13 days and includes 2500 miles of special stages. There are also 2500 ‘liaisons’ between each stage.
The Hunter is also known as the Bahrain Raid Extreme Hunter T1+ (BRX). The chassis is made of tubular steel and covered with so much carbonfibre you’d be mistaken for believing it’s a tubular tub with steel subframes. It’s not. The cabin is kept clean by the tight fitting and ample amount of it.
The chassis has a double-wishbone suspension that hangs from the top, with dampers and springs at each corner. There are also anti-roll bars in front and back.
The engine is at the front, despite appearances. It is, but it is a fashion. You can still see the engine through the bodywork, which has a satin finish with the briffability of a schoolchair.
Twin-turbocharged Ford V6 3.5-litres (of F-150 Raptor and GT fame), makes 550 bhp. It’s so far back it is actually inside the cabin, forcing passenger and driver to either side.
It’s easier to remove the dashboard if you need to change spark plugs. It takes two hours to replace a belt in a team. It’s much easier to lift the chassis up and remove the engine from underneath. It’s a reliable unit, and it tends to take care of itself.
The V6 is driven through a six-speed sequential Sadev gearbox with hydraulic actuator to all four wheels. It has a 50/50 power split, and independent lockable front, center, and rear differentials. This transmission is one of several differences from the rally car.
The Dakar stages are very long so the Hunter has to carry a lot of fuel. There’s a 500-litre tank right behind the cabin. It has space ahead of the rear wheels to store spare wheels. The bodywork’vents’ don’t move.
Prodrive will provide some luggage space, while a spare wheel is currently mounted under the coupe-like body to the rear. You can fit two people, which is the maximum allowed for rally cars.
Gas struts allow the doors to hinge upwards. They are light and simple, more like a lid for a garden storage box than a car. The aperture has an unusual shape and is high above the lower body, and the side-exit exhaust tubes.
Entry and exit are easy because there is no scaffolding on half the door, like with most competition cars and the Ariel Nomad. It’s almost like being able to swing yourself into a hammock.
Although you can specify which seats do adjust, the seat backs here aren’t adjustable. The driving position is solid. The steering wheel is well-sized, round, has clear buttons and a three-pedal box that is comparable to the competition.
Only the brake can be mechanically connected to a set six-pot front and back calipers, ventilated discs and no ABS.
The throttle and clutch are wired. Although you don’t receive any feedback, the throttle and clutch are wired. The engine has anti-stall software, and is so torquey that it will pull off with no throttle.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a clean getaway will be easy. First, there is a lack of visibility beyond straight ahead. There’s also the noise, which is partly due to the engine but more importantly the chatter and clatter of the straight-cut competitor gearbox. You should always wear ear defenders.
You can add differentials that are so keen to lock that they will graunch with every lock applied, and you have a supercar which – although I didn’t believe this was possible- is perhaps less suited for London than the Lamborghini Aventadors wrapped in gold that you see parked around Knightsbridge. This is where we are headed, for better and worse.
It’s hard to imagine that the Hunter would turn heads more even if it was dressed in red rally livery with Loeb inside.
The BMW X6 doesn’t have a coupe/SUV, it has a coupe/SUV. Although it’s not the most elegant shape to be seated on a chassis, the BMW X6 is a coupe-SUV. Even if it’s not visible, it will be there. It makes a loud, angry, and spiteful sound. It is not a loud or soulful sound, but one that has volume.
The steering is very light and comfortable at these speeds. Once you are rolling (if you haven’t kangarooed away), you can forget about the clutch with the paddle gearshift.
It’s not as smooth as it sounds. The BF Goodrich tyres are 37in wide on 17in wheels. With its large turning circle, whining diffs and massive width, as well as the 1850kg weight, the occasional kerb strike seems almost as likely as it is easy to avoid.
While it’s great fun for a while, you know that the car wants to go somewhere else. Even more than when you are driving in a supercar downtown. It’s like using a jetski in a backyard swimming pool.
I have heard it said that the best city vehicle isn’t a car, but something like a Range Rover.
Smart and Citroen Ami are not narrow enough to have their own lane. Parking spaces are almost all the same size so if you are going to be sitting in traffic you may as well be wrapped in leather-lined luxury. The Hunter is not a 4×4. It is purposeful and without compromise.
Let’s just say that I have never felt so relieved to give a car back to its owner without any problems – and also, never been more eager to drive it where it belongs.
Road vs Race
The T1+ rally car and the road-going Hunter have a few technical differences. FIA rally-raid vehicles can’t use paddle shifts, so you will need a large gearstick.
The 400mm suspension travel on the road car is significantly more than the rally car’s. There’s also the power. Turbocharged competition cars have a boost limit of around 400bhp. However, in this form it’s closer to 550bhp.