If you want drama on wheels, it's pretty hard to top the TVR Sagaris, the first new model from the Blackpool-based sports car maker since it was bought by Russian oligarch Nikolai Smolenski last year. Deep, sculpted slashes scar the surface of its front wings; a transparent spoiler spans its bootlid; a deep vent cuts into its bonnet, allowing the scorching heat generated by its improbable performance to escape. And the surprisingly dinky ensemble is almost absurdly suggestive of massive, masculine power.
Wrestle the gearlever into first, order up some revs, release the clutch and you're very likely to embarrass yourself with a screech of smoking wheelspin as the tyres feed the car's huge power to the road. Circumspection is the game if you're to make any kind of progress.
You need to drive it with care, for reasons that its performance statistics make blisteringly apparent. The Sagaris will top 185mph and demolish the 60mph sprint - assuming a clean getaway - in a scant 3.5 seconds. Keep at it and 100mph will be yours in 9.5 seconds, making this one of the fastest cars on the road today, at any price. Yet it costs only a fiver short of £50k, and if that sounds a lot, believe me, for this kind of performance it's astonishingly good value.
Once you've got over the drama of its looks, wriggled aboard and absorbed the mild craziness of the interior, you might wonder whether it's such a bargain after all. The aroma of fibreglass scents the cabin, the airbagless steering wheel looks cheap, and despite the extensive use of quality materials - leather, carbonfibre, polished aluminium - the whole confection looks rather more home-made than hand-made.
Yet it's a definite improvement on TVRs past - at least the race-specification roll-over cage is upholstered, in suede-like Alcantara. The controls you must battle. The gearlever is resistant, the clutch pedal heavy - and sinks to an angle from which a wet foot might slip - and the turning circle poor. This is not a car for heavy traffic. Nor motorways, the commotion of motion drowning the stereo at speed.
The car's purpose becomes addictively apparent as soon as you find a stretch of open road. Few cars ram home so effectively the animal thrill of cornering and acceleration, the physical pleasure of controlling such potent machinery.
The venom of its acceleration has a draw that doesn't fade fast, but just as impressive are its gum-to-pavement cornering prowess, the bite of its brakes and the fact that if you're prepared to make the effort, this car becomes a truly rewarding experience. You don't just go for a drive in a Sagaris - you go for a high-octane workout.
It's the drama of these cars that led Smolenski to buy the firm. He simply loves TVRs. There may be doubts about his ultimate aim, but he has certainly effected a much-needed quality upgrade. Reliability has forever been the bane of TVRs, and if he can improve it, more buyers might be willing to take the plunge. Those who dare will be rudely but deeply rewarded.
SPECIFICATION Price: £49,995 Max power: 406 bhp Max torque: 349 lb ft Max speed: 195 mph 0-62 mph 3.5 sec Fuel consumption n/a CO2 emissions n/a RIVALS Porsche 911 Carrera £58,380 Better made and more practical, but for visceral thrills, the TVR has the Porsche by the throat. Maserati Gran Sport £66,600 Sportier make-over provides more character than the 911, and more polish than the Sagaris.