Voices

For Australians the Grand Tourer is Not Dead

The best car for long-distance touring is no longer really a car.

BACK IN DECEMBER my colleague Paul Horrell made a cogent case that the GT, or grand tourer sports car, offered no advantage over a normal hatchback. He argued that back in the day there was a significant difference in performance and ground-covering ability between a top-end luxury sporting car and an ordinary hatchback, yet today even the most modest of cars can easily exceed the speed limit and in general the performance difference between the two has narrowed to nothing. Hence, he says, the GT concept is outdated.

I agree with the basic concept; compared to normal cars, sportscars are no quicker point to point as you cannot legally or safely use their performance advantage, and further observe that the essential luxury features have well and truly filtered all the way down to the most basic cars.

Yet the concept is of a high performance long-distance touring vehicle not dead, at least not in Australia. If we Aussies are to do any travel worthy of the the grand tourer concept in then we have to consider this:

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And we might want to do this:

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Or even this:

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Now, your roadcar isn’t going to handle even dirt roads very well at all, whether it be a modest econobox, a hot hatch or the finest sporting grand tourer money can buy. Yes, your grandfather’s car did well on dirt roads – the Ford Model T was in many ways a formidable offroader as it was light and had great ground clearance – but today’s cars are low, have suspension tuned for bitumen handling, carry space saver spares or use runflat tyres and are generally not at home on dirt surfaces.

If you’ve got say 200km/h of dirt road cruising to do it’s nice to be able to run at say 90km/h in a SUV than 50 or 60 in a roadcar while worrying about what’s happening to the vehicle, and on arrival know that you won’t scrape getting into that campsite or be stopped by a bit of sand on the way to some desert lookout.

In the better SUVs we have to a great extent the best of several worlds. I’ve just spent four days driving 1500km in this Jaguar F-PACE you see pictured, and that’s an excellent example. It’s luxurious and safe, the performance and handling is such you are going to enjoy the drive and it assuredly competent on dirt roads. It even drives very well on sand, having had no trouble at all with several tracks marked 4WD Only.

The higher ride height even helps when cruising in rural roads as you can see that little bit further up and around crests. And with its hatch body the SUV can take a load better than the average roadcar, certainly far better than the average classic grand tourer sportscar.

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Now I did say “better SUVs” as some are hopeless on-road drives both dynamically and because they lack power, and some are very ordinary offroad to the point where I’d not attempt to drive them beyond a smooth dirt road. On the other hand, the F-PACE is an example of the touring SUV designed correctly; it has a proper all wheel drive system, not a front-biased on demand design, the tyres are reasonably sensible for rural use, it is also available with a full-sized spare tyre, has an economical diesel engine with an excellent gearbox, offers more than sufficient power and the electronics aid, not hinder.

We could take this theory further an move up a step into the fully set up offroad tourer which is my first love…but not everyone wants to drive a 4WD with low range, kit it out for adventure and then go travelling far off the beaten path. 

I think many people want a car that offers a sporting drive, luxury, practicality, the ability to carry a touring load and not be scared by the dirt or rougher roads which are the gateway to so many of Australia’s most special experiences.  This class of car is I think the new grand tourer, and it’s time for Jaguar to put a GT badge on the F-PACE.

Further reading

  • Paul Horrell

    Ah well, since I’m mentioned, I might as well add my response. Robert is right, an SUV for these purposes is well used. But it’s as far from the original concept of a Gran Turismo as you could get. Originally, GTs were lightweight but luxurious cars able to use Europe’s road system at high speed and over long distance. The E-Type Jaguar, and various Maserati two-door coupes, were perfect examples. The SUVs now built by those two manufacturers are regarded my many petrolheads as anathema. Perhaps it’s not so much that the idea of GT is dead, but that we need a new term, for this new kind of cars. How about, I dunno, sports utility vehicle?

    • SUV doesn’t to me convey the luxury and power (grand) or the concept of relaxed long distance driving (tourer). Many, if not most SUVs aren’t great at either or both; I couldn’t have done the trip like I did in the X-Trail for example, or at all in RX200. For me, the GT should be a car that can do both the grand and the touring, all in one luxurious package.

      I’m looking at what a GT car has to do today and updating the best vehicle for that job, not what at GT was and modifying the job to suit the car.

      I know the likes of the Macan and Cayenne to name the two most promiment examples are not popular with some car enthusiasts. But I think they’re closed-minded, and stuck in the past. Both those Porsches are great drives and offer capability the likes of the 911 cannot. A true car enthusiast would recognise and appreciate that. And if carmakers followed every wish of their loyalists many would have gone out of business.

      • Paul Horrell

        This weekend I drove a Jaguar F-Type SVR and a Tesla Model X 90D – both high-performance AWD cars, one an SUV. On wet English roads, and highways, the Tesla was far more relaxing.

        • I can relate. Too many sports cars are tuned for the track not everyday roads. I once tested an Elise and Rangie Sport back to back and concluded the Rangie was quicker and easier on public roads.

  • Biff

    Nice article Robert, and I agree with your view re the ability to get off the sealed road. I’ve passed many, many unsealed or rough roads that I’d love to explore but have been unwilling to take my Mitsubishi 380 down, for the reasons you state. The harder suspension tune means a rougher ride, and lack of ground clearance and AWD are the clinchers. The latter two are what is really needed for 90% of these type of roads, and something like the F-Pace can easily handle that without being a hard-core off roader. At this stage of my life I have no interest in the full-on 4WD scene, but there are many great roads like the Darling River run that I would like to tackle and that don’t require locking diffs and snorkels. But you would also like to enjoy getting there in something nice to drive on road ie not a Prado or similar.

    • Thanks Biff. You describe exactly the sort of person I was thinking of. It is so frustrating to have to crawl along dirt roads or turn back…a F-PACE would be a wonderful tourer instead of say an F-TYPE.

    • DEVILTAZ35 .

      Ordinary people don’t class long distance touring as off road though. The Kia Stinger GT will do me nicely. SUV’s are completely pointless and annoying in city streets. Keep them to the outback where they belong.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a freelance journalist, driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com