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 Hence, he says, the GT concept is outdated.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:
And we might want to do this:
Or even this:
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.
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.