7 Nov 2013

How To Grand Tour In Style On The Cheap

You might want a Grand Tourer to, you know, grand tour, but not be able to afford to buy and run one.  Here are some suggestions

GT cars, or Grand Tourers, are my second favourite style of cars, after coupes.  Many coupes are also GTs, but not all.  Hang on in there - I'll explain.

A Porsche Cayman is a coupe but not a GT.  Why?  A Cayman is for fun over short to medium distances but after a day in the saddle your butt would be numb and your ears would be ringing.  A Lotus Exige is also a coupe but not a GT.  After all if you're touring you need somewhere to put your bags.

The Maserati GranTurismo, Jaguar XKR, BMW 435i or Mercedes SLS AMG are coupes and GTs, and all rather magnificent cars too.  A BMW 5-series GT is not a GT because GT cars have to look stylish.

What is the point of a GT?  By its very name its must be able to tour.  And by tour I mean at least one day on the road and a good 300 miles covered.  So it must be comfortable and have space for a few squishy bags - possibly even camping equipment if the ultimate destination is Le Mans or somewhere similar.  To my mind the word grand in the name means it must have gravitas and look half decent.

I once travelled from the UK to Monaco in the back seat of a 1998 Ford Galaxy people carrier, with six other people.  It might have been transport but it wasn't travelling in style.  GTs mean style.

But all the GT cars mentioned above cost lots.  The cheapest is the Jag, at £78k.  And none will do more than 25mpg.

So what about those of us who want to Grand Tour but don't have access to £80k and spend £100 a day on fuel bills.

Being totally biased I'd have to say the best budget Grand Tourer is a Porsche 924S, or, if you're going to slum it, a 944 S2.  It looks fantastic, is rear wheel drive, has squishy seats, has a superb ride, has the engine under the bonnet (so you can hear yourself talk in the cabin), does 30mpg and has acres of space on the back seat and in the boot.

Because it's a 2+2 you can recline the seats and have a snooze in a grotty French lay-by.  Because it's got a standard fit stereo you can spend £100 on a replacement head-unit with iPod connectivity and iPhone charging.  And it has the fiercest heater I've ever encountered.

I've travelled 400 miles in the 924S in a day and could do the same several days on the run with no problems.  It doesn't even overheat in traffic.  And it's got electric windows (although the passenger side window doesn't open).  And the coup de grace, the massive sunroof comes out and fits in it's own bespoke bag and slides into the boot.

Other candidates for a budget grand tourer would have to be:
  • Mazda MX5/Miata as it's cheap to buy and run, looks ace and won't wee oil all over the autobahn.
  • Audi TT which is stylish, practical and four wheel drive.  Front wheel drive just won't do in a GT car.
  • BMW E36 coupe, although its stiff throttle pedal lets it down for long journeys.
  • Mercedes E-class W124 coupe is comfortable, good looking, spacious and uber-reliable.
  • VW Golf V6 4Motion.  Strictly an outsider because it's not a coupe, but I had a 3-door V6 4Motion and did UK to the Nurburgring and UK to Le Mans in total comfort.
Can you think of any more?  Just don't mention the MGF.  We want to tour interesting places, not garages.

Matt Hubbard