TG's lap of Scotland
Tom Ford finds out if Scotland has any decent driving roads...
Posted: 21 Mar 2014
A lap of Scotland. Sounds simple enough, you would think. But, this being TopGear, it started... confusedly. An initial foray into the dark art of crowdsourcing TG reader opinion nearly melted the internet and caused a social media capacity blackout over Western Europe. According to TopGear readers, there are a lot of pain-of-death-unmissable roads in Scotland, which subsequently required a whole day of plotting and an entire pink marker pen to pull together into some sort of Saltire mega-circuit. But that rosy highlighter did not give its life in vain, and we ended up with the most tortuous, meandering, circuitous, deviant, beautiful ramble of a 1,643-mile route around Scotland ever created.
There's just one problem: the car. Because the perfect vehicle for this particular route would have to be capable of so many mutually exclusive disciplines it would need to be made of shape-shifting sorcery. After all, the Scottish lap would require it to be economical and comfortable (to get there and back in the first place), and big enough to carry kit without feeling several months pregnant. It would then need to magically transform into something small and lithe when the good roads made an appearance. Which inevitably led to thoughts of either a) an improbable high-performance diesel version of the Lotus Evora and a lack of spare underwear or b) a big diesel truck with something interesting slung on a trailer.
But then the lateral thinking took a back seat. You need to flap the wings you're given. So we decided to take the TopGear Garage BMW 640d Gran Coupe. It makes sense. This car is about compromise, but in the best ways. It can be a long-distance hauler with enough space for four (five at a pinch), and it delivers decent fuel economy (45+mpg, equating to a just under 600-mile tank range) and yet comes equipped with enough bhp (313 of them) and torque (464lb ft) and a rear-drive chassis useful enough to make life interesting when the roads turn twisty. Ok, so the roads might have to be plus-size for comfort, the 640d being on the big side, but you get the idea. So, one bitter-cold Tuesday morning, we loaded the 640d GC with kit, filled it with fuel and set off, with just a clipboard of pinkly-promising routes and a hankering for adventure. The Lap of Scotland had begun.
Only it hadn't, because Scotland is still miles from where I live in England. So the road trip had to wait some five or six hours until we'd dispatched a great wandery swathe of A1 to get to the Borders. Immediately, I knew we had brought the right car. We did it in one hit, with fuel to spare, backsides that retained circulation and with a stereo powerful enough to drown out Justin the photographer's prodigious snoring. In fact, you tend to lose bladder capacity long before the GC requires refuelling, and the way it hums through the anaesthetic of a motorway journey, those long tranches of got-to-be-done, is a joy. Diesel Rohypnol: you get there and don't remember how. It whipped us to Scotland like a large brown private jet, and you could sense the self-satisfaction from Carlisle to Coldstream.
Words: Tom Ford
Pictures: Justin Leighton
This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine