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Top Gear mag's greatest cars - Grand Tourers

Need speed in a phenomenally comfortable car on a really long journey? Deploy the GT

  1. For Top Gear magazine’s 300th issue, we celebrated the best 50 cars over 299 issues: here’s our pick of the best Grand Tourers

    The Grand Tourer. It works as a phrase as well as a class of car, which has always been the point, really. It evokes memories of romantic poets sighing by Alpine lakes, of moustachioed, plus-four- clad Edwardian adventurers, of Renaissance paintings carted back to stately homes. No wonder brands such as Bentley and Aston Martin still define themselves – and are defined by – their adherence to the GT code. Comfortable. Fast. Expensive. Refined. Nothing’s changed in 300 issues.


    At least as far as the brief goes. What has changed is the democratisation of the class. Mass-market manufacturers are forever trying to take themselves upmarket. Throughout the Nineties, the received way of doing this was to build yourself a ‘luxury’ coupe. Ford, Renault, Vauxhall, Volvo, Honda – they were all at it. The best of them was the Pininfarina-designed Peugeot 406 Coupe. It looked beautiful, came with a super-smooth 3.0-litre V6 and rode like Peugeots used to.

  2. The trouble was that others didn’t do it as well (I give you the Vauxhall Calibra and Ford Cougar as evidence), and this all corresponded to a time when the real luxury brands weren’t doing it well, either. Aston and Bentley were both borderline basket cases when TG was a nipper, leaving the likes of the BMW 8 Series and Mercedes S500 Coupe to lead the way. Sure, Ferrari pitched the 550 Maranello into the mix and it was blisteringly good, but after the Sixties the Italians always tended to make their GTs too… thrusting. They still do.

    What these pretenders to the throne all lacked was the necessary romanticism to do the job properly. It was only when the Bentley Conti GT and Aston Martin DB9 appeared in the early Noughties that the car market remembered that the GT was a great thing.

  3. But by then it was too late – travel itself had been democratised. The destination was now the thing, not the journey. You’d find GTs outside the casino in Monte Carlo but no one could recall having seen them anywhere on the way down. They’d probably been on a truck.

    Ironically, the growth of tourism was the death knell for the role of the GT, if not the class of car itself. The pleasure of exploration, of adventuring through the Alps, of barrelling foot-down, nose-up along the Route Napoleon had gone. Well, unless you were prepared to get up at dawn, but that’s for those who wear driving boots, not well-heeled types in loafers. 

  4. Instead, what the GT does now is make the journey as effortless as possible, insulating you from the roofbox-and-caravan brigade. The best modern GTs are tech-laden, hushed, beautiful places to spend time, with sumptuous upholstery and effortless pace. Turbos have been the making of them, adaptive dampers have increased their breadth of ability, satnav has taken the stress out of directions. Mostly. The roads are busier, the speeds are lower, but a good GT is still the best way to cover a long distance in a short time with the most amount of pleasure.

  5. Bentley Continental GT

    If you want something to take you and three others across continents, there’s nothing better than the Continental (issue 120)

    14 years on, and its impact is undiminished. This car has defined Bentley more than any other, communicating the right styling, attitude and ambience. Still a force to be reckoned with

  6. Aston Martin DB9

    Portofino at dawn is matchless for romance. And there, sat on the edge of the sea, is what is beginning to feel like the best grand tourer in the world (issue 128)

    The styling will be eternally elegant, but time caught up with the rest of the DB9 a while back. Nevertheless, it resurrected the brand and has led to all that’s come since

  7. Ferrari FF

    The FF excites just like a “real” front-engined Ferrari should. But it manages to do it over a far wider range of conditions. For that alone, it’s a high-water mark 

    FF may have morphed into GTC4Lusso, and spawned a V8 version, but this remains the most practical, most versatile, most surprising, most sporting GT of them all

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