Planning a grand tour for less restrictive times? Here are the best GTs for the job…
By Matt Bird / Wednesday, November 18, 2020
At times like these, it's easy to let the mind wander to days gone by (and hopefully those to follow) of far flung locations and epic drives. All those adventures that we used to take for granted – the Scottish Highlands, the Italian passes, French D-roads – will assume a new significance once travel there is safe again. The sense of freedom and joy afforded by a great road trip, and a stunning location won't be overlooked again because, really, there's no better way to see the world.
And for the best driving tour, you're going to need the best grand tourer. Those cars that are as adept on the autoroute as they are winding through the hills. The very best GTs should combine a multitude of attributes: they need to be fast, but not so profligate they need filling up every hour; they must be both comfortable for hours at the wheel as well as fun to drive opportunity presents itself; and they really ought to be suave and handsome, without gratuitously luring attention like a supercar.
It's a tough set of criteria to fulfil, which is why only a few manufacturers excel at the GT. It's also why, for this top 10, we're going to eliminate the £2,500 category; once upon a time it would have played host to an array of caddish Jags and mega-mile Mercedes, but no longer. So, we'll kick off at £5,000, and add another bracket at the quarter of a million mark to even things out. Here goes…
Up to £5,000…
- Mercedes CL (C215)
Even without the £2,500 budget, a cheap GT certainly comes with its fair share of risk. That's the nub of the appeal though, isn't it? The chance to experience what was once a tremendously expensive car for a fraction of its new price is tempting enough to offset the risk of buying complex and cheap. It's the sort of logic that man maths is built on, after all.
And there's still nothing better in this segment than a luxury offering from Mercedes. Don't get us wrong; when something like a £5k C215-era CL goes wrong, it'll make nuclear fallout look minor. But when it goes right, when you're being cocooned in rich leather and motored along by a silky-smooth V8 in total silence for something that cost half a new Ford Ka. It'll be worth all the fraught moments.
Hailing from one of Merc's less illustrious eras, it would be a surprise if the CL enjoys much appreciation now. The upside being, of course, that it's hard to imagine a V8 Mercedes of this status ever being any more affordable. Fortune favours the brave, right…
Up to £10,000…
- Jaguar XK (X100)
Once upon a time, the original XK of the mid-1990s was cheap as chips. Those days have now passed, by and large, the car gaining recognition as a reasonably affordable way into classic Jaguar motoring.
For £10,000, both naturally aspirated XK8 and supercharged XKR versions of the X100 are available, though there's more choice of the former given their lower performance. An XK8 like this one, for example, comes towards the end of the production run as a 2003 car, has covered 70,000 miles, looks great on the bigger 20-inch wheels and yet still comes in at less than £9,000. Values may have risen, then, but the old XK still looks excellent value – especially with V8 Jags seemingly not long for this world.
Things to look for? Nothing too unexpected now, given 25 years of knowledge has been amassed. There are the Nikasil liners that were problematic in the early 4.0-litres (but should now be sorted), the plastic timing chain tensioners (ditto) and the CATS dampers weren't faultless. But when has a classic Jaguar purchase been risk free? There's a huge network of specialists on hand and a large community to provide support; plus, put XK prices up against its DB7 contemporary from Aston Martin and it still seems an absolute bargain.
Up to £15,000…
- Porsche 928
Alright, so in purely objective terms, there are certainly newer and more advanced cars that would do an empirically better job of grand touring than a 928. When we can cross Europe again, a previous generation BMW 640d will do it with all the speed that comes with more than 300hp and the efficiency that diesel power bestows. But, with an imaginary £15k, we just couldn't. If you want a GT for £15k and there's a 928 available, to hell with contemporary choices – get the Porsche.
It's all too well known that the 928 languished in bargain basement territory for a long time. Once upon a time this money would have nabbed a nice GTS, whereas in 2020 it'll only just get one of the 5.0-litre cars. Still, with so much of the 928 appeal there in the way it looks, the way it sounds and the way it can consume mile after mile of whatever road lay ahead, the mid-range V8 will more than suffice.
As the only bonafide classic on this list – having begun production more than 40 years ago and ended in 1995 – the 928 will likely require more time and attention than the other cars here. That being said, there are still plenty around (and with healthy mileages recorded) for good reason – they were built pretty tough. There may well be some scary bills along the way, but Porsche has never done a better GT car.
Up to £25,000…
- Maserati GranTurismo
This list couldn't possibly be compiled without the car so specifically designed for grand touring that it was named after it. Of course, the GranTurismo was hardly the first car to use the label – and certainly not the last – but it's impossible to think of anything better suited to the brief for £25k than the big Maserati.
Sufficient time has now passed, too, for the later 4.7-litre GranTurismos to be in budget, the original 4.2s not having all the answers when asked to deal with hefty kerbweight. For this sort of money you'll be looking at a 2009 car with around 60,000 miles, pretty much the entry point for 4.7s. Tellingly, even though there are GranTurismos on offer at twice and even three times this money, the later cars never got much more power – the potential of the package was properly realised with the 4.7 and the automatic gearbox.
More than a decade after it first went on sale, the GranTurismo hasn't been trouble free, but it's markedly tougher than the fragile Italian stereotype of old. And naturally there's a PH Buying Guide at hand. See you on the Adriatic coast (in 2021)…
Up to £35,000…
- Aston Martin DB9
Though it was comfortably more than 15 years ago, we all remember the excitement that surrounded the Aston Martin DB9 launch. The Vanquish was a great introduction to the VH era; the DB9, however, was the DB7 replacement, the car to sell in much greater numbers and be Aston's entry point to V12 GTs. It looked stunning both inside and out, made a divine noise and was desirable in a completely different way to the Newport Pagnell cars – this was the template for 21st century Aston Martin.
And though early cars might not have been the best DB9s to drive, later models came good – those with the Sport Pack are worth seeking out, and are well within budget. Bring all that together and you've a formidable GT on your hands, one that still draws heads all these years later and should provide more than ample performance for all but the most power crazed. And there's an Aston higher up this list that can cater for those people…
Up to £50,000…
- Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe
Everything on this list depreciates, and depreciates pretty heavily – it's always been part of the big GT appeal. That said, as the CL alluded to, it seems that the bigger the Mercedes, the harder they fall, even in this company.
And they don't come much bigger (or better) than an AMG S-Class Coupe, with all the prestige and power of everyone's favourite 'bahnstormer transferred to a swoopier two-door body. They're the ultimate in executive expresses, the pinnacle when it comes to maximum performance with minimum fuss. Put it this way: there isn't another car on this list with more torque than an S63 AMG. To match its gargantuan 664lb ft, you'll need an Aston DBS. For three times the cash. And we all know how vital torque is to unflustered grand touring.
Given tradition, it shouldn't be a surprise that the most recent generation of S63 is available for so relatively little – but it still makes you look twice. This car was registered in 2014 and has covered 30,000 miles; back then it would have cost at least £125,000, with the last car PH tested specced up to £170k. Now it's yours for £47,000. That would be scandalous value even if it wasn't that good, but the W222 S-Class (or C217 Coupe) was Benz at its best. It'll continue to lose money, yes, but depreciation will have seldom seemed so worth it.
Up to £75,000…
- Bentley Continental GT V8 S
Though we all know it's possible to buy a Continental GT for a lot less than this – an enticingly low amount in some cases – the best recent Bentleys have a V8 in them. They lose precious little in performance to the W12, sound naughtier and makes the cars drive better thanks to the reduced weight over the nose. That they go further with every tank and cost less to buy almost seem little more than fortunate corollaries of the downsizing.
So swapping the W12 for the V8 is good, and then upgrading from V8 to V8 S makes good even better. With a revised chassis and a smidgeon more power, the S really brought the best from the old Continental GT package. Precious little of the W12's sense of occasion was lost, with the added benefit of car made tangibly more rewarding from behind the wheel. Expect the formula to be repeated for the latest Conti GT some point soon.
Until then, plenty of examples can be found of the previous car. Nowadays those cars are available from £60k; spend a little more and Bentley Approved V8 S GTs are available, some still yet to record 20,000 miles. For this much performance, luxury and craftsmanship, it's hard to argue with.
Up to £100,000…
- Ferrari 599 GTB
It is increasingly common for modern GT cars to straddle the line between Grand Tourer and supercar, so fast and sleek and able are they. We could argue endlessly about where precisely that trend started, but the 599 GTB, launched in 2006, was unquestionably the definitive super-GT of the last decade.
There are several good reasons for this, not least among them the all-new aluminium platform Ferrari pioneered in its 575M Maranello replacement. But it was the decision to fit a revised version of the Enzo's heart-stopping, tear duct-filling naturally-aspirated 6.0-litre V12 that elevated the car from opulent two-seat GT to something else entirely.
In the 599 it delivered 620hp and 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds. It made contemporaneous supercars look like they were going backwards. Subsequent versions have obviously eclipsed it (the 812 Superfast delivers 800hp via a vastly improved gearbox) but none of them are available for five figures. Here's a lightly used example for £99,995. It is no exaggeration to call it a steal.
Up to £250,000…
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
Ask anyone to picture an Aston Martin and it'll surely be the DBS that comes to mind. However successful the smaller sports cars have been, Aston is surely still best known (and best at) the super GT concept; nothing better embodies what Gaydon does better than the latest Superleggera.
The formula is nothing new: enormous V12 up front, power to the rear and a supremely handsome body draped over the top. Like a DB9, in fact. But it's the way that the DBS executes the time-honoured layout that marks it out as something special: the 725hp V12 always feels rampantly fast without being uncontrollable, the chassis has enormous bandwidth and the DBS really does look a million dollars in any situation. So £150,000 is a bargain, really…
That's right, the very earliest cars are now available for substantially less than their new price, the DBS's staggering array of talents not enough to save it from the ravages of depreciation. When £180k buys a 2020 model like this one from Aston Martin Bristol, why spend more? It's going to feel worth every penny, and quite a lot more besides.
Sky's the limit…
- Rolls-Royce Wraith
Even with a replacement presumably imminent – the latest Ghost from which the Wraith is derived having just gone on sale – nothing quite represents the GT formula like a two-door Rolls-Royce. The more affordable Aston Martin will be a more dynamic drive, without doubt, but the Rolls counters that with imperious refinement and unrivalled luxury. If there are hundreds of miles to do in a day, there's no better place to cover them than from behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce – whatever the road being taken.
Given this threshold starts at £250,000, it should come as little surprise that only the very best Wraiths are on sale. (Those wishing to get the experience for less should know that the earliest cars are now nearing £100k.) Above that you're looking at the very best cars; Black Badge Wraiths with delivery mileage. And they still cut a dash like little else. So yes, while the architecture is no longer new, the design familiar and the propensity to depreciate truly terrifying, there remains nothing like the Wraith for GT driving par excellence.
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