Our list of the top 10 grand tourers currently on sale are all capable of eating up the miles while leaving you feeling fresh
3 January 2019

The classic ‘grand tourer’ might once have been identifiable by the combination of an elegant but surprisingly accommodating coupé bodystyle, a long-striding powertrain, a sporty but compliant suspension tune and an exotic nameplate.

Today, though, we apply that ‘GT’ initialism more widely, to cars as different as four-seater convertibles, mid-engined sports cars, fast hatchbacks and powerful estates.

This top 10 chart, then, is populated by the cars in which we’d most like to drive a long way. Most are fairly exotic, luxurious and desirable; many are at least partly defined by sporting ambition. Most, too, are four-seaters (although not quite all), with plenty of luggage space for a weekend away included.

So what are best four-wheeled, ‘£100,000-and-under’ options on sale right now in which to while away miles in style, at pace, in some luxury – and with a broad smile on your face?

1. Porsche Panamera

The concept of a four-door Porsche saloon was controversial when the first-generation Panamera launched in 2009. While vulnerable to criticism for its awkward styling, this was a spectacularly well-engineered, true driver’s car and an effortless continent cruiser.

And now freed from some of that initial controversy and much improved for its design, the second-generation Panamera feels like it’s finally cemented its place in Porsche’s model catalogue. We road-tested this car in 2017, powered by a remarkable V8 turbodiesel engine producing 416bhp and 627lb ft of torque that was, in many ways, ideally suited to the car’s long-legged brief. Porsche would later remove the Panamera Diesel from sale when it abandoned diesel engine technology in 2018, however, but left a fairly wide choice of engines in the showroom range.

Our Verdict

Porsche Panamera

Four-seat grand tourer bids to redefine performance in the luxury class

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A remarkable 671bhp twin-turbo V8 performance hybrid is at one end of the spectrum but it’s not the only low-emissions PHEV option, while a choice of turbocharged V6 and V8 motors fills in the rest of the range. True to Porsche’s exacting engineering standards, there isn’t a weak or under-endowed powerplant among them.

At its best, the Panamera blends dynamic driver appeal with distinguishing touring credentials better than any other car of its ilk. It steers with weight, handles with precision, grips assuredly and accelerates urgently; and though it’s a sizeable car and a heavy one, too, when hybrid drive batteries are included, it seldom suffers much for its heft.

The regular four-door, four-seat version has a 495-litre boot, with 1263 litres of storage if you fold the rear seats, and impressive in-car tech and infotainment. We prefer the five-door Sport Turismo shooting brake bodystyle, however, which adds a fifth passenger seat, adds useful boot space too, and puts a little bit more notional fresh air between the car’s exterior styling and that of a current Porsche 911 – which is no bad thing.

2. Mercedes S-Class Coupe

The two-door S-Class barely qualifies on the terms by which we’ve defined this top 10, having had a recent facelift and price hike that saw the entry-level version taken above the £100,000 price threshold. And yet the S-Class is such a consummate, elegant and complete grand tourer that to leave it out of this reckoning would be something of a travesty.

If it’s a modern take on a true classic luxury GT car you want, and a car of truly outstanding rolling comfort, refinement, convenience and effortlessly suave performance, the S-Class Coupe should be absolutely top of your shopping list. In 2014, when the pre-facelifted version of this car was brand new, it was good enough (in S63 AMG form) to see off a Bentley Continental GT Speed in a twin test.

Mercedes went light on exterior styling changes for the latest mid-life facelift of the S-Class Coupe, but it was a different story inside, with a revamped instrument cluster, upgraded infotainment, Active Distance Control cruise control and Active Steering Assist all coming in.

Under the bonnet, the firm rationalised the car’s range of engines. Both S560 and AMG S63 versions of the car are now powered by a 4.0-litre turbo V8, with the top-of-the-range AMG S65 sticking with Stuttgart’s venerable but formidable 621bhp 6.0-litre turbo V12.

Where other grand tourers offer a more engaging, connected-feeling driving experience, the S-Class’ brief is to fully isolate, cocoon and protect – and to spirit you over massive distances in supreme comfort and ridiculous ease. These are things it does quite formidably well.

3. Mercedes CLS

Whether Mercedes invented the modern hybrid vehicle bodystyle that, for a while, was amusingly christened the ‘coupoon’ (a crossbred four-door saloon with a more tapered silhouette and a swooping coupé-like roofline) or whether it was Maserati with the fifth-generation Quattroporte is a matter of contention. Either way, it’s fair to record that the original Mercedes CLS of 2004 was one of the originators of what still seems a fairly new vehicle type; and that Mercedes has also probably done more than any other car to popularise it since.

It’s not hard to appreciate why such a car might make a great GT. The inclusion of four adult-sized seats, the access to which is made easy by no fewer than four passenger doors, is chief among the reasons. Now in its third model generation, the CLS has always provided significantly better than most 2+2s for practicality, hitting a high point for it with the Shooting Brake version – a favourite CLS derivative at Franjevci Towers that Mercedes regrettably decided would be discontinued with the current third-generation version of the car.

The CLS has never looked better than in its first trendsetting model generation, but the slightly awkward looks of the second-generation version are now behind it, while the car’s technology-packaged, leather-bound cabin has never been more inviting than it is today.

The car’s engine range includes both four- and six-cylinder turbocharged petrols and a couple of six-cylinder turbodiesels, with the four-wheel-drive CLS 53 performance hybrid having replaced the firebreathing, V8-powered old CLS 63 at the top of the pile, and bringing an appealing different flavour to the AMG armoury. The car’s chassis juggles involvement against isolation well – although bigger-rimmed versions fitted with run-flat tyres can suffer with iffy rolling refinement and are certainly worth a test drive before purchase.

4. BMW 8 Series

There was a gap of almost 20 years between the deletion of the original ‘E31’ BMW 8 Series and the introduction of the latest version; and, as we’ve touched on several times already, the market for big GTs has changed quite a lot in the past two decades. And yet, while it doesn’t quite have the pioneering aura of its immediate forebear, BMW’s latest flagship coupé brings much more desirability, status and presence with it than the 6 Series Coupe that it directly succeeds, combining trademark BMW driver appeal with top-level touring comfort and impressively luxurious ambient richness.

Unlike many of its GT rivals, the 8 Series offers a choice of petrol or diesel power, the latter coming from one of Munich’s outstanding twin-turbocharged diesel straight-six engines that, with 315bhp on tap, feels well worthy of this kind of application. Higher up the range there’s a 523bhp turbo V8 petrol on offer in the M850i – with an even more powerful V8-powered M8 to come.

All versions of the car are four-wheel drive but all have steel sprung suspension – and all offer a driving experience tuned for a less cosseting, more engaging dynamic compromise than some cars in this class. Plump for an M850i, moreover, and you can have a car that has not only four driven wheels but also four-wheel steering and active anti-roll control suspension, too. No pop-up headlights or 5.6-litre atmospheric V12 engine, sadly – but the car’s a very welcome and creditable return to the luxury GT fold all the same.

5. Mercedes SL

There is only one strict two-seater that makes it into this top 10 of the very best grand tourers you can currently buy, and it’s a car that will make you think long and hard about how many friends or family members you really need in your life on a daily basis: the inimitable Mercedes SL.

Convertibles with folding metal roofs existed long before the fifth-generation SL, which switched to adopt one in 2002 – and yet much fewer survive into production today than existed 15 years ago, and fewer still offer such a compelling blend of touring practicality, crash safety, kerbside security and open-air driver satisfaction as the current SL. Even with the roof stowed, this car retains enough boot space for a long weekend away, and with it up, there’s just over 500 litres of boot space here; more than you’ll find in most family hatchbacks.

Which is to say nothing of the car’s most compelling quality: that of one of the most luxurious and special-feeling luxury grand tourers available at any price. First-rate mechanical refinement and ride comfort make the miles flow by in a rare and utterly effortless mode here, and while driver engagement is in more short supply than you might expect in any car billed a ‘roadster’, the 561bhp turbo V8 of the one remaining SL63 derivative ensures that performance isn’t ever to be found wanting.

6. Jaguar XJ

There has been a Jaguar XJ at the pinnacle of the firm’s saloon range since 1968, and the most recent version is a confident, forward-looking expression of the firm’s revival.

The sportiness hinted at by those sleek lines is reinforced by an excellent-handling chassis. The XJ’s cabin offers a sense of style and drama that German rivals can’t muster, even if it doesn’t compete in terms of sheer material quality and trails in terms of interior tech.

But the XJ is defined by how it drives - possessing something of the sportiness of a super-saloon twinned with a flavour of the aloofness of a limousine. The result is a car with rare poise and engagement for one so big, and of strong performance and great usability – and a really likeable GT car to boot.

7. Audi A7 Sportback

Audi took up the concept of a racier executive saloon-cum-GT car, created in the mould of the Mercedes CLS, with some zeal at the end of the last decade, launching both the A5 and A7 five-door ‘Sportback’ body derivatives within two years of each other. Both proved popular enough to survive into a second model generation, but it’s the bigger of the two (which was renewed in 2018) that makes it into our grand tourers top 10.

The second-generation A7 shrunk slightly on overall length compared with its predecessor but grew on wheelbase and likewise on four-seat practicality, to a point where only the very tallest adults would have cause for complaint about its back seat cabin space. Up front, the car’s central widescreen touch-sensitive display consoles aren’t as easy to use as they might be but the car’s qualifications as a luxury mode of transport are way beyond reproach. Material quality is excellent and onboard refinement levels very good. A ‘liftback’-style bootlid makes for better boot access than some cars in this class afford.

The A7’s driving experience is typical of so many modern Audis in feeling demure to the point of aloofness. The notable exception is the car’s ride, which is short on fluency and can feel choppy on certain UK-road surfaces. For engines, you can currently choose between two V6 diesels and a 335bhp turbo V6 petrol, with the more powerful of the former being our preferred option. A ’bahnstorming RS7 Sportback performance version is expected in due course.

8. BMW 6 Series GT

A large five-door hatchback, the 5 Series GT replacement is an interesting, if oddball, choice of luxury transport. The 6 Series GT has the same wheelbase as the 7 Series and, despite a lowered roofline, retains the raised seating position of the 5 Series GT.

The interior feels comfy, upmarket and well-appointed, with plenty of room for four. The 296bhp diesel engine confidently transmits power through the all-wheel-drive system, although you need to rev it to hear the six cylinders.

Add a broadly comfortable though occasionally brittle-feeling ride and, while it might not be as elegant as an Aston Martin and suffers with a particularly notable shortage of desirability in this class, the exceptionally roomy 6 Series certainly qualifies as an appealing left-field executive GT.

9. Lexus LC

As a keen driver, you feel inclined to make a case for the LC. The 500 version has a superbly charismatic and likeable V8 engine, and the car’s balanced, spry, involving handling make it feel, at times, more of a natural rival for a Jaguar F-Type or a Porsche 911 than a Mercedes S-Class Coupe.

The car seems large, heavy, leaden-footed and a bit cumbersome on the road at times too – so you never quite escape a feeling of ambivalence about it. As a grand tourer, the LC’s lack of carrying space, the pokiness of its occasional back seats and the wooden feel of its run-flat-tyre-hamstrung ride are all notable black marks against it, too.

Ultimately, depending on how much you’re moved by its virtues or irked by its shortcomings, this car will either seem like a bit of a rough diamond or the dreaded curate’s egg – but if you like driver’s cars and you avoid the disappointing hybrid version, you’re much more likely to be in the former camp.

10. Maserati Quattroporte

Bigger and longer than it ever used to be, the latest Maserati Quattroporte has become a full-sized executive limo, taking aim at the Jaguar XJ in combining high-end comfort with the sporting, exotic drive you’d expect of a Maserati.

The car comes with plenty of kit, and the interior is a class above its stablemates on outright passenger space and equipment – although it’s now more than a step behind the pace set by its German opponents on both perceived quality and technological sophistication.

Maserati’s trademark flair helps the car get your attention, but it's not a match for its rivals in several key areas – and its driving experience, while still rich enough, isn’t a match for that of its popular immediate predecessor.

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Comments
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7 January 2019

It was cool to read about these cars. But I want you to read these now. It will be fair.

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