Currently reading: Top 10 best grand tourers 2021
The 10 best GTs currently on sale are all capable of eating up the miles while leaving you feeling fresh
Autocar
News
12 mins read
10 February 2021

What image does your mind conjure when you hear the words ‘grand tourer’? Back in the day, the car in question would have no doubt been defined by its graceful but surprisingly spacious coupé bodywork, a long bonnet that houses a magnificently powerful and aristocratic powerplant and a suspension set-up capable of delivering a compliant long-distance ride and heightened agility on properly twisting roads.

Today, the ‘GT’ church is far broader, owing largely to our considerably more liberal use of that initialism on everything from fast hatchbacks to mid-engined supercars and four-seat convertibles. 

So this list is made up of the cars we’d be happiest driving over a very long distance. The vast majority have their fair share of luxury appeal, although some are more obviously designed to put driver engagement at the forefront of their motive experience. Some have four doors, four adult-sized seats and enough luggage space for a weekend away.

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 was launched in 2009. Despite being vulnerable to criticism for its awkward styling, this was a spectacularly well-engineered true driver’s car and an effortless continent cruiser.

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 turbo diesel engine producing 416bhp and 627lb ft of torque that was, in many ways, ideally suited to the car’s long-legged brief. Porsche later removed the Panamera Diesel from sale when it abandoned diesel engine technology in 2018, but it left a fairly wide choice of engines in the showroom range.

And for 2021, this range has been tweaked yet again. The 542bhp Turbo model has been dropped in favour of an even more powerful Turbo S variant, whose 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 now kicks out 621bhp. The GTS model has also had its V8 tickled, so that it now develops 473bhp and better fills the gap between it and the Turbo S. 

Elsewhere, the remarkable Turbo S E-Hybrid range-topper now has a combined 690bhp from its petrol and electric motors. This isn’t the only low-emissions plug-in hybrid in the range, either. The 552bhp 4S E-Hybrid model is now joined by a 456bhp Panamera 4 E-Hybrid variant as well. A selection of twin-turbo V6 engines fill the rest of the range. 

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At its best, the Panamera blends dynamic driver appeal with distinguishing touring credentials better than any other car of its ilk. It steers with reassuring weight, handles with precision, grips assuredly and accelerates urgently, and although it’s a sizeable and heavy car, it doesn't suffer much for the additional weight of hybrid drive batteries.

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

Save money with new Panamera deals from What Car?

2. BMW M550i xDrive

Okay, so this particular entrant lacks the swooping rooflines and slightly more dramatic looks of some of the other entrants in this list, but the BMW M550i xDrive thoroughly deserves its second spot. Hear us out.

This particular V8-engined 5 Series has been around for a few years, but it was only with the recent 2021 model-year facelift that BMW decided to offer it to UK buyers. The logic for doing do is pretty simple: the M5 - as incredible as it is - has become an increasingly hardcore driver’s machine over the years, one that’s now perhaps a touch too firm and a touch too aggressive to be considered genuinely comfortable for the daily drive. Here in the UK, where the spikier M5 CS quickly became the only M5 variant on sale, that felt particularly true.

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This shift effectively left more room in the BMW line-up for a second V8 5 Series model; one that, while still quick, placed more emphasis on comfort and rolling refinement than its M division sibling. And with the M550i xDrive, that’s exactly what you get - and for a sum that’s roughly £30,000 less than you’d pay for an M5.

Even so, its 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 still kicks out a mighty 530bhp and 553lb ft, and it’ll still hit 62mph from a standstill in less than 4.0sec. So it’s damn quick. It also still handles in a really engaging manner, as any good BMW should. But with optional air suspension, impressive isolation and a plush, leather-rich interior, that immense pace is matched by a level of comfort that’s increasingly absent from full-fat BMW M cars. The M550i xDrive is still a fast, fun BMW when you want it to be, but it’s also a car that you’d quite happily - and comfortably - drive from one end of the country to another.

3. Mercedes-Benz CLS

Whether Mercedes invented the modern hybrid vehicle bodystyle that, for a while, was amusingly dubbed the ‘coupoon’ (a four-door saloon crossbred 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 Mercedes has probably done more than any other car maker to popularise it since.

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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 four passenger doors, is chief among the reasons. Now in its third model generation, the CLS has always proved significantly better than most 2+2s for practicality, hitting a high point for it with the Shooting Brake version – a favourite CLS derivative at Autocar 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 trend-setting model generation, but the slightly awkward looks of the second-generation version are now behind it, and the car’s technology-packaged, leather-bound cabin has never been more inviting than it is today.

The engine range includes both four- and six-cylinder turbocharged petrols and a couple of six-cylinder turbo diesels, 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 chassis juggles involvement against isolation well – although bigger-rimmed versions fitted with run-flat tyres can suffer from iffy rolling refinement and are certainly worth a test drive before purchase.

Save money with new CLS deals from What Car?

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4. BMW 8 Series Gran Coupé

There was a gap of almost 20 years between the deletion of the original E31-generation 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 Coupé that it directly succeeds, combining trademark BMW driver appeal with top-level touring comfort and impressively luxurious ambient richness.

And to give the Audi A7 and Mercedes CLS due competition, the model is also available in an especially rakish four-door Gran Coupé configuration. There's a choice of petrol or diesel power, the latter coming from one of BMW’s outstanding twin-turbocharged diesel straight-six engines that, with 316bhp 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, and the range culminates with the 616bhp 4.4-litre twin-turbo M8 Competition, which supplies true – if you'll excuse the cliché – continent-crushing performance.

All versions of the car are four-wheel drive but all have steel-sprung suspension (unlike the air suspension offered on the Mercedes and Audi) – 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. 

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Save money with new 8 Series deals from What Car?

5. Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé/Cabriolet

The E-Class Coupé has always had a distinct whiff of golf course about it. It’s the sleek, handsome two-door for those who value an ability to waft about in calm, isolated comfort more than be thrilled by a car's innate willingness to engage its driver. And there’s not a whole lot wrong with that.

It was updated for 2020 and the already good-looking coupé now looks even better than it did before - both inside and out. The airy cabin has plush, rich-looking materials that sit smartly alongside Mercedes’ latest in-car infotainment technology, while large, leather-upholstered seats provide excellent comfort over distance.

The engine line-up is much the same as it’s always been. A selection of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines form the entry-point to the range, but it’s the larger six-cylinder petrols that really suit this car best. The all-wheel-drive E450 model is an impressively smooth operator, with decent straight-line punch, exceptional refinement and cosseting, comfortable ride.

Those who perhaps want a bit more dynamic bite will find the E53 AMG model more to their tastes. It’s certainly a more engaging drive than the E450, but compared with some of AMG's best efforts, it can feel a touch flat-footed at times, so it remains a car better suited to high-speed, long-distance schleps than a white-knuckle drive on your favourite B-road.

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Save money with new SL deals from What Car?

6. Tesla Model S

If any EV deserves to be included in a list that champions the very best long-distance tourers, surely it’s the Tesla Model S. After all, this was the original big-range EV. In newly updated Long Range guise (expected to arrive in the UK in 2022), it is allegedly good for more than 400 miles on a charge, and a 500-mile Plaid+ version is in the works, too. With the Supercharger network on hand to provide exceptionally fast, reliable battery top ups as well, range anxiety isn’t a problem.

Of course, the Model S is quick in a straight line, too. The forthcoming Plaid model makes more than 1000bhp from its three electric motors and is supposedly capable of hitting 62mph from a standstill in less than 2.0sec. We’ll believe that when we see it, but even the lower-powered versions are still wickedly fast.

Dynamically, the Model S has always behaved like the big, heavy car that it is. You don’t have to be pushing too hard to begin testing the limits of grip, but settle down and it's a fast, mostly comfortable long-distance tourer. There’s a softness to its air-sprung ride that makes the Tesla a relaxing motorway cruiser, but it can also feel just a natch too floaty on faster, undulating stretches of road.

As for the interior design, Tesla has become a byword for minimalism. Physical controls are sparse, with the vast majority of the car’s features being controlled either by a small collection of buttons on the steering wheel or via the colossal touchscreen. The Model S is an impressively spacious car, with loads of second-row room, and while material quality has improved over the years, it’s still not quite a match for that of the very best European marques. Build quality has been known to be a bit iffy in places, too.

 

7. Kia Stinger GT S

Kia's trajectory in terms of good design has become ever steeper since it hired Peter Schreyer to reinvent the brand's aesthetic, but what you might not know is that top European engineering talent has also been acquired to make the cars drive as well as they look. 

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And so it is with the Stinger GT S. Here is a rear-driven fastback that uses a 365bhp 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 – and the result is a car that possesses the sort of satisfying steering feel and balance that have historically been available in only certain BMW and Jaguar saloons.

A refresh for 2021 has introduced a new infotainment system alongside some minor material tweaks. The cabin still isn't quite as polished as that of, say, an Audi A7, but it's comfortable and the car's long-distance manners are assured, courtesy of the pliant ride. The cabin's roomy, too, and then there's the asking price: at £42,595, the Stinger GT S is an indisputable bargain.

Save money with new Stinger deals from What Car?

8. 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 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 (renewed in 2018) that makes it into our grand tourers top 10.

The second-generation A7 shrunk slightly in overall length compared with its predecessor but grew in wheelbase and likewise in four-seat practicality, to a point where only the very tallest adults will have cause for complaint about its back-seat space. Up front, the 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 on-board refinement levels very good. A liftback-style bootlid makes for better boot access than some cars in this class afford.

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The A7’s driving experience is typical of so many of today's 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 barnstorming RS7 Sportback with 591bhp is also offered.

Save money with new A7 deals from What Car?

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 makes it feel, at times, more of a natural rival for a Jaguar F-Type or a Porsche 911 than a Mercedes S-Class Coupé.

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 towards it. As a grand tourer, the LC’s lack of carrying space, the pokiness of its occasional-use 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 seem either 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.

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Save money with new LC deals from What Car?

10. Maserati Quattroporte

Bigger and longer than it ever used to be, the latest Quattroporte is a full-sized executive limo, similar in concept to the Jaguar XJ in that it combines 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 to 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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