Consider the modern supercar. Is it really the ultimate expression of the four-wheel driving experience? Not according to Fabrizio Giugiaro’s latest vision of the future, the ItalDesign Giugiaro 4x4 Parcour. And I’m tempted to agree with him.
By very handy coincidence, the two days prior to driving Giugiaro’s highly unusual 4x4 Parcour concept in Sardinia, I had been driving a McLaren 12C around the English countryside. As it turned out, this couldn’t have been a better preparation for understanding the thinking behind a concept that is described as a “mid-engined V10 sports car that’s ideal for all-track driving”.
I first saw the Parcour earlier this year, at its debut at Volkswagen’s pre-Geneva show exposition. As I tweeted a picture from the audience, my first thought was to describe it as a kind of Lancia Stratos Allroad. But while the Stratos comparison – made by quite a few others too – exasperates Giugiaro (possibly because the iconic Stratos was the work of rival Bertone), it is not so far off the mark.
The name ‘Parcour’ comes from the French Parkour, which grew out of military obstacle course training and has become popularised in recent times as free running, the art of running, leaping and jumping through harsh urban landscapes. This, in a nutshell, is the Parcour’s USP: it can drive across all but the most unyielding terrain, as well as hit a theoretical 198mph and sprint from 0-62mph in 3.6sec.
Arriving in Sardinia under ultra-blue skies, we are swept from the airport to the other side of the island by Audi A5. As we crest a hill, the Parcour is sitting across a verge with its gullwing doors open, looking for all the world like it is impatiently trying to make a pitlane start and that I’m late for it.
The people from ItalDesign march me straight to the Parcour and in through its open gullwing door before setting about adjusting the four-point harness. The briefing about how to operate this one-off is remarkably brief. A prominent console sits high on the centre tunnel and is simplicity itself. Mounted on it is a bank of four back-lit Perspex paddles to control the automatic transmission’s driving modes. A fingertip’s flip is all that’s needed to switch between them.
Alongside these is a Land Rover-style knob for selecting the different chassis settings for various types of terrain. We won’t be leaving the asphalt this afternoon, but there are four settings: Road, Race, Off-road and Snow/ice. Later, Giugiaro claims that the Parcour, even at its lowest setting, has “more ground clearance than an Audi Q7 and good ramp angles, which might even be as good as those of a Land Rover Defender 110”.
According to the specification sheet, the Parcour has a street-setting ground clearance of 210mm, which can be lifted to 250mm and on to a remarkable 330mm at its highest. A Defender 110 on 235-section tyres has a minimum ground clearance of 245mm, so the Parcour can indeed outstride the Land Rover. And although the Parcour has a rather extended concept car nose and a 984mm overhang (easily beaten by the Defender’s snub-nosed 649mm), its 836mm rear overhang is shorter than both the Defender 90 SW (913mm) and 110 SW (1196mm).
It’s worth trawling through these numbers, because it is the best way of emphasising just how cleverly thought out this engineering package manages to be. Under the skin is – I would guess, because ItalDesign isn’t saying – a good chunk of the Lamborghini Gallardo.
The Parcour uses that car’s 542bhp 5.2-litre V10 engine and all-wheel drive, but it rides on unique two-stage pushrod suspension. Much of the car’s essential structure is likely to be a modified version of the Gallardo’s aluminium spaceframe. What is remarkable, though, is that ItalDesign has managed to package and re-engineer a supercar to have such a remarkable wading ability.
With the pre-flight checks over and now tightly strapped into the Parcour’s impressively futuristic and remarkably clear interior, it’s time to start the engine.
For a one-off, this car feels remarkably slick. The air-con is whisperingly effective and the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is shifting up through its ratios near-seamlessly as we gather speed along a Sardinian A-road. In only the first few hundred yards, the Parcour reveals itself to be stable and capable of roll-free cornering.
My recent weekend in the McLaren 12C provides a remarkably useful counterpoint. On first acquaintance, the Parcour is handily easier to get into. The door aperture is larger and the seats are wider, with bolsters that wrap over on to the sill, which makes entry and exit if not exactly easy, then certainly less challenging.
The forward view in the Parcour is also excellent, partly because it rides much higher than a typical supercar. The driver is low in the seat with legs stretched forward, but the eye point is quite high. It’s a clever combination that makes this car – 2070mm wide and 4530mm long – much easier to punt about with confidence. The Parcour also gets a rather neat central glass roof panel that isn’t wide enough to risk roasting the car’s occupants but lets in enough light to make the cabin feel light and airy, even if the packaging is supercar-snug.
And even though it’s a show car, it’s clear the Parcour has serious poke. Taking advantage of it, however, is seriously curtailed by the brakes. The combination of carbon-ceramic discs and no servo means I spend much of the next three hours with my right leg regularly locking solidly against the rather lovely aluminium brake pedal.
The rest of the driving experience, however, is highly impressive for a one-off. It steers with real accuracy and seems to ride remarkably well on the Sardinian roads, although the tall tyres must surely help. It gathers speed with ease and its pushrod suspension system means it hardly leans at all, even when pressing on into the tight bends on these sinewy roads.
Even turning hard and late into bends fails to gets this car – which is running a ground clearance of 210mm on its big, 22-inch wheels – to lean very much at all. Then again, my enthusiasm for pressing on is significantly curtailed by the knowledge that should I meet a truck on the other side of a tightening bend, I would find it extremely hard to scrub off speed quickly enough to avoid it.
Giugiaro explains after my drive that ItalDesign put a huge amount of effort into the Parcour’s suspension system, which he calls ‘Pushrod 2.0’. Instead of using a conventional pushrod to activate the main spring, it uses a coilover spring and damper unit. This means there are two coilovers per corner, so eight in all.
In normal road driving, these secondary coilovers are locked solid and simply function as pushrods, but in Off-road mode the four secondary coilovers are unlocked, allowing them to work as part of the suspension system. This both greatly increases the suspension travel and reduces the suspension stiffness, the key to the Parcour’s dual personality.
As Giugiaro points out, he has access to a Gallardo but has increasingly become a fan of SUVs because of their greater utility and their ability to cover ground effortlessly. Apparently, Giugiaro Snr has become, after some great scepticism, an avid SUV driver. Giugiaro’s mother now also drives an SUV.
“At the beginning of this project, I asked myself if the world needs another supercar,” he says. “I can use my Gallardo at the weekends, but really it is too limited. I am a great fan of the SUV because you always feel free. I liked the idea of having the pleasure of driving a mid-engined vehicle but being able to use it anywhere.”
As mad as the concept may seem, the Parcour has advantages over a typical supercar. Even in its road setting, the Parcour can cope with kerbs and speed bumps, and it was easy to drive across the sand up to the Sardinian foreshore.
But while the SUV market is expanding into niches that few could have imagined, the chances of the crossover supercar making it to the showroom are slim. That said, over my supercar weekend, the Parcour would have outpointed the McLaren, if only for its ability to deal with whatever was thrown at it.