Road trip! | Six of the Best
You're off to the Highlands (or if you're already there, London) – so what should the weary PHer take?
By John Howell / Saturday, 4 March 2023 / Loading comments
Jaguar XJ 5.0 Supercharged, 2012, 83k, £18,249
Road trip cars. How do you interpret that brief? Well, anyway, really. But in light of the Caledonian Sleeper’s nationalisation, let’s say the trip is an expedition heading from London to Fort William (or back the other way), which is just over 500 miles and nine hours on a good day. Some might choose a sports car, others a comfortable cruiser. It may mean an estate car with room for a kiteboard, or else just space for a weekend bag and you’re good to go. With this lot, we’ve tried to cover all bases, but let’s kick off with this Jaguar XJ because it covers most of them in one fell swoop. When you want to cruise, the XJ will cruise, and in some style. After all, the X351 was good enough for a crop of prime ministers and cabinet ministers, right? And the advert for this one deploys capitals in the headline to emphasise features such as MASSAGE SEATS, REAR DVDS etc; basically, the message is you’re being treated to first-class travel whether you’re upfront or lounging in the back. On which note, it has plenty of room all round, so there’s no need to pack light, and, despite being a hefty thing, there’s joy to be had on motorways and A roads alike. Of course, with JLR’s husky, 510hp 5.0-litre supercharged V8 propelling you onwards and upwards, not only will the XJ smash down the doors of 0-62mph in under five seconds, it’s enough to beat the earth’s rotation, as proved in that episode of Top Gear.
BMW 640d (F06), 2016, 52k, £18,699
While the Jaguar XJ was a great car to kick us off, it does have one flaw. Its V8 is, err, juicy. It’s not the only car on this list to like a drink, either, so we needed a diesel for those who value frugality. These are straightened times, after all. But the good news is swallowing a sensible pill to deal with the pain of MPG doesn’t preclude you from fun – not if you go for this clean, low-mileage F06 640d. BMW’s excellent N57, here in D30T1 trim, means twin turbos that may leave a lot of horsepower on the table next to the Jag and others, but when it comes to torque it’s on the money. How does 465lb ft between 1,500 and 2,500rpm sound? What that means is a 0-62mph time just half-a-second shy of the barnstorming XJ, but more crucially a tsunami of twist in the mid-range that’s perfect for road-tripping whatever the road. Best of all, thanks to that engine and its slippery shape, the 640d would officially average 52.3mpg. Even if you bank on 45mpg being the reality, that’s nearly 700 miles on a tank. Enough to get you to Fort William and halfway home again.
Audi S6 V10 Avant, 2008, 29k, £18,940
The wagon option. If you’re wondering why it’s not an E60 M5 Touring that’s because our budget is £20,000, and you can’t get one of those for that. But you can have a V10, because we found this nigh-on box fresh S6 Avant. It’s covered only 29,000 miles and it’s just been shipped over from Japan, where folk tend to look after their cars. So what you’re getting is a car that’s almost blemish free, which is no mean feat considering that white nappa leather is 15 years old. It’s another car that fits the mould of luxury travel, with every conceivable device laid on for your pleasure – but the best device of all, if you can call a Lamborghini-derived V10 a device, is the ten-cylinders in its nose. Direct injection, variable intakes, 435hp and 398lb ft. All great stuff, sure, and it makes it very quick indeed, but most of all that V10 spells S.O.U.L. Oh, and I almost forgot about the big boot. How’s that for a road trip experience?
Mercedes-AMG SL 55 (R230), 2003, 68k, £19,995
In an effort to satisfy as broad a church as possible, we wanted a convertible on the list. But you’re about to set off on an epic trip, so only the most dedicated drivers would dare to do it in a classic drop-top with a vinyl roof flapping away for nine, long hours. The solution? An R230 Mercedes SL. Its folding hardtop will hermetically seal you in on long runs or when the weather turns nasty – you’re heading north of the border, after all – yet takes just 20 seconds to scissor away like a Transformer when the sun comes out. Brilliant. What better way to immerse yourself in the fresh air and stunning roadside scenery of Loch Lochy, just north of Fort William? And when it comes to stunning views, the R230 won’t spoil any of them. For my money, it’s one of the prettiest SLs, which is hardly surprising when the genius hand of Bruno Sacco was involved. Of course, this is also the AMG 55 version, in stunning Silver Arrows coachwork with Anthracite leather. It has a supercharged V8 engine to savour, metering out a monstrous 493hp and 516lb ft of shove. Yet, somehow, the SL 55 manages to have one of the most benign, rear-wheel-drive chassis imaginable. It’s basically tailor-made fun.
Range Rover (L322), 2007, 57k, £11,750
This is the point at which things take a turn. All the cars so far offer luxury and performance combined, but what if you have no interest in careering around corners or accelerating between them as quickly as possible? For some of us, a road trip is an opportunity to relax and unwind in luxurious surroundings. To waft. Which is precisely why the L322 came to mind. That and the fact that it was featured as a hero car last week, when I was reminded just how good this generation really is. Peak Range Rover I called it, and it is. If you want to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, then there’s little to touch it. Soft, cosseting chairs, with enough armrests to satisfy a spider. Classy interior décor, too – which, in this case, features a tasteful blend of oatmeal leather with a blue dash and burr walnut trimmings. And it’s on 19-inch wheels, which should alleviate my only criticism of the driving experience: a slightly niggly ride on 20s. I also concluded that the 3.6 TDV8 was the best engine to go for, and that’s what this 2007 HSE has. It completes an elegant package that could’ve been made for gallivanting around the Highlands.
Bentley Arnage Red Label, 2002, 92k, £17,500
Seeing as we’re heading to the Highlands on this road trip, and I appear to be finishing up on a 92,000-mile Bentley, I thought I’d bring up the motto of the Highland Clan MacKinnon: ‘Audentes fortuna juvat’. Fortune favours the bold. Indeed it does. And yes, you’d need to be bold, brave or maybe just plain stupid to attempt our trip in this Bentley Arnage T, but think about the upsides. Sure, it’s going to cost you more than a small fortune in fuel, but stick to Esso stations and you’ll have enough Nectar points at journey’s end to pay for your hotel. (Maybe.) The fact is, an Arnage is both expensive and a joy to travel around in and the T is the best of the lot. By this stage, Bentley had dumped the low-torque BMW V8 and brought back the L Series. It was like reuniting a king with his throne, and with the engine back in its rightful place the Arnage and Bentley were made great again. By ‘T time’ it had been pumped up with two turbos to 450hp and 645lb ft of muscle. Even in this group, that last number stands head and shoulders above everything. The ultimate road-trip car or the ultimate trouble? You decide…
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