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What’s a GT, Anyway? Four Different Takes on the Grand Touring Philosophy

At our 2020 All-Stars competition, we sampled GTs from Bentley, Ford, McLaren, and Mercedes-AMG.

Mike FloydWriterWilliam WalkerPhotographer

As the fleshed-out concept of what would become known as the Grand Tourer—a sports car designed to go long distances at high speeds, blending performance, comfort, and style—emerged out of Europe in the early '50s, little did anyone know at the time how ubiquitous (and bastardized) the GT moniker would become. Absolutely no one is confusing legends like the Mercedes 300SL and Jaguar XK120, cars that epitomized the early GT form, with the likes of today's Hyundai Elantra GT, for example.

In recent years, slapping a GT badge on a car has become something of a marketing exercise, a way for automakers to say their car is "Sporty." Indeed, at our 2020 All-Stars competition, it struck us that no fewer than four cars, the Bentley Continental GT, Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, McLaren GT, and Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S, had GT as a key part of their naming strategy. So it prompted us to take a closer look at which of our 2020 All-Stars GT cars comes closest to matching the original intent of the grand touring ethos.

2020 Shelby Mustang GT500 - The American GT

While the 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 checks off some of the generally accepted grand touring boxes, namely front engine, rear drive coupe with 2+2 style seating, its supercharged beast of an engine with 760 horsepower means you'll be far more likely to leave smoking rubber at the drag strip than leave town on a long trip with your gear and a passenger in tow. The GT badge itself has been a part of the Mustang lineage from the outset of the car's existence, when a GT appearance package was made available for early models. Then when Carroll Shelby got a hold of Mustangs to modify for his business in the mid to late 1960s, he called them GT350 and GT500—pony cars built to go fast as hell and look good doing it.

That lineage carries on with the new Shelby GT500, which scored a 2020 All-Stars award thanks in part to that hellacious supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 paired with a stupid quick shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic tranny that helps propel the GT500 to 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds. The GT500's combination of outstanding track capability, prodigious power, and all-around usability shell-shocked the judges. In fact, given an interior that's as luxurious as any production Mustang in history, the ability to lope along in "quiet" mode, and its relatively easy going on-road manners, this is arguably the closest a Mustang has ever come to meeting the traditional GT mandate—all with a distinctly American tire-shredding flair. Just don't make it angry.

2020 McLaren GT - The "We Gotta Have a GT" GT

At the launch of the 2020 McLaren GT, McLaren officials were keen to point out that its GT was designed to fill a hole in the market for a car that can do grand touring things, but in a much sharper package. But it was also just as much about filling a hole in the McLaren lineup, offering a car that it says its customers were asking for. While officials of the marque have sworn on a stack of bibles that they'll never do an SUV or similar, until the GT came along if you wanted to take you, your McLaren, and a passenger on a multi-day trip, you'd be traveling very, very light. The McLaren GT was designed to specifically address this shortcoming, offering a total of 20.1 cu-ft of cargo capacity when counting the frunk and a rear cargo area, which is carved out of the car's carbon fiber tub and sits largely over the car's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 612 horsepower. Want specially fitted McLaren luggage to go with it, color keyed to the car's hue? Of course you do.

Team McLaren is well aware that the GT's mid-engine layout and stuff like no back seat are very un-GT-like in the traditional sense. But it's those traits that it believes makes the McLaren GT a unique proposition. At our 2020 All-Stars competition, generally speaking, the judges had plenty of good things to say about the GT. It's a McLaren, after all, and we've been smitten with vehicles like the McLaren 720s, a former All-Star that many of us believe is one of the best supercars ever produced. But there was a sense that the McLaren GT was a compromise of sorts, from a dynamic standpoint, for a company that makes uncompromising performance machines—extra cargo space be damned.

2019 Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S - The Four-Door GT

When Mercedes-AMG first launched its GT line of cars, most of the grand touring formula was in place: front-engine, rear-drive with gobs of performance, luxurious accommodations, and just enough usable cargo space. Sure, it was heavy, and there were no back seats, but it looked great, and as its host of variants arrived, including the former All-Star Mercedes-AMG GT R, they just kept getting better. Which brings us to the GT that is a four-door car, which means it's not really a GT, right?

Technically, no, but the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S is one hell of a luxuriously appointed performance machine. It's powered by a super-boosted version of AMG's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 producing bonkers power numbers (630 hp and a 664 lb-ft), routed through a nine-speed automatic transmission, with dynamic enhancements including AMG's 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system and four-wheel steering, which did wonders for this big bruiser of a car on the track. It's also unquestionably the roomiest GT of this bunch, with room for four and a big trunk.

But while it has all the room you'd need for a long-distance jaunt, it was the ride on the street that perplexed the judges the most about the four-door GT 63 S when driving it on our 2020 All-Stars evaluation loop. Even with everything dialed to its most comfortable settings, the car exhibited a tendency to run roughshod over anything more than glass-smooth pavement. Good for the autobahn, not so much for washboard American roads.

2020 Bentley Continental GT - The Goldilocks GT

When it comes to embodying the essence of what a grand tourer was meant to be, no modern era car does it better than the 2020 Bentley Continental GT. It's so good at what it does that it earned a 2020 All-Stars award as a result. It meets just about all of the traditional criteria of what a true GT has come to represent: front engine, rear drive, 2+2 seating, plenty of trunk, powerful, luxurious, comfortable. Sure, it's a big, hefty lad, but it's also fast, with either W-12 or V-8 powerplants available. (The GT V8 we had in for All-Stars testing pumps out 542 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque from its 4.0-liter twin-turbo engine.)

It can also handle its business, thanks to an active all-wheel-drive system that varies front/rear torque split depending on the situation, and Dynamic Ride, the Conti GT's signature suspension system (standard on the W-12 car, and optional on the V-8) that uses active anti-roll bars in conjunction with a three-chamber air suspension and continuously adjustable suspension dampers.

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The Continental GT can also be exquisitely appointed with gobs of leather, metal trim, and other high-end finishes. It's quiet and composed at speed, a car you and a companion could drive for countless miles in cossetted comfort, but also has the chops to get after it on a canyon road if you're so inclined. It's the modern embodiment of Grand Touring.

Without question, the definition of a GT car has evolved, morphed, and stretched over the years. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. As we were reminded at All-Stars, it's come to symbolize many things, but the essence of the grand touring philosophy still lives on through the cars that wear the GT badge today. Well, most of them at least.

 

 

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