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James Baggott: Why The Grand Tour convinced me that the future is bright

Time 9:47 am, January 3, 2017

PREPARE for a smug report. One where by the end of these few hundred words, you’re going to hate me a little bit more than you already do, but I need a column and this is a topic. 

I’m writing this several thousand feet above Mexico City on my way to drive the new Audi Q5. I’ve just stepped off a 12-hour Aero Mexico flight from Heathrow and straight on to another one to take me to the Baja California peninsula that looks like a drooping nose on the edge of this stunning central American country.

There’s no reason for telling you this other than it’s the Mexicans that got me thinking about the former Top Gear trio’s esteemed leader’s comments about its country folk, and that got me thinking about The Grand Tour, which in turn got me thinking about supercars. Bear with me, there is a thought process in this madness.

If, like me, you’re a fan of the controversial television trio you would have been eagerly awaiting the first episode of the Amazon Prime series. Once you’d worked out whether you had Amazon Prime and how to get the pictures on to a screen that wasn’t the size of your laptop, you’ll have settled down to enjoy the new show in all its multi-million-pound budget glory.

There were helicopter shots, celebrities quite literally falling out of the sky and the much-anticipated test of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of hypercars: the Ferrari The Ferrari (to coin a May-ism), the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918 Spyder.

Ok, this might have come around a little late and all of those cars may have already sold out – and in most cases already at least doubled in value – but still it was a test we all longed to see. Knowing just how tough it is to get any of these brands’ cars together for a group test, I didn’t even want to begin to think about the hoops the GT team had to jump through.

The test was brilliantly put together, funny and informative and was all we’d come to expect from the ousted Top Gear presenters. This first show was a line in the sand, a marker for rivals that said they’re back and still know how to entertain.

But what really got me thinking after the show was the cars. Here we had three hypercars packed with F1-derived technology. All three hybrids, all three boasting performance that a few years ago those very Formula 1 cars that inspired them only dreamed of. Yet these were cars for the road, for mere, albeit very rich, mortals to enjoy. Mortals like Clarkson, Hammond and May.

This year I’ve been very fortunate to try the offerings the next rung down the ladder from these three manufacturers.

Back in August we had a McLaren 570S along for our Road Test of the Year and I was staggered at its turbo-charged power, its ability to throw you at the horizon with brutal force.

Then Ferrari lent me their 488 Spider and standard 488 GTB to try, back to back. Both extreme feats of engineering, with barbaric power delivery and a breathtaking turn of speed, again largely thanks to a new turbo-charged engine.

Lacking in emotion

In fact, these Ferraris were so fast I could feel them moving my organs around in a thoroughly unpleasant way. And then there was the new 911 – another sports car with a turbo thrust upon it by stringent emissions regulations. The new Porsche was great, still as fast as you’d ever desire, but just like its contemporaries, was positively lacking in emotion.

I’m all for progress. I like nothing more than learning about, writing about and experiencing new technologies. But I’d argue that turbo charging has been a step backwards.

Yes, they might be more powerful, faster and have a more even spread of torque – but supercars must stir emotions, set hairs on end and that boils down to a sound. Engine noise and exhaust bark: they’re what prick the senses and heighten experiences. You can’t enjoy raw power or speed every day, but you sure can revel in a howling, evocative exhaust note.

Which brings me back to that Holy Trinity. If there’s one thing I took from The Grand Tour, it was the fact the future’s looking bright. Those three cars are the test beds for extreme technology that will very soon filter down into those brands’ supercars. The next-generation Ferrari 488, the new 570S and 650S, the new Porsche 911 – each and every one of those will be brimming with hybrid technology perfected in these super- expensive trinkets. Perhaps we’ll look back at this current crop of supercars as a stop-gap, born out of regulation necessity rather than passion.

But things are looking up. It’s the prospect of a KERS-packed 800bhp mid-sized Ferrari that really excites me – and the best bit is, these cars are just around the corner. However, only time will tell if they bring with them that raw emotion that’s so sadly gone, missing in action.

Who is James Baggott? He’s the founder of Car Dealer Magazine and chief executive officer of parent company @BaizeGroup, an automotive services provider. He now spends most of his time on Twitter @CarDealerEd and annoying the rest of us.

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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