Speak softly and drive a big stick
By PH Staff / Saturday, January 9, 2021 / Loading comments
As a people, Brits tend to be diffident to a fault. Downplaying our abilities is almost a national pastime. Which might be why the Q car has always held so much appeal; they just get the job done, quietly and unassumingly – and very well indeed. Or perhaps we all just like to pretend we’re undercover police.
Either way, there have been all manner of great Q cars over the years, cloaking enormous potential under small wheels and innocuous badges. The genre still exists in fact (you probably didn’t notice, appropriately enough) with cars like the new Kia Stinger. Yes, they’re typically always seen in red, but in a darker colour they the nail Q car criteria to a tee: powerful (365hp), fast (168mph), rare and good value – its asking price is 4 Series diesel money.
So that’s what we’re challenging Team PH to find this weekend: half a dozen great Q cars, fast four doors that aren’t too obvious. The budget is £25k, as that’s what early GTS Stingers are now available for. Other than that, anything goes – ready when you are, gentlemen.
Skoda Superb, 2019, 6k, £23,495
We’ve been blessed with some absolutely cracking Q cars on the PH Fleet in recent years. The Volvo V60 Polestar is one of my favourites and I fondly remember someone shouting, “what the effing hell is that?” as I drove past. Other passers-by were equally baffled by where all that noise was coming from, particularly through the tunnels on the way to Le Mans.
But the best Sunday Service wagon to bless the fleet was the Skoda Superb 280 Sportline. I think it’s fair to say it won over everyone on the team with its effortless pace, comfort, cavernous interior and wealth of gadgets. I once managed a journey all the way from Kent to somewhere up north I can’t remember (north of Watford, at least) while barely having to use the pedals at all.
‘Our’ Superb shared the EA888 found in the Golf R, albeit retuned to fit VAG’s brand hierarchy – and less farty noises when changing gear, as no discerning Skoda owner wants something so adolescent. This one – a TSI 272 Sportline 4×4 – nails the brief in Meteor (insert primer jokes) Grey; it’s so Q you’d probably not even notice it on the road. Until you’re wondering how it left you standing at the traffic lights… BL
Kia Stinger GTS, 2018, 30k, £24,999
What was that about all the Stingers being red? While a black GTS like this one probably does the Q car thing a little better, it’s out of budget – this one sneaks in by a pound thanks to an odo reading that’s higher than most. Still, there’s 70,000 miles of warranty left…
Though there will be even more discreet cars on this list, the very fact nobody really knows what the Stinger is means it qualifies in my book. And even if they were aware of Kia’s flagship, it could easily be mistaken for the lesser diesel or four-cylinder models. There won’t be many who’ll clock it and know of its twin-turbo V6 and near-170mph potential. Which is exactly the point.
With the facelift imminent, deals should be easier to come by on the early Stingers. This one, like all of them, comes fit to burst with standard equipment – even the rear seats are heated – and looks little short of factory fresh after 30,000 miles. All the signs are good, then – hopefully there’s no sting in the tail for this Kia’s second owner (sorry). MB
Volvo S80, 2007, 91k, £6,490
Having spent much of my teen years staying up late watching motorway police chase shows on telly, a Q car to me is a discreetly specced, high-powered Volvo estate. They were once a default choice for a for the boys in blue, and it was hardly a secret that most had seen some fettling in the ECU department to extract even more punch from the 2.5-litre five-pot. Find a used one in the classifieds and you knew there was more than the quoted power on offer.
The Volvo I’ve chosen here stays true to that ethos but adds a whole lot more Q car kudos into the mix, because it features a 4.4-litre V8 engine under the bonnet. The S80’s biggest motor has always been considered on the lazy side, but you can’t argue with 315hp and 324lb ft of torque in a mint green on cream leather package, can you? It’s all-wheel drive, too, so that muscle ought to be easily despatched all year round.
It's in fine shape as well – 91k for such an understressed Volvo setup needn’t be of much concern for a buyer when there’s service history – and if those spotless, SE LUX-grade beige carpets are anything to go by, this one’s lived a cherished life. All that for £6.5k. SS
Jaguar XF S, 2017, 19k, £23,950
Jaguar has an enviable history in Q cars – think train robber ready Mk2s, super subtle XJRs and the like – a lineage continued by this XF S. Want under the radar grace, space and pace? Look no further.
Pretty much everything that could have been optioned on to this 380hp, supercharged flagship has not been. It has the standard 19-inch wheels, standard black leather – even the window glass is clear. Remover the badges and this really would be any old XF. In fact, given how many Jaguar saloons tend to be in more aggressive specs with larger wheels, this could look less than any old XF. Exactly the Q car way, then.
Because for those who know and care about such things, the S is a great deal more than a common-or-garden Jaguar saloon. Before it was (inadequately) replaced by a less powerful four-cylinder, the 3.0-litre was the jewel in the crown of the XF range. Its supercharged V6 rasped, the chassis handled with aplomb and it was nicer to drive than any of the opposition. To these eyes it looked great, too. For the price of a Kia or a Skoda of similar age, I don’t think Q car can be done better. MD
Audi A8 L TFSI, 2014, 52k, £22,480
Audi has made quite the name for itself in Q cars over the years, with various S-badged models being almost indistinguishable from their lesser siblings – until they disappeared down the road, that is. Perhaps you've heard of a film called Ronin? I'll say no more.
It is in that spirit that I present to you this humble looking A8. With any luck it's the colour of the boathouse at Hereford, but either way it is powered by the 435hp twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 from the S6. Even in a long wheelbase A8, that should be sufficient for 0-62mph in less than five seconds. Which is not very much time at all.
Elsewhere it is a picture of mediocrity. Even the TFSI badge is willfully normal. Only the moderately jazzy wheels partly give it away. Handily, too, like seemingly each and every A8 that's ever been made, this TFSI has depreciated. With an entirely reasonable 52k recorded since 2014, it's for sale at £22,480. NC
BMW 340i Touring, 2016, 48k, £24,979
No firm has built more sleepers than BMW. Perhaps you were expecting a mapped 335d as there is nothing faster (as older members will remind you, I'm sure), but I think this 340i should appease the majority.
Perhaps a true sleeper shouldn't have the carbon finished mirrors and roof, larger wheels, twin exhaust or privacy glass, but to the casual observer there's not much to separate this from a 320d M Sport. But a 320d doesn't pack 460hp, which is exactly how far someone has turned up the wick on this Touring – making it Q car aristocracy: all go, no show.
Boasting a full BMW service history and plenty of desirable options – harmon/Kardon sound, head-up display, panoramic roof – it ticks a lot of other boxes, too. What more do you need from a family wagon? Indeed, as the grown-up alternative to my much-missed M135i, I'm more than a little tempted myself… SL
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