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Top Gear USA: Cool Cars for Grownups

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Top Gear
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Top Gear USA: Cool Cars for Grownups

Bill Crittenden
July 8, 2014

Season 5, Episode 6
Episode aired July 8, 2014

The idea this week was to pick a vehicle that had performance but could also carry some kids comfortably and maybe still have room for a few overnight bags.

Before I get into the episode, let me just try and sell you on one of my ideas of a "cool car for grownups," the Ford Flex.  The backseat space is bigger than the Chevrolet Uplander it replaced in my family, as is the front seat space, and having a boxy body without the sliding doors it checks the box in the "cool" category for most people.  It won't hustle like a Porsche Cayenne, but it's got a realistic price tag...unlike the cars Top Gear tested.  I bring this up because my family decided last weekend that this will probably be our next vehicle.  We're grown up, I guess.

Back to the show...if price wasn't an issue, Tanner had a $159,000 Porsche Cayenne S this week.  He gave a great rundown of the Cayenne's history, but there's one more thing I'd add.  Porsche aficionados really appreciate the racing history of the 911, and when the SUV came out they couldn't see any potential for the Cayenne to build its own racing pedigree.

But Porsche went rally racing in the Cayenne, starting with a factory-supported effort in the 2008 Transsyberia Rally and Hock Racing is campaigning a Cayenne in FIA's Cross Country Rally competition.  It's not been very successful in competition, it hasn't raced the Dakar (although Hock looks to change that in 2015), but in researching this I did discover that Porsche won the Dakar Rally with a jacked-up 959 in 1986, so off-road racing success has been on the company's list of accomplishments for years.

The Cayenne's biggest motorsport success, though, came in 2010 when one of the five-liter V8 engines, separated from the SUV and stuck in the back of a Riley Daytona Prototype chassis racing under the Action Express Racing banner, won the 24 Hours of Daytona.  Since then I haven't heard any whining about it not being a "real Porsche."

Adam had an awesome Mercedes AMG wagon, a new version of that which featured in one of my all-time favorite Top Gear segments, testing the AMG wagon against the BMW wagon at an airport during a fire training session.  It's a bad ass wagon, possibly the best on earth.

Now, everybody's got different tastes, and certainly there will be people for whom the Porsche is the ultimate family vehicle (my wife, for example) and there will be others who love 500 horsepower German wagons, as I do.  But for me, I got to see one of my dream vehicles come to life on television.

I implied before that having sliding doors (the major qualification of a modern minivan) made a vehicle uncool, but if you have enough extra money left over after buying one (I think the additional required was $49,000) you can make it more cool than any other grown up car on the road.  Rutledge brought a burgundy Honda Odyssey minivan heavily modified by Bisimoto with an intercooler that bulged out from the grille opening, a turbocharger almost the size of my car's engine, combining to crank out over 1,000 horsepower, which was connected to the front wheels by a six-speed manual gearbox.

Oh.  Hell.  Yes.

Psst...spoiler alert...

Now, styling differences aside, the Odyssey vehicle won hands down for practicality.  Costing less than the Mercedes and about half of the Porsche, the Honda was still a sliding-door minivan with tons of space.  It may not have won the race up Pikes Peak, or any of the races actually, with so few opportunities to really use 100% of a car's potential outside of a track day, for me it comes down to it being interesting.  There's little more awesome than a minivan that can show four digits on a dynamometer, sound like an IndyCar, and make six passengers soil their shorts at the same time.  And Rut's loss in the cargo test was due more to the driver at altitude than the vehicle's ability to hold stuff.

So what did the Odyssey win?  The burnout contest.  Hell yeah.

A new Cayenne S?  Yeah, it's fast, but that just reminds me of the rich kid in Tokyo Drift.  So you can read a brochure...imagine that.

Bisimoto built one hell of a minivan and made one of my longstanding "dream cars" come to life.  Yeah, a minivan doesn't have to be emasculating, it's just that in stock form nobody makes a minivan that isn't a bit depressing to be seen in.  But it's the most practical body style there is for a family, and tuning one up to "cool" status isn't about checking boxes on the order form, since those boxes don't exist, it's about ordering parts and getting your hands dirty.  The exact opposite of emasculating.  And still being a more responsible family man than the guy who tries to stuff his kids into the back of a Camaro.

The world needs more minivans like the Bisimoto Odyssey, and more men who would build vans like it.  But if you can't afford it, a Ford Flex ain't bad, either.

Episode Ratings:
Best Vehicle: Bisimoto Honda Odyssey.  Did you even have to ask at this point?
Best Driver:  Rutledge Wood, for appreciating the epic minivan.
Episode Rating:  9/10.  I'd love to see more of that van.

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