Bentley is undoubtedly a mega-luxury brand that backs up ridiculous comfort with serious performance. Take the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible ($240,000 base), for instance. Though its looks and interior are nearly pornographic in their excesses, it’ll also punch you in the throat and drink your beer without hesitation. Certainly this 5,500-pound battleship wrapped in enough curves to make a Kardashian jealous that tops out at 202 MPH (oh, and it has a drop top) brings a certain gravitas to the auto equation. But after taking it for a drive in non-ideal conditions — and almost wrecking it on the icy streets of Squaw Valley — I got firsthand experience on why the brand is held in such high regard.
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The GT Speed, like all Bentleys, is hand-made, taking nearly 400 hours to complete, including 160 on the interior alone. That means if you took a two-week vacation and spent 10 hours a day working on this “project”, you (A) would have spent more time than Russell Crowe did with a voice coach on Les Miserables and (B) still wouldn’t be done with the seats and dash.
Sure, the taxes in your area may not be as ridiculous as in Cali (9.75%). But you get the point.
But it takes more than artisan cup holders to justify a $250,000 swipe on the Black Card, so Bentley nabbed two V6s from the the parts bin of their parent company Volkswagen, connected them like Voltron to get a 616 horsepower W12 (overlapping Vs make a W), and then bolted on a pair of turbos that usher you and your flattened kidneys to 60 MPH in 4.1 seconds. And if you have ever had the chance to ride in, or even better, drive, a Bentley, you know the feeling of illogical lightness that goes with this incredible horsepower — like floating on a freight train outfitted in about five cows’ worth of leather.
Leaving Squaw Valley on the north side of Lake Tahoe, I turned (too quickly, maybe) down an icy side street for a photo opp and also to prove that speed without traction is useless; upon entering the turn, the rear end started sliding toward a row of mailboxes, and I began pondering how I’d begin a life of crime to pay back Mr. Bentley for my mangled-car mistake. Luckily, the car’s 21-inch winter tires, “just-when-you-need-it” AWD, and computer-aided traction control saved me.
Calming my nerves as I left the snow and dropped the top on this $270,000 Moroccan Blue beast, I cranked up the seat and neck (yep) heaters and made my exit from the twisty route of snowy streets and boutique ski slopes toward the empty two-lane highway that would connect me with civilized interstate. It was on these dry, twisty roads that I challenged the beautiful bank-vault-on-wheels; smiling like I stole it, I was repeatedly impressed. The brakes froze the car before sharp corners, the auto-leveling suspension flattened even the aggressive turns, keeping the weight balanced and level. Sport mode kept the revs high when I backed away from the throaty W12 so all 616 horses were ready to pick up where they left off as I exited curves.
As the trip went on, I found myself behind pick ups and minivans; I’d patiently wait for a “passing lane ahead” sign, click the paddles for manual control, move left, crush the accelerator, and, as if taking in a deep breath before a dive, the flurry of fury under the hood would roar, sling-shotting the World’s fastest production convertible past the locals. As I was finally approaching San Francisco (traffic), I set the adaptive cruise control, took my feet off the pedals, turned on the massaging seats and thought two things: (A) I have so much respect for this car and (B) that stealing it and beginning a life of crime might just be worth it.