Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bentley GTC: Mission Incredible

“Good morning, Mr. Schaefer. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to drive our Glacier White Bentley GTC from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Tomorrow.”

Before the tape could self destruct, I accepted. Before long, the imposing, 5,500-pound Bentley stood in my driveway, gleaming like a beacon for my neighbors. I opened the solid door to present a glimpse of the glorious wood and leather within. I raised the hood to expose the grand six-liter, twin-turbocharged, 552-horsepower W12 engine.

I chauffeured my teenage son to his weightlifting group. His pals surrounded the car and started snapping away with their cell phone cameras. All of the 14-year olds knew exactly what the car was, but had never seen one in the flesh.

The next morning, I left home at 7:40 a.m., hoping to avoid some of the perils of the morning commute. Sitting in the royal comfort of the Bentley’s exquisite leather chairs was a joy, despite the freeway crawl. The thick steering wheel, with its chrome Bentley wings logo, wears the same premium hide as the seats, tonneau, and top roll, and is sensuous to the touch.

My tester was upgraded to the premium Mulliner Chestnut veneer on the dash, doors and rear quarter panels. The gleaming metallic air vents open with “organ stop” pull levers. A Breitling timepiece stands center stage amidst the chestnut.

After a while, the road began to open up, and I tapped the Bentley’s stainless steel foot pedals to feel its muscle. The brawny engine is whisper quiet loafing along at 1,800 rpm at 65 miles per hour. Push the rpms up a notch, and you can hear the deep rumble of the W12 stirring, hoping for a chance to step it up.

I tried the optional seat massager, which is much like the ones you play with at the Sharper Image store in the mall. This is, of course, to keep you alert, not to put you to sleep.

The GTC comes with an adjustable ride height and four-way suspension settings. I tried the suspension control. Setting #1 is the softest, the default setting is #2—not too cushy but not the sportiest, #3 is moderately sporty and #4 is very sporty. On the freeway, it didn’t seem to make much difference—but #1 allowed the nearly three-ton car to float slightly over road changes. I liked #2 better.

I made my first stop at the charming Carmel Highlands Station and General Store. As I drank a latte that Bob Conat, the proprietor, had prepared for me, he and his friend Carl acted much as my neighbors had done the day before.

I decided to drop the top as I passed through the trees near Carmel. The seven-bow, triple insulated lid folds or restores itself in less than half a minute. It is certainly the best insulated cloth top I’ve ever experienced, and it looks and feels like a coupe from the inside when it’s up. You can choose from multiple colors to match your fancy.

As I rolled along the Pacific Coast Highway and the road grew curvier, I tried suspension setting level #3. The car drove like a slot car on the curves—level and stable—in the quick patches. Surely the continuous all-wheel drive with Torsen center differential helped, and I was grateful for the enormous ventilated disc brakes with ABS, Brake Force Distribution, and Brake Assist.

Of course, when you’re in a car like this, all other vehicles are slow moving. I got stuck behind minivans filled with careful families, CalTrans workers in orange pickups, and even a Bekins moving van. But when the road was open, that Bentley flew.

I had lunch in scenic Cambria. As I sought parking, I happened upon Vintage Automobilia (812-A Cornwall Street), Peter Zobian’s shop full of transportation antiques and collectibles. As the proprietor admired the Bentley, I perused his delightful treasure trove.

After lunch, I headed east on Highway 46 toward Paso Robles. I decided to drop the top again as I climbed effortlessly to 1,782 feet. But not long after, the happiness faded as I came upon road construction. With half the road blocked, I began to sit and bake, so, before I passed the smoky tar patch, I put the top back up—while rolling along at 15 miles per hour! The car allows this under 20 mph.

When I hit Highway 101, I blasted south at a pretty steady 80 mph. Still no sore tailbone or legs, and I was still loving the firm but compliant suspension and the muted rumble of the big twin-turbocharged 12.

Passing through Santa Barbara, I checked in with my Southern California contacts. They predicted a three hour trip ahead of me, but I made it in two, on time. At the airport, I turned over the car to Sandy Fritz and headed up the escalators. OOPS! I still had the electronic key in my pocket! I scurried down to curbside and called Sandy back to grab it. Mission accomplished!

As I drove along on my 452-mile adventure, I realized something. When you’re piloting a Bentley, you are probably seated in the finest car that you can see around you—all the time. I felt above it all, in supreme comfort, with the power to do anything. That’s what you get for your $201,615.


UVOX said...

Nice, very nice. Shades of Larry there...:) Cool blog. I have to say I really miss driving in California. I used to love taking that Golf R32 through Devil's Slide. I'm thinking of buying one and keeping it permanently there for my visits...

UVOX said...

Also, interested in your opinion on the SMART car...


Steve Schaefer said...

Hi, Ultan. I just saw the new Smart cars at the LA show. I think they'll be a big hit in the Bay Area for city driving. The update makes them feel more substantial than the old ones. Thanks.