It is a Sunday in the Northeast, and it is snowing. The weather newscasters had predicted a terrible wintry mix that looks like snow but is closer to liquid ice. But they claimed it wouldn’t hit until evening. It’s about 2 pm now and the roads are already frozen slicks, grounding planes at JFK and Newark and strangling highway traffic.
And I’m driving a 626-horsepower Bentley.
The sticker on the window reads $267,025. Did I mention that it’s also one of the fastest convertibles known to man? Perfect.
Actually my convertible is doing better than expected. I’m churning through the mess capably and no out-of-control SUVs have sideswiped me… yet.
The exact model is the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, which starts at $250,100, and is the quintessential Los Angeles machine. The housewives of Bel Air buy these as fast as they roll out of the factory in Crewe, U.K.
And yet the Tri-State area sells more Bentleys than anywhere in the U.S. outside of Florida and California. This despite our lousy roads and lousy weather. The truth is, anybody who owns the Speed Convertible has at least two other vehicles in the garage, and one of them is an SUV with all-weather tires.
But I have a theory: If you spend $250,000-plus for a plaything, you should be able to enjoy it all year, come what may.
And so, yesterday I sauntered around Manhattan, top placed defiantly down. The high was around 15 Fahrenheit. I cranked up the heat to max, and was particularly enamored of the neck warmer which exhaled hot air onto my nape from strategically placed vents in the leather seats. It is an $1,055 option, but a worthy one.
I also wore a puffy coat, hood up, a wool hat, two scarves, and leather gloves. The upside was that the very dim sun shone on my rosy cheeks on occasion, and whenever I looked up, I could appreciate the glory of the New York City skyline. Downside? My dignity. People looked at me like I was nuts. Of course I was so covered up, nobody could have recognized me anyhow. So it was a wash.
Bentley’s Continental series has long been its best selling. They’re big but not gargantuan, authoritative but also athletic. These days you can get it in all kinds of variations, including coupes and convertibles with V-8 engines (my choice, as those models are less expensive and still chock-full of power), or with Bentley’s old-school W-12.
The Speed models use twin turbochargers to achieve the 626 hp and 607 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is a theoretical and boggling 203 miles per hour. The convertible should be outrageously fast, but the car weighs more than 5,400 pounds, so the real-world feel is quick but not snap-your-neck. That’s a good thing. A Bentley is supposed to be luxurious, and the smooth surge of power is well suited to the car.
It used to be that anything with that much horsepower would be a menace to both driver and pedestrians, but the Bentley’s electronic safety controls keep things in admirable check. They’ll only lend full torque in the right situations.
This is decidedly not the right moment for peak 607 pound-feet of torque. I’m struggling down Interstate 80 in New Jersey, trying to get back home to New York, and I’m treating the accelerator like the most fragile of Faberge eggs.
Most of the time the Continental feels like a rear-wheel-drive, with the most thrust coming from the aft tires. It is in fact an all wheel drive, and I can sense it distributing torque among the tires now, trying to maintain the best traction and keep us pointed straight.
I’ll admit it. I’m impressed.
And although it’s got a soft top rather than the metal one you’ll find on cars like the Mercedes-Benz SL or even the Ferrari California, there is little wind noise. More importantly, no cold or wet is leaking in. We’re quite snug in our Bentley cocoon, motoring along at 35 mph. My cold weather gear — the scarves and puffy coat and accessories — are in the back seat.
A pickup truck, moving way too fast, whistles by in the right hand lane. A few minutes later we crest an overpass and find him off the road, stuck in the snow. The driver is outside the cab, assessing the damage.
I nod my head as we move sedately by. The Bentley may have a top speed of 203, but it turns out that it’s just fine as a winter cruiser, too. But next time I’ll wait until Spring to drop the top.