Taking the New Bentley for a Spin in the Snow

Bentley 2012 Continental GT Stuart Hamilton / Courtesy of Bentley Motors

At least I’m not the one who crashed the Bentley. But I nearly did. It wasn’t my fault: a pile of slush, a pleasant conversation, and before I knew it I was swerving toward a snowbank. The landing was soft, and my passengers—a fellow hack and a Bentley representative—thankfully were unscathed. As for the car, well, the baby-blue Mulsanne proved forgiving. As we sat nestled in the snowbank two thoughts came to mind: first, this is what happens when you send a literary editor to do a man’s job. (I should be home skimming galleys, not braving icy country lanes!) And second, the seats are amazingly comfortable, and I would be perfectly happy spending the rest of the afternoon so ensconced. (And this was before I discovered the seat massager.) But tea awaited us, and there were more cars to drive, so my reverie ended and we carried on, gingerly. Little did we know, another snowbank was in our future.

After a warming tea and a laugh about the close call, we switched cars and sallied forth to battle the hazardous elements once more. This time the other journalist drove, and I was the passenger in a ravishing black two-door Continental convertible with tantalizing red stitching running through the interior. There’s no escaping the cliché that it’s just the sort of thing a hedge funder would (should) buy his mistress—and probably his wife.

Alas, this car was destined for a far less appealing end. The driver was in control until we hit an icy patch in the picturesque town of Ridgefield, Connecticut, a town I mention not to apportion blame but only to recommend that you stop by inclement weather. But I digress. We fishtailed, clipped a parked delivery truck, and ended up, yes, back in a snowbank. This time things were not quite as peaceful, but we hardly felt the hit, and considering that the bumper was hanging off and there was an encyclopedia-size dent in the side, it tells you right there something about solid craftsmanship—and probably our shock.

What brought us to this sorry point? We had set off from New York City on quite possibly the dreariest, wettest, most miserable day of the whole winter, with slush piled high and a pelting rain. Gathered for the day were several fellow journalists, a few enchanting ladies from Bentley headquarters, and a former Port Authority cop, who would become essential in the second accident. We pulled away in a convoy so grand, we were assured that we would simply clear a path through Manhattan traffic. (Beware, dear buyer; the car possesses no such magical powers, at least not when up against New York taxi drivers, who seem impervious to make, model, or signal.) Within a few blocks, the elegant four-door Mulsanne demonstrated its true superiority; the windshield wipers flawlessly swept my view clear without a squeak or a shudder. I mention this because as the Germans (who now own this very British motorcar) say, “God is in the details,” and the difference between a Bentley and your average luxury sedan is in the wipers. Trust me.

But to return to the scene of the crime. As we sat by the side of the road while the local constables were called, the Bentley representative cheerfully told us that this sort of thing happened all the time (see the latest issue of Robb Report for further evidence that when it comes to test driving, accidents—whether in Beirut or Westchester—are just part of the experience). Unlike other auto scribblers who shall go unnamed, we could at least blame the conditions. Fear not: after some good-natured gibes from the police about how much the car was worth (approximately $205,000) now (very approximately $160,000), we were soon rescued by our minder for the day in his zippy blue Jetta—related to the Continental the way I am to Prince William—which handled the icy slush with barely a hiccup before depositing us at our lunch.

With the stately $280,400 Mulsanne approved for my chauffeur (at the moment, sadly, simply a figment of my delusions of grandeur) and the convertible headed to Bentley reconstructive heaven, I was left post-lunch (which, I should add, was a perfect four-course spread at the current loca-gastro-must-visit Blue Hill at Stone Barns) with the new Continental GT, the top speedster in the line and about to debut in the U.S. I was the third person in America to drive the car; the first writes for another publication, and you’ll have to read his piece to experience true thrills.

The new Continental GT can go from zero to 60mph in 4.6 seconds, tops out around 197mph, and boasts of horsepower north of 550. I wish I could tell you that I got to test out those impressive figures, but I didn’t. What I can assure you is that cruising through the curves and avoiding the ample puddles on the Saw Mill Parkway on our way back to New York was absolute, pure pleasure. Somehow even in the pea-soup fog and amid increasing traffic, the car just made sense (or as much sense as a car costing nearly $190,000 can). If it felt this good on a miserable day, I thought to myself, imagine it with warm, dry sunshine, or on a crisp fall day. (Hint: Bentley, if you’re reading, I should really confirm these impressions.)

For a professional auto critic, my sub-60mph drive in the Bentleys would have been absolutely maddening. But you learn a lot about people in sticky situations, and I think the same can be said of cars. Any vehicle can be a dream on a dry, gently curved track, and you’ll no doubt have fun testing out its zero-to-60 ability. But give me a sodden day and a bit of ice to prove the true charm of something you can really drive, year-round, in traffic, and out to your country house. Today’s trip proved that the latest batch of Bentleys have become everyday cars—at least for those who can afford a dent or two without getting their homes repossessed.