The winding, coastal backroads of Sonoma County, California aren’t just the backdrop of my childhood, they’re where I learned to love driving. Midnight runs to Dillon Beach in the family estate gave me a taste for the paved version of the path less taken. Later it was Dubai, with its wealth of track days and launch invites that spoiled me for big V8’s, copious torque, and modern driving dynamics. And while my education in petrol was enhanced mightily in the UAE, I had known the joys of the twisty bits from growing up right here in anti-Trump country. Now, thanks to my longtime colleagues and friends at wheels, I’m absolutely caning a Bentley Continental GT down memory lane. Sure, it’s not the W12, but honestly that mammoth motor seems largely for bragging rights, as the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 mated to a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (replacing the old model’s eight-speed across the lineup) offers ample push in the straights, or coming out of these delicious switchbacks (when I’m not tailing some white knuckled tourist).
The car looks right at home here amid Bodega Bay’s wild beauty. Made famous by Hitchcock’s The Birds, this stretch of ragged coastline is oddly complimentary to the GT’s sumptuous lines and curves. It’s a kind of aesthetic détente, with the car representing the better elements of human design, and the earth and sea standing in for nature. The Bentley is a symphony of lines and curves that mix regal luxury with almost subtle athleticism — the car is like an aristocratic track and field star whose musculature has been shrouded in a bespoke tuxedo. I for one, can’t take my eyes off of either. And it’s a good thing, because I’ve spent the better part of the day flinging the GT into corners and failing to unsettle this urbane, yet brutal car. That improved balance is backed up by air springs with three chambers that allow finer ride control, plus adaptive dampers. There’s nothing brutal about the ride, mind you, it’s just that it’s combined 542bhp and 710Nm or torque combine English touring car mystique with Porsche level poise and aggression. It’s like having your cake, and eating it off of a plate made of more cake. The only thing anyone could possibly whinge about is the price, and that’s because most of us will never be able to own one, which is a shame. Driving one for a day then, is a laudable compromise and, when I fling the car hard into a right turn, intentionally breaking traction at the rear, slipping through the first few seconds of the turn, and then recovering grip with the gentlest compensation out of the slide, I can’t help thinking that today is a day worth remembering. Good job I have the task of writing it all down.
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In the parking lot next to one of my infrequent surf spots (shoulder pain and a growing family have kept me out of the water more than I would like) I sense confusion amongst the workaday crowd of surfers, tourists, and burnouts that line the parking lot. The GT is an outlier, the kind of car that attracts attention, but of a less voyeuristic cast than you’d get from the Ferrari Freaks and Lambo Rambos that just have to speak to you when you pilot a super car. Anyway, the surfer in the Civic parked next to me is at a loss for words. “Looks kind of blown out,” I say, referring to the wind-swept waves misshapen by today’s unfortunate wind direction. “Huh?” says this seemingly novice surfer. “The wind, it’s a bit problematic, but I admire you for going out regardless.” And with that, I hop in the Bentley and fire up the big V8 because, obviously I am a very important man, with places to go and people to see. Namely, Robin Williams tunnel just above the Northern entrance to the Golden Gate bridge. Tunnels have incredible acoustic properties and Bentley’s have banshee-turned-opera-singer roars. I take the car out of gear and open the throttle unleashing gilded thunder. In my mind’s eye the Tesla pilot one lane over purses his or her lips like they’ve tasted a sour lemon. Sorry pal, I admire EVs intellectually, but this car is a visceral experience and that I’m not keen to miss out on.
You might think the car isn’t palatially comfortable, given the 600-word paean to its athletic prowess above, but it’s every bit a Bentley inside, with its single-tone cabin decked in Cumbrian Green leather boasting fascias in Piano Black veneer and Cotes de Genéve insert to the center console and finished in with a sumptuous Cricket Ball stitch. The car is an exceedingly quiet and stately environment, with a superlative B&O sound system and a throne fit for a king, it comes with something called Front Seat Comfort Specification — the only downside to this exclusive club on wheels is that you have to roll down the windows to fully appreciate its aforementioned exhaust note. First world problems, no?
The GT’s Alpine Green paintwork with Blackline spec is complimented by 22in five open-spoken wheels in a villainous black, polished edge finish. The wheels are punctuated by Bentley’s amply-apportioned stoppers, which do their job so well that one feels confident to pour on the petrol at even the most fleeting opportunity. The hardest maneuver in this fleet footed beast is simply handing it over to, er, anyone who isn’t me.
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Before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge there’s a brief stopover in Sausalito, where we gaze out across the water at Alcatraz island, that sad rock where the gangster Al Capone was finally stitched up for tax evasion (a note of caution to would be Bentley buyers: better to settle with the tax man first). Crossing the bridge, San Francisco Bay glistens below with the promise of the West Coast, a place where Bentley drivers would likely be more plentiful is Silicon Valley’s tepid relationship with its own outrageous wealth were to shift. For the moment, living in an 8 million-dollar four bedroom in Palo Alto is actually something of an albatross, as Tech’s mighty engine of wealth has made all but the most remote corners of the Bay quite unaffordable. Google, Facebook and their ilk have so much to answer for, shaming one another out of the joys of driving a stunning beauty like the Bentley Continental GT does start to seem rather short sighted. It’s admittedly, not a problem likely to plague Dubai any time soon.