2005 Bentley Continental GT
The nice lady from Bentley Motors was clearing up a particular detail of a weekend loan of THE hot car of 2005. ''Now you realize, she said, ''we don't pay for speeding tickets.''
But how could one not help but fall under the spell of the intoxicatingly beautiful Bentley Continental GT?
Well, duh again.
It's purposeful stance and chrome mesh grille speak to its high-speed capability, but its sloping rear greenhouse and sharply executed character lines recall older Bentleys, especially the 1952 R-Type Continental.
Then you lift the bonnet (that's hood to all you Yanks) and find it's stuffed with a twin-turbocharged 6-liter W12 (more on this later). It's enough to make any auto enthusiast weep for joy and ask for the keys.
A car this special needs a special place to drive it.
The Radnor Hunt Concours, nestled in the scenic Brandywine Valley of Southeast Pennsylvania, seemed just the spot.
This is where some of the monied set live, ride horses, hunt and drink boatloads of scotch and gin. It is also where the Radnor Hunt holds its car show and auto rally. Taking the lovely Continental GT through the paces on the back roads of Chester County is like taking it home.
Plop yourself into the driver's seat. Its multiple adjustments include one to extend the seat-bottom cushion for additional support. Put your foot on the brake and twist the key on the left side of the steering wheel. An exhaust rumble tempts you, like a seductive lover. It makes grown men go weak in the knees and women smile with a devilish smile.
The Bentley's drivetrain is really just a tweaked rendition of the one used in the Audi A8, although the crew at Crewe (England) have extracted greater power for their car. The engine consists of two V-6s mated, thus becoming a potent W12.
With twin turbochargers, the engine is rated at a wonderfully unnecessary 552 horsepower and 479 foot-pounds of torque. It's mated to a six-speed automatic that can be shifted manually through paddle shifters located just aft of the steering wheel. Sending all this power to the road is VW Group's all-wheel-drive system.
The numbers tell the story: 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, 0-100 mph in 11.25 seconds and a top speed of 198 mph.
I'll have to take their word for it on that last number. With that kind of power, big brakes are called for, with 15.9-inch discs in front and 13.2 inch ones in the rear.
Fast? That's Bentley's heritage.
Road manners? You have to ask? Sure you do.
The car drives with an otherworldly smoothness. The power propels you back into your seat, like a great amusement park ride. The speed pours on quickly, and it just keeps coming, 90 mph, 100 mph, 110 mph ...
If you've got the guts, and a safe empty road to try it on, you'll be astounded at the Bentley's capabilities. It's so fast, it's almost too much power to be used anywhere in the United States.
Still, it allows you to squirt through holes in traffic others can only dream of.
The road feel and lack of body roll in corners allow you to maneuver well, despite its hefty curb weight.
It also can be enjoyably docile at low speeds, which was proven while impatiently following a 1928 LaSalle at 20 mph in the Radnor Hunt rally.
Oh yes, the rally. There's nothing quite like rolling by the estates of various DuPonts, Edsel Ford's grandson and others. Heck, I even saw a fox cross the road. No wonder they hunt down here.
Of course, with such great power comes gas mileage only an oil sheik could love. The Continental GT requires premium gasoline and is rated by the EPA at 11 mpg city, 18 mpg highway.
A weekend of mixed driving showed the fuel ''consumption'' (Bentley's term) to be just 10.8 mpg. That's low enough to earn it a $3,700 gas guzzler tax.
There's a full complement of safety gear, including electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brakeforce distribution, brake assist and curtain airbags for all passengers.
There are also some petty annoyances. The trunk and gas release buttons are on the driver's armrest, where they're easy to confuse with window switches. The cupholders are obviously designed by Europeans, since they're in the console, buried under armrests and placed back where your elbow can knock your latte all over the scrumptious leather. Oh, and the navigation system is simply user unfriendly.
The test car had a base price of $155,990. Options included the ''Mulliner Driving Specification,'' which included 20-inch wheels (rather than the standard 19s), dark burr walnut veneer trim, drilled alloy pedals, quilted leather trim for $8,490 and a valet parking key for $196.34.
Another $6,295 goes to the gas-guzzler tax and destination charge. Bottom line was just over $170K.
It makes the price of gas and speeding tickets seem positively cheap by comparison. But really, some things in life are worth paying for.
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