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THE ROAD TO RICHES

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Mar 25, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

THE ROAD TO RICHES

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Bentley is enjoying a sizeable presence in the media lately. If you didn't know better, you'd think there's a Bentley dealer on every street corner, or at most auto malls. The reality is far different. Fortunately for us, there are two dealerships in Southern California just within fifty miles of one another. This gives us the rare opportunity to commute from the coastal Newport Beach dealer northward to the refined Beverly Hills location and see how the other half lives.

Bentley sold a staggering 3,752 cars last year (an increase of 51 percent over 2004), but few if any owners possess a private road coarse. So what this says is a growing number of buyers use the Continental GT routinely as daily transportation. Undoubtedly this isn't the only car in the garage, and more mundane driving is often left to a car of lesser value. Yet, nearly a day goes by when we don't see a Continental out and about.

Can a car that produces 552 horsepower, along with 479 pounds of torque, and able to come within a sliver of doing an honest 200 miles per hour, be user-friendly enough to allow for day-in, day-out driving like any other automobile?

Since the parent company of Bentley is Volkswagen/Audi, one expects a certain level of functionality in this product. It does not disappoint. In an extremely short period of time, I become familiar with operating the vast array of features this car is equipped with. I do have the unfair advantage of being exposed to countless other cars (including other Bentleys), which makes my learning curve more like a slight speed bump, slowing my progress, rather than inhibiting me. I do think that anyone who can operate the latest in electronic gizmos, like cellular phones, MP3 players and ipods, should take to the Bentley like a duck to water.

With almost no orientation, I proceed to the start of my sojourn. I'm greeted at Bentley Newport Beach by Bruce Young. As Bruce walks with me briefly, I note how well conceived the layout for the showroom, and customer lounge are. Bruce informs me that this is the first dealership that Bentley Motors has designed. From floor plan to furnishings, everything is to instill the virtues of the vehicles being sold. Thoughtfulness in space planning, design and all the little details hint at the qualities of the automobiles long before actually stepping foot into the product.

Bruce also reveals why there are so few Bentleys available on the dealer's premises. On average, they sell better than a car every other day. When the most affordable new Bentley comes in at nearly 165 grand, I am left pondering as to who these buyers are, and can they adopt me. The waiting period for a car order from Bentley Motors as opposed to buying one that is sitting in the showroom might seem excruciatingly long: Six months waiting for a vehicle created to a buyer's specific tastes is acceptable, but our society is driven by instant gratification to its detriment. Good things take time, and great cars take six months.

START ME UP

For the past several weeks, a series of rainstorms have been nailing Southern California. Somehow, we manage to thread the needle with clear skies and dry roads - providing us with ideal conditions in which to commute from The OC to 90210.

With a simple push of the start button, the motor roars to life. As with a number of high-end vehicles, the key itself can remain safely inside my pocket wirelessly signaling the go-ahead. The six-liter, twin-turbo, twelve-cylinder motor is comprised of four banks of three cylinders. This basic layout (sans the turbos) can be found in the Volkswagen Phaeton, yet the power derived from the Bentley leaves the Volkswagen in a distant second. At idle, the car is smooth and silent. It's hard to believe that anything this docile is one of the most powerful motors in a street legal car.

Driving along the city streets of heavily patrolled Newport Beach, I find this to be well-mannered and rather suitable to speeds below 45 mph. I find little to really harp on, except that the rearward visibility is somewhat hampered by the high rear deck and rear pillars. On the flip side, I know several other cars that have worse visibility, and their purpose in life is definitely more geared to city driving.

Being well-behaved and keeping to the speed limits (or close to them) really doesn't allow the engine to sing. Fortunately, the audio system in the Bentley more than makes up for this. I am always entertained by the power and range of the system in this car. Purists might argue that the digital signal processing bastardizes the artists' musical intent; I find that it's a means of breathing new life in many well-worn songs. I don't care if the music is Sinatra, Nirvana, or the White Stripes - everything sounds just a bit better in the Bentley.

The interior, as one would expect, provides some outstanding leatherwork. Even the sun visor is comprised of leather with a dimpled surface that is both intriguing to look at and also allows for a better grasp on the visor than if it was fashioned with a smooth finish.

The woodwork, likewise, shows the skill and craftsmanship one hopes in a car of this nature. Besides the high-gloss finish, the grain of the wood is absolutely brilliant, and the fit provides both a tight tolerance to whatever it is adjacent to and the gap space is consistent throughout.

The gearshift lever on the center console fascinates me. The spherical shaped shifter is a knurled metal ball with a button emblazoned with the Bentley B. the shaft that connects to the knob is also equally stylish, with a satin metal finish. The shifter captures the essence of interior perfectly. Many a car company produce nice products and details; in the GT, every element is treated as being special and a step above what is found elsewhere. Some details might be more obvious than others, but they are all gems unto themselves.

In addition to the six-speed Tiptronic center console shifter, there are paddle shifters mounted just behind the steering wheel. The fixed-position shifter stays put as the wheel rotates around. Unless one looks carefully, it is easy to miss them. The paddles, which take on the curvature of the steering wheel, are nearly invisible. The paddle on the left downshifts, and the one on the right upshifts - just like the layout of the brake and accelerator peddles. The paddles can be activated at anytime by just giving them a slight tug. This places the car into manual mode without having to monkey around with any extraneous operations. When a situation presents itself to go with manual shifting, why mess around? Bentley's system is extremely effective, and intuitive.

ON THE ROAD

Motoring my way up one of the few inclines that can almost be considered a hill, I get a small sample of the capability of this car. I have been on this elongated S-shaped street thousands of times in all manner of vehicles. Nothing can ascend this grade as quickly and sure-footedly as the Bentley. Nothing! This is a bold statement, true. Speaking from experience I can honestly say that being firmly pressed into the seatback was only marginally due to the steep incline. Placing the transmission into the sport mode brings out a surge that can only be likened to the feeling of a jet during takeoff, i.e., fighter jet; not commercial airliner.

On entering the 55 freeway, I give the foot pedal on the right a good, determined squeeze. What I experience is a rush afforded by only a handful of cars. The once docile, sedate motor without a hint of hesitation becomes alive. The force of the acceleration again holds me very firmly against the seat back. I can count on one hand the number of automobiles that can gobble up the landscape as quick as this car without abatement.

Driving the Continental GT requires using a different set of skills. One must focus much farther down the road. Attempting to get your eyes affixed on something too close is useless as the speeds in which this car travels is too fast, and the eyes can't get a bead on anything too close. In a blink, what was in front of the car can now be seen in the rearview mirror. Hence, the best tactic is the same as that used on a racetrack; look much farther down the line. Of course, it's still necessary to keep the eyes peeled for any cars or objects in close proximity to the GT.

I have a few who ask what makes a Bentley so special? Inspecting the car at a standstill doesn't tell the whole story, and so that typically leads to further inquires. One stab on the gas pedal and all the questions are answered. Sport makes up a large portion of the Bentley heritage, and it's well represented in this model.

This car is no lightweight, tipping the scales out of the shower at a plump 5,258 pounds (curb weight - gross weight is 6,170 pounds). Given how fast the car accelerates, you will never know it. Bentley is more than a car with a powerful engine; every aspect of performance has been accounted for. The all wheel drive system allows for a remarkably balanced transfer of power to each corner. If it wasn't for that, I doubt the 479 pound-feet of torque would be manageable by just two tires. The Yokohama Advan Sports stick like glue, and offer a perfect blend of road feel, noise, and holding power. Our press car has just 4,000 miles on it, and already the tires are getting gobbled up quickly. I guess if you can afford the car, replacing the tires frequently is not going to break the bank. More likely the case here: Over-exuberant journalists are more punishing that a typical owner would be.

The suspension can be adjusted to four different level of firmness at a simple twist of the controller knob in the center console. This is a bit like the audio system, where the ride can be dialed in to whatever pleases the driver. Playing with the different settings can bring a new feel to many a well-traveled road. Ride height control lowers automatically at sustained high speeds. With the standard progressive air springs the high setting can be manually selectable at lower speeds

As was pointed out to me at the dealership, the brakes have the largest discs of any car on the road. What does that really mean? As inspiring as the motor is for lobbing this heavy auto into near earth orbit, the braking is even more competent. It is hard to imagine that something this heavy and moving so fast can decelerate effortlessly, but it does. As a matter of fact, in retrospect, I could have pushed the big car much harder as the brakes have no difficulty in dealing with excessive energy being produced.

The connector between the 55 and 73 freeway heading north toward the 405 is proof positive that the GT is indeed a supercar. The long sweeping overpass is so easy to negotiate at speeds far beyond typical high-end cars that I have to laugh. The stability of this car is in a different league from all but a few.

At more moderate speeds, I take a look at the map to get a handle as to where I need to be going - and I can't manage to get a visual on the map that shows the streets. This is not what I expect in a car that is so advanced in many other respects. Once off the freeway and parked, I can enter my destination into the navigation system, which then gives perfect directions in the center readout on the instrument panel. As mentioned, it takes a little getting accustomed to, but all the features are there.

B IS FOR BEVERLY HILLS

Traffic being what it is, I succeed in arriving at the Beverly Hills dealer in a fairly reasonable timeframe. Anytime the commute between The OC and LA can be accomplished at speeds at or above sixty is considered more than reasonable these days. This dealer has a very different look and feel about it. While the Newport dealership seems very modern, the Beverly Hills has a traditional flair that embodies the heritage of the area along with European architectural influences. The street presence is limited as only a glimmer can be seen through the windows, and the bulk of the cars reside in the rear courtyard. A pavestone courtyard is filled to the brim with Bentley's as well as the dealer's other brands, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, and Lamborghini. If you have an itch for an exotic car, the O'Gara Coach Company's dealerships in Beverly Hills can scratch it!

Both locations are ideal, situated perfectly in some of the most well to-do digs of their respective counties. The volume of cars sold in the OC location is impressive, but Beverly Hills comes out on top in the numbers game. When all the numbers are in and the dust settles, it turns out that the Beverly Hills dealership sold more vehicles than any other dealer in the entire country. Janelle Taylor, Marketing Coordinator at O'Gara informs us that their total is 245 automobiles. She also mentions they outsell all others when it comes to the Arnage!

One would have to say it's been a banner year for Bentley; total sales average more than ten units a day. That is an amazing statistic. Automobiles of this nature don't typically sell in numbers like this, and that is why we call them exotic. 2,163 Continentals were sold in 2005. Some might just consider this an exception to the exotic nomenclature. Nobody said being popular was easy.

Driving well mannered isn't challenging on the route taken from point A to point B, but what can we find when pushing the car a bit harder?

Retracing our steps from B back to A naturally brings the Bentley back to home base. Sticking to the straight and mundane streets en route from the dealership back to the San Diego Freeway is the obvious method, but just a mile or two out of the way is the world famous Sunset Boulevard. What would Jesus do, or better still, what would Ferris Bueller do?

The flash and excitement of Sunset is paralleled by just a few places on earth. Sunset is home to an adolescent's dream come true. Along the route is the birthplace of the West Coast music scene with clubs like the Key Club, The Whiskey, and The Rainbow Bar and Grill. On the far end of the strip is the scandalous Body Shop, and towards the other is The Hustler Store. In between those are well-known restaurants like the House of Blues, and Miyagi's, where the food is as appetizing as some of the patrons. Fantastic hotels along the route are plentiful, The Mondrian, which is home to The Skybar, the Grafton, Sunset Tower Hotel (formerly The Argyle), the Chateau Marmont , and the Sunset Marquis are well known haunts of the stars. The street is no stranger to both celebrities and those that could be. Along the way I notice a red carpet being set up for another affair. Again, just another day on Sunset Boulevard.

All of the various businesses along the both sides wouldn't be where they are if it wasn't for the magic of the street itself. On Sunset Boulevard, two narrow lanes meander past dozens of hot spots. The traffic sometimes slows to a crawl, all the better to see and be seen. Along this stretch of road travels many of the most desirable autos in this country. Sighting of such automobiles, while not rare, is still always titillating. The Bentley Continental GT is not just commanding and beautiful, it helps make this slice of Los Angeles particularly special.

In a town where so much is placed on looks, the GT is superstar. However, looks only go so far. On the last few miles of Sunset prior to the freeway is a twisty, curvy, tight, traffic riddled, and dangerous drive that can shake out the posers from the performers. The Bentley GT is no poser! The all-wheel drive system and Yokohama tires not just allow the powerful 552-horsepower motor get those ponies to the pavement, but provide the driver a positive, sure footed feel. The feedback of the speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion also allows for effortless and effective piloting even along the most challenging drives. Additional precision is enabled via steering that is just 2.7 turns of the wheel lock-to-lock.

The hills in this area might as well be anthills. Nothing can slow this machine down aside from its massive brakes. It is possible to overtake anything on the road, with the exception of a silver car just several car lengths ahead. Hard as I try, there is no catching up with the other car. Maybe it should be no surprise that the other car is also a Bentley GT. Well, the actual nemesis in this scenario happens to be a couple cars poking along at a sleepy pace. It turns out, regardless of monumental capabilities, one can only go as fast as the car up in front.

A true test of a car in this town is not what she can do on the track, but just how well it can handle the freeways. Anyone who knows the town understands what this means. I am about to find out in the fifty-mile drive back to Orange County. At 5:30 in the evening, the traffic is just starting to crescendo - averaging break-neck speeds of ten-to-fifteen miles per hour, I figure this torture should last no more than three to five hours.

Being stuck in traffic is far from a death sentence. As a matter of fact, the well-appointed interior makes this more than bearable. The heart and soul might be sports car, but inviting features like seat massagers speak volumes about the luxury behind this brand.

Perhaps this is the true irony in this story. The Bentley Continental GT is maybe the finest commuter coupe available, but this isn't a commuter car. The Bentley is a bona fide supercar . True, the GT does share the same roads as the millions of other vehicles in California, but just a fraction can come close to the upper limits this car can attain. The US-spec car is good for an honest 198 miles per hour, three times the legal speed limit in this part of the world!

198 is undeniably a lofty number. I may never come close to reaching the upper end of what this Bentley can do. Nevertheless, it's simply staggering to know you can!

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A super car for the real world. It's both comfortable around town and one of the fastest cars available to the public, a tough combo to beat.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $164,990

Engine type: Twin Turbo 6-litre W12, DOHC, 4 valves/cylinder

Horsepower:

552 bhp @ 6,100 rpm

Torque: 479lb.-ft @ 1,600 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / all-wheel drive

Transmission type: ZF (6HP-26) fully automatic with "Tiptronic" feature

Suspension: Front: Progressive air springs, Continuous Damping Control 4 settings, adjustable, Ride Height Control - lowers automatically at sustained high speeds. High manually selectable at lower speeds Rear: Progressive air springs, Continuous Damping Control 4 settings, adjustable. Ride Height Control - lowers automatically at sustained high speeds. High manually selectable at lower speeds

Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 19 x 9J alloy, 275.40 x 19 Rear: 19 x 9J alloy, 275.40 x 19

Brakes: Front: Vented discs 405 mm diameter Rear: Vented discs 335 mm diameter

Electronic Stability Program (ESP)

Overall length: 4,804mm Overall width: 1,918mm Overall height: 1,390mm Curb weight (kg.): 2,385

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 12/19

Top Speed, mph: 198

0-60 mph: 4.7

0-100 mph: 11.25

More information can be found at

www.bentleymotors.com www.bentleymotors.com/bentleybeverlyhills www.bentleymotors.com/bentleynewportbeach

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