Ferrari & Bentley
“Ferrari.” It’s not just a word to be spoken, it’s a legacy to be sung, with an upswing at the end, preferably with at least a hint of an Italian accent. It’s a whole lot more than a car, it’s a way of life, connoting all things cool. So what’s with the FF? I’m sure that there are many who have made up two F-word combinations but, officially, it means “Ferrari Four”, as in a four-seater with four-wheel-drive.
Ferrari’s first all-wheel-drive car evokes comments – everyone has an opinion about the body style. Is it a “wagon”, a “hatch-back”, a “shooting brake” or what? I think of it as a grand touring car, perhaps the ultimate sleeper, one that has a reserved, almost sedate yet elegant profile but which can blow the socks off the competition (0-60 is reported at under 3.5 seconds, top speed is 208 MPH), a snarling and sonorous beast that accelerates on command yet can be run in the automatic mode where the shifts are a pedantic 2,000 RP M or so. Breathtaking velocity at one moment, proper boulevardier the next. With 651HP and a terrific weight balance and an amazing suspension system (the third generation of Ferrari’s SCM3, the lightningfast Magnetorheological Suspension System that can make multiple adjustments each second, some five times faster than traditional shocks), it feels as though you’re driving the world’s largest go-cart or slot car racer. While there may be a division between the groups who like or may question the design, I have found that those who are not initial fans are won over after even a short drive in this Italian rocket. The sound on start-up alone — an excited raspy explosion — creates converts with each decibel.
Initially, I was dismayed to learn that my two-day test drive would be during a rare Los Angeles early-May rain storm. However, the slippery roads gave me ample opportunity to let the Ferrari control system strut its stuff. When the driver requests more torque than the rear wheels can deliver, the fronts are called into action. Having signed a waiver just short of pledging my first born, I was reluctant to go too far out with the real-world test but, suffice to say, the FF and I had a wonderful time together.
Being a music lover, I often think of songs which exemplify an experience. For this Ferrari, especially in the rain, it’s clearly “Shall We Dance?”
Bentley is a name with a long history. Walter Owen (“W.O.”) Bentley made grand tourers and amazing race cars but, even before starting his company in 1919, he apprenticed with locomotives, sold French cars and then worked on car, motorcycle and aircraft engines, increasing the performance of each. We today are thankful that he stayed with the automotive business and went on to win many races, including several top finishes at Le Mans in the 1920s and even in 1930. Although its connection with Rolls-Royce (a 1931 marriage of convenience due to the Great Depression) ended Bentley’s racing efforts and began the focus mostly on luxury cars (mostly rebadged Rolls-Royces), there were signs of Bentley’s racing heritage – especially in the recent past — in such cars as the Turbo R. And, after that strange time just before and after the millennium, where BMW and VW went back and forth with the Bentley and Rolls-Royce brands, Volkswagen Group emerged as the owner of the Bentley and apparently never has looked back (though that’s where they left much of their competition).
The new Bentley GT Speed is the epitome of Bentley style and grace avec vitesse. Give some thought to these stats: six-liter engine; W-12 configuration; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive; 616 horsepower; 590 pounds of torque; 0-60 in about four seconds; and top speed of 205 mph. So clearly this is not your grandfather’s Bentley, it’s not even one that was available until just a few years ago.
The styling has been upgraded recently and, as the W-12 engine configuration really is like two V-6s, it allows for some seriously sinuously lines with a relatively small hood and a very sculptural car overall (keen observers will note that the body has a very small hood and trunk, with the adjacent fenders appearing as one piece wrapped from lower to upper, giving the car a very fluid appearance but with cat-like “haunches” so it looks ready to spring forth).
Numbers are all well and good but what’s it like? How about a sledgehammer wielded with a velvet glove! Forbes named the GT Speed droptop (“drophead coupe” to you Brits) the best convertible on the market and for good reason – what other car has the amazing fit and finish, leather everything, silence when cruising and a great roar on demand, and the ability to propel six adults and luggage to Palm Springs or the Côte d’Azur with great aplomb.
The GT Speed starts with the basic Continentals (which hardly are “basic” themselves) and adds some nice touches. How else would you distinguish the bad boy in your stable but with a blacked-out grille and intakes, 21” wheels, lowered suspension, a choice of “turned aluminum” or carbon fibre dash, roof console and centre console and special steering wheel, shift lever and pedals? These are great touches for an elegant car, all of which belie that this isn’t just a Bentley Continental (V8 or W12), it’s the Speed version with so much power and grace that only the top supercars can match its performance.
Having had the pleasure of driving the car around town for a week, it was easy to love. Quiet in traffic, a head-turner but not ostentatious, quick when space (and constabulary) permitted and a fitting vehicle for center stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the valets kept it “up top” while I was speaking at a conference there. The car garnered a lot of attention from cognoscenti, who knew that the bigger wheels and blacked-out grille denoted rapidity.
The Bentley Continental GT Speed, whether in coupe or convertible variant, is a wonderful car to look at, listen to and, especially, to drive. Thank you, W.O. I imagine that you’re smiling down on all of your special, superfast children.