There are luxury cars, and there are vehicles for which “luxury” seems a somehow inadequate descriptor. Some are audacious, some are fierce, and then there’s Bentley, a brand that defies categorization. Technically, it resides in the “ultra-luxury” segment with the likes of Rolls Royce, but even that does not convey the level of precision, care and craftsmanship put into every single vehicle.
Bentley is the vehicle of choice for royalty and celebrity, the pinnacle of automobile excellence coveted by those at the pinnacle of their own success. For a few days, I found myself among the elite, driving the Mulsanne and the Flying Spur V8 S through the twisting roads past Sonoma’s vineyards, to Calistoga and Yountville, California. I was met at the airport with the keys to a royal blue Flying Spur V8 S, and sunk into the supple leather seats to start the drive. Admittedly, the initial experience was a bit intimidating. But, man, was it easy to get used to.
The factors that set luxury cars apart from the pack – build quality, high-grade materials, a full complement of amenities — are amplified in the Bentley line up. Let’s talk about the two sedans that we had a chance to drive in Sonoma County – Mulsanne and Flying Spur.
Mulsanne is the flagship, the ultimate in hand-crafted luxury and exceptional performance, and comes in three versions, including the Speed and an extended wheelbase model. It embodies the execution of unrestricted luxury that is ingrained in the Bentley DNA. It employs a seamless exterior design, with hand-brazed joints that give the appearance of a single, solid form. It has a stately, powerful presence with an unmistakable look. It takes 500 hours over eight weeks to build each Mulsanne, and this is done largely by hand – from sanding the joints to give it that hewn-from-one-block look, to five days of painstakingly painting the exterior, to hand cutting, forming and finishing the unbroken ring of wood that trims the interior. The leather is meticulously inspected for imperfections and hand stitched to precise specifications.
It is endlessly customizable; in addition to the 12 real wood veneers you can choose for the interior trim, Bentley will use wood from the trees on your private estate for the ultimate in personalization. Waistrails can also be finished in natural stone instead of wood, if you so choose.
It seems almost ridiculous to talk about the driving experience. What else could it be but exceptional? To be sure, Mulsanne is big, but it drives effortlessly and is library quiet. Personally, I found it just as enjoyable, perhaps more so, to be a passenger. Particularly in the extended wheelbase model, which adds 10 inches to the rear cabin. Mostly to accommodate the electrically extending leg rests (think, backseat recliners). Two tables extend from the center console as adjustable work surfaces, and a fridge hidden between the center seats offers three crystal champagne flutes and chilled refreshments. Chauffeur not included.
Bentley Flying Spur V8 S
Like Mulsanne, Flying Spur is hand-built at the Bentley factory in Crewe, England, and each takes 130 hours to build. To the already powerful lineup that features the original W-12 and the consummate V8, Bentley adds “S” variants of both engines. The W12 S is the fastest sedan in the brand’s history, reaching a top speed of 202 mph. Slightly tamer is the V8 S, which hits a mere 190 miles per hour. It is in this vehicle that I spent the most driving time. No less luxurious than the Mulsanne, it is sportier and a bit less intimidating to pilot, particularly on narrow roads. It is so well balanced that it handles curves with ease, sticking fast to the pavement. Speed limits are decimated with alarming ease.
Driving, and merely riding in, a Bentley is an experience. It seems odd to put the words “practical” and “Bentley” in the same sentence, but if you’ve got a few hundred grand to spend on a car, Bentley makes more practical sense than, say, a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Those supercars certainly have appeal to those who crave pure performance, but as an everyday mode of transport, Bentley reigns supreme. And you’ll be in good company with owners as diverse as the Queen of England, NBA ballers, reality stars, musicians, and super-star actors. If I ever found myself the recipient of a windfall, I’d choose Bentley for its unrivaled comfort paired with impeccable ride quality and, especially in the Flying Spur, spirited performance.
Mulsanne Speed: $335,000
Flying Spur V8 S: $205,000