TOP GEAR fans saw Richard Hammond drive a Bentley Continental through the Australian outback recently.
At the same time I took Bentley up on their offer of a winter drive, to see if these luxury/supercars could handle trickier surfaces than dust and gravel.
A car costing £164,500 should be able to drive in any weather conditions”, I hear you say.
But can it?
Bentley were so confident their cars would perform, they took me on a test drive in a mountain range in Sweden – where temperatures drop to -20.
Arriving at Åre Östersund Airport I was greeted to the sight of a fleet of Bentleys. I opted for the 206mph GT Speed – mainly because it was the closest to me and I couldn’t wait to get out the cold! Also, we’d seen first-hand how it coped with dry conditions and now wanted to put it to the test in the freezing cold.
As a driver, being in a Bentley gives you confidence. You trust it. For the trip I wore a pair of hiking boots but I was still slipping around all over the snow and ice when on two feet; yet pulling away on ice in the GT Speed feels like we’re on tarmac on a hot summer’s day.
Gripping the cold surface of the airport car park might have been one thing, but how would a Bentley handle a good few inches of fresh snow at the top of Förberget Mountain?
Surprisingly easily is the answer.
If I’d have passed my test yesterday I’d still have felt comfortable driving this beast. The experience was fantastic. Helped of course by the GT Speed’s 6litre 635bhp W12 engine, I found myself reaching the speed limit in a matter of seconds, despite the less-than-ideal conditions.
In fact, my biggest concern at the wheel was exceeding the speed limit. I wanted to put my foot down and kick up as much snow as I could at every opportunity. I had to constantly remind myself of the dangers. I’m thousands of feet up; it’s snowing, visibility is poor and I haven’t seen a passing vehicle for miles, probably a good thing given the narrow mountain roads I’m navigating.
I stepped outside the vehicle and the blistering wind smacked me in the face, reminding me of where I am. It’s easy to forget while in the comfort of the warm car.
As part of my journey, Bentley are keen for me to experience more than just the local roads – but a taste of the local cuisine too – so Moose is on the menu.
I can’t say I’ve ever hankered for such a lunch, but when you’ve been stood outside in this freezing cold any hot food is welcome. Strangely enough, I’m eating at a moose farm and go out to pet some of the clumsy creatures having just tasted it.
The GT Speed does 0-60mph in 4.0 seconds – but what about on ice and snow? I find a quiet stretch of flat mountain road and come to a halt.
As my foot slams down on the accelerator I create a mini-blizzard as snow flies up behind me.
I clock 60mph in 9.2 seconds in far from perfect conditions. The grip of the winter tyres and lack of fish-tailing is astonishing.
The £10,000 ceramic brakes make light-work of braking too, even on ice. After a day’s driving in the GT Speed, I’m convinced there’s nothing it can’t handle.
When I told friends I was driving a Bentley in the mountains they thought it was a bit bizarre, as it’s not what you associate this car brand with. But that’s exactly why I’m here, to try something new.
So what’s the downside?
Well, in truth, the GT Speed doesn’t have many negatives. It looks great and drives like a dream. Can you and I afford to buy one of these? With its £164,500 price tag, it’s pretty unlikely we’ll ever have one sat in the garage.
Could I even afford to run it? With an engine this big that’s pretty doubtful too.
I feel fortunate to have driven one of these, especially in the snowy wilds of Sweden.
The mountain locals gawped at the Bentley GT Speed like it was an alien spacecraft. I’m convinced that as soon as word gets out about how well the car handles icy roads it won’t be long before a few more are spotted here.