The week before Thanksgiving, I was driving a Bentley Flying Spur S, the luxury auto manufacturer’s flagship sedan, around Southern California. I had one the entire week I spent in Los Angeles. All went well—the worst that occurred was when I accidentally scratched the enormous passenger-side wheel well while pulling up to a home poker game in Culver City.
At the same time that I was cruising around SoCal, Bentley received quite possibly the worst possible press for a car manufacturer, when a New York couple driving a Flying Spur, which the company touts as “the pinnacle of luxury” and “a unique combination of exhilarating performance and exquisite craftsmanship,” hit a concrete barrier while going 100 m.p.h. The car launched into the air and exploded on fiery impact, and the couple died.
If it hadn’t been for the news, I would have been unironically thrilled to be cruising this car around in L.A. traffic. It was an “Azure” model, which, true to its name, was not just blue, but the bluest blue you could possibly imagine, designed for people to notice in traffic. And, as often happens when you’re driving a high-end car on crowded roads, people noticed, waving and giving me the thumbs-up, as if to say “congratulations for making it, man.” And for that week, I definitely had made it.
If you have to ask how much a Bentley costs, then you likely can’t afford one, but this model started at $225,000, and could easily go above $300,000 with add-ons. At base you get a V8 engine that generates 542 b.p.h. and 770 maximum torque. Gas mileage ranges from somewhere around 16 MPG to somewhere around 26 MPG, but it also has a nearly 24-gallon tank, more than twice as big as a normal car. There is also a “mild hybrid” variant with an electric motor, which is somewhat less powerful and somewhat more fuel efficient. But in an era where pure luxury is leaning toward electric, this car remains stubbornly old-school defiant.
My “Azure” Flying Spur S had two-toned black and blue leather, a series of knobs to adjust my seat and my back rest into more configurations than I could possibly configure, a glowing heads up display, and a night vision camera to “reduce fatigue.” Not that fatigue was possible when driving a mid-six-figure car that could go up to 200 m.p.h.—I had to stay alert. This vehicle could be dangerously fast.
In the days after the Bentley explosion, I saw plenty of criticism centered on why anyone needs any car that can reach such incredible speeds. It’s a reasonable thing to ask, though most modern cars can get there eventually. I see Mazdas and Fords going that fast on Texas highways every day. Unless you’re noodling a restored VW Beetle from the 1960s around your neighborhood, you can regularly get to 100 m.p.h. if you really want to.
On the other hand, the Bentley that I drove could have powered a barge. It went zero to 60 m.p.h. in a speedy four seconds. I only needed to tap the accelerator to effortlessly get it there. Since I was driving this car in Los Angeles, I rarely had the opportunity to go much faster, unless I wanted to drive it into a wall, or into another car on traffic-stuffed highways.
This influencer car moved so smoothly that it almost felt like I was sailing around Hollywood. But there were also terrifying moments, like at 11 p.m. on the 101 headed north, where I hit the gas and heard the twin-turbo roar. The Bentley ripped forward like it was about to launch. The dash showed that I had taken the car to 120 m.p.h. without any thought at all. I quickly eased off the pedal, actually a little terrified that I’d been able to achieve such remarkable speed so easily. This was a car built to perform at the highest levels, with speeds over 200 m.p.h., and it occurred to me that I was driving a high-powered rocket around the San Fernando Valley.
But this was not a racetrack. There were cars all around me, and I’m lucky one of them wasn’t a cop car.
Expensive cars cost a lot of money because manufacturers fill them with the finest materials and the most up-to-date tech, and employ innovative future-looking designers to make them appealing to the kinds of people who covet nice things.
Let’s also be clear: whether it has a V8, a V12, a hybrid drivetrain or an all-electric power system, if a car costs in the six figures and beyond, it’s going to be very fast. Speed is extremely fun, but it’s also dangerous. An expensive car crash is still a car crash, and the faster you go, the more violent that crash will be.
We all have to learn hard lessons when driving luxury cars. The only personal warning I can offer is: be careful when parking one in a tight urban spot with high curbs. This happened to me.