Why Nothing Quite Compares to a Green Bentley Continental GT

Noise Vibration & Harshness

Jamie KitmanwriterTim Marrsillustrator

"I'll just leave your fabulous car right here out front," the long-haired bellhop/parking valet announced in an overly loud, eerily unironic way. I'd just pulled up outside the Hotel Indigo in St. Petersburg, Florida, in a Bentley Continental, this time a 2015 GT V8 S, finished in Apple Green, a psychedelic hue so retina-searing that I feared it had triggered a flashback of some sort in our greeter, who was now madly sprinting across the drive to grab an orange parking cone to mark an inviolable zone around our luminescent luxury pod.

As my 6-year-old son, Milo, worked to extricate himself from a safety seat (the one I'd earlier nearly crippled myself installing thanks to the Bentley's none-too-spacious rear quarters and cruelly inaccessible tethering moors), onlookers stared brazenly, and I sheepishly explained to the cone-bearing attendant, "Thanks, but that won't be necessary. We're eating locally tonight and won't be needing the car; you can put her away now. Thanks."

But he waved me off. "I know how it goes, good sir," he said in a tone at once knowing and officious, as if perhaps I was a mystery shopper working for the hotel's owners who would report any failure to properly respect the Bentley's majesty. He'd headed us off at the pass and insisted on parking it out front overnight. Meaning the Continental would be on display each and every night during our stay for the benefit of all who would pass by. Presumably with the idea they would conclude that the high rollers stayed here. And so that I would know how deeply the hotel valued my custom.

He could have been just doing his job. Then again, perhaps his was a sly putdown. Maybe he was poking fun at nouveau riche insecurity. And how did he know I didn't want to keep things, you know, discreet? Did I detect a heavy-handed hint of fake British accent? Was he guilty of impertinence, I wondered, or the dreaded class warfare?

Oh, for god's sake, listen to me. If I actually wanted to lie low, then why would I be driving a Bentley Continental so garishly green? Showing off seems so fundamental to its cause, its raison d'être, that any conclusion other than an owner's desire to enjoy permanent pride of parking place couldn't reasonably be entertained. He couldn't have known that I'd only borrowed it. So I tipped him generously, which is what you must do in any event when you drive lollipop-colored Bentleys and people call you "good sir" because otherwise they want to key your car.

With the emotionally complicated business of parking behind us, Milo and I headed to dinner with our friend Joe Severns at the swanky Sea Salt restaurant. After a lengthy stint handling PR for Pirelli, Severns has recently landed in Florida, representing, among other clients, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, an IndyCar event staging in its streets a week after our visit. We'd initially been invited to
attend the race, though not because of any penetrating insight into the series I'd ever shown. I'm a sucker for most any downtown motorsport, it's true, but the reality is my IndyCar knowledge roughly approximates my son's, and he couldn't miss a day of first grade. So we came early.

Everywhere we'd look, people were racing around, setting up the course for the following week's event. And everywhere we'd go, we'd notice people noticing us. Having grown up in and around wild test cars, Milo is used to it.

After more than a decade of W-12 power, the lighter, twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8, a smooth-talking visitor from Audi's quality parts bin, suits the Bentley to a tee.

Spring break with a 6-year-old is, however, a tamer enterprise than you might be used to. Still, the oysters and restaurant martini that Dad needs a stepladder to get next to at dinner taste just as fine as any while Severns shares the lay of the land. The local economy is bustling again. But it has lately dawned on city fathers and mothers that tens of thousands of race fans descend on the area each year, yet many of them never leave their motor homes. The hope was we'd be able to tell a little bit of the rest of the story, about how St. Pete is actually a worthy destination apart from the Grand Prix, for racing fans and those who've never been. Not just because of the beautiful beaches surrounding it but also thanks to a wide array of sophisticated cultural outposts, hip dining spots, copious recreational pastimes, and opportunities to commune with nature. Well, folks, four days later, I can report it's true, all of it.

One might also mention Florida's Grapefruit League, with major league spring-training camps dotting the surrounding landscape, making a visit in February or March all the more worthwhile for baseball fans. When we pulled up in some small business' impromptu $5 parking lot down the street from Bradenton's McKechnie Field, winter home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, for an afternoon frame against the Red Sox, an older couple of modest means stopped to admire our car. They thought it belonged to a major leaguer. When I explained that I had borrowed it and suggested that it was perhaps a little loud for ordinary use, they looked at me like I was crazy. "That's the way you have to have it," they emphatically agreed.

The Bentley Continental is certainly a ride fit for a ballplayer, with its $231,710 price tag as tested. We know the Continental is a classic, too; at least, it must be because they introduced it (or something very similar) in 2003, and it's still here. If car years were dog years, the Continental would be pushing 85.

But somehow the GT V8 S is my favorite Conti so far, the wieldiest, best-riding, most well-judged of the bunch. Its replacement will come, but after more than a decade of W-12 power, the lighter, twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8, a smooth-talking visitor from Audi's quality parts bin, suits the Bentley to a tee. Best of all, in four days of local and highway driving, its fuel economy of 21 mpg overall made us rethink our prejudices. By large, hyper-luxury car standards, this thing is as green on the inside as it is on the outside. In honor of the latter, we kept things relatively mellow speedwise. But rest assured, even with a mere eight cylinders, speeding tickets remain as accessible as you please.

There are today undoubtedly rather too many places out there where everyone and his brother-in-law's lawyer already have a Bentley Continental. (And maybe one of them can explain to us how Lincoln and Bentley will soon both be able to sell cars called Continentals without running afoul of trademark law.) But let us just say this before it goes away: The GT V8 S arrives just in time to keep our memories of the outgoing model sweet. The timing of its release bespeaks real product-planning smarts.

For yes, good sir. We know how it goes.

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