I thought I understood driving in New York City. I thought I understood stress.
But then I drove a 2014 Bentley Flying Spur in Manhattan and my ideas about stress were changed forever.
The Flying Spur is a 17-foot-long, 5,500-pound, $250,000 engineering marvel that's a unique pleasure on the roads outside New York City. I enjoyed every mile and minute of our all-too-brief weekend together.
But then I drove to Gotham to meet friends for dinner and everything changed.
I'm no novice when it comes to driving in New York. I've navigated the city in exotic sports cars and utilitarian SUVs. City driving is never stress-free, but I've learned to manage.
Bentleys, however, operate on a different plan of risk analysis. Every time a cab dove into a gap near my car, I feared for the Bentley's $4,400 Kingfisher Blue paint job. My terror would be temporarily drowned out by the $7,500 Naim premium audio system. But then another cab would come diving into the another gap!
I felt like I was running with the bulls in Pamplona while holding a priceless Ming vase.
No Parking For Bentleys
If that sounds like an exaggeration, just try parking a Ming vase — I mean, a Bentley— anywhere in Manhattan. There are rules against it, and those rules are clearly posted to discourage such behavior.
I met up with friends at their apartment on the Upper East Side before going to dinner in SoHo, a few miles south. I figured the parking garage of a luxury building in the generally posh neighborhood would gladly accept the car.
Wrong. Nobody on the Upper East Side wanted to take the Bentley, probably because of insurance risks.
Being unable to park the Flying Spur was worrisome. But then we started to run out of gas (10 miles per gallon will do that to a car). With little fuel to spare, I headed south toward Business Insider's offices, where I knew I could find parking and, more important, gasoline. As I inched along Park Avenue, the stress from the 4.4-mile trip became ulcer-inducing. More cabs entered the fray. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I gripped the $2,200 steering wheel more tightly.
I finally found a small gas station, which should have relieved some of the pressure. But remember when I said the Bentley was 17 feet long? A Honda Civic beat me to the spot closest to the station's entrance. Five feet of Flying Spur jutted out into the street. My passenger hopped out to divert traffic from an unimaginably expensive bumper and presumably priceless taillight.
By this point a crowd had gathered, both out of a curiosity and because I had blocked the sidewalk. As countless cellphone photos were taken, I managed to maneuver the Bentley in front of another pump. I was afraid that filling the tank would be like refueling an Abrams tank, but I was finished, mercifully, in 10 minutes. During the fill-up, the Bentley's big twin-turbocharged W12 engine radiated so much heat that the station attendant ask if I needed a mechanic.
It all worked out OK in the end, but the next time I see a Bentley in the city, I'll understand what the driver is going through. I'll feel their pain.
But What A Car!
Fortunately, I also got the chance to assess the Bentley on the calm roads of Northern New Jersey and the soothing byways of Upstate New York.
The 616-horsepower Flying Spur is stylish, powerful, and athletic, everything a Bentley should be. Even better, the super-sedan's raw horsepower is wrapped in civility. This is a car that coddles passengers with almost otherworldly luxury.
The car is massive. However, thanks to its aluminum construction, it feels surprising light on its feet, whether navigating country roads — far from marauding cabs — or cruising in the left lane of a highway.
There's no lack of pep, either. When you stomp on the gas pedal, that W12 comes life (and, yes, you read that right — with 12 cylinders the Flying Spur proves that there's no replacement for displacement).
Zero to 60 whizzes by in just 4.3 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 200 mph (I obviously didn't come remotely close to testing that limit). This is surprising supercar speed in a four-door that some might liken to a road-going mega-yacht. But acceleration in the Flying Spur isn't the gut punch it is in many supercars. Bentley simply wouldn't subject occupants to such vulgarities. Instead, the power come on in a steady, confident surge — a continuous tidal wave of thrust.
All in all, I marvel at what Bentley's engineers have been able to accomplish with the Flying Spur. Sure, it was a difficult to drive in Manhattan. But then again, that's not where it's supposed to shine. The Flying Spur is a high-speed cruiser. It's a throwback to the days before the private jet, or commercial air travel in general, when the well-heeled used big-engined chauffeured sedans to cover long distances in style.
In that role, the Flying Spur is a world-beater. And the next time I want to drive to my ancestral castle in the distant New Jersey countryside, the Bentley will be my ride of choice.