Letting the Day Go By: A Dream Drive in a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce

Letting the Day Go By: A Dream Drive in a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce

06/02/2021

A dream drive in a pair of cars from two of the world’s most prestigious automakers, Bentley and Rolls-Royce? Were the world working as usual, we’d jet to old Blighty, pick up our rides in the shadow of Big Ben, and cruise up to a hotel in an old Scottish castle with haunted rooms and a French chef. Another day in the coal mines.

But the world isn’t quite back to normal, so we’re simplifying.

We plan to meet in Beverly Hills, one of the country’s richest neighborhoods, then waft our way through tony Brentwood and Santa Monica to the ocean. We’ll turn up the Pacific Coast Highway and cruise 30 miles through some of America’s finest scenery before stopping for a picnic on the beach. We’ll take Route 101 up to Santa Barbara, a rather ordinary road with extraordinarily epic ocean views. From there, we’ll head inland on the San Marcos Pass, a PCH alternative that offers stunning scenery with more twists and turns. After a brief foray into the curves, we’ll take the back roads to our destination, the Folded Hills Winery and Farmstead.

Our rides represent the austere end of ostentation. I’ve developed a penchant for Bentleys, so I’ve chosen the Flying Spur with the newly introduced V-8, its shedding of four cylinders a portent of Bentley’s transition to greener luxury. Features editor Scott Evans, a Rolls-Royce devotee, pilots the new Ghost, freshly redesigned as a smaller, more down-to-earth and driver-oriented alternative to the Phantom. Restrained opulence for restrained times, we suppose. We aren’t attempting to define which of these cars is better, because once you get into the super-luxury realm, “better” becomes a very slippery concept. Rather, we’ve simply picked our favorites, and now it’s time to decide: Can automotive life get any better?

2021 Bentley Flying Spur V-8: Drivers Won’t Scoff

Rolls-Royce may well be the world’s most prestigious automotive marque, but I’ve chosen the 2021 Bentley Flying Spur V-8 because I am a staunch Bentley man—not least because Bentley sort of is Rolls-Royce. After all, what the Volkswagen Group bought in 1998 was effectively all of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ assets except for the name and logo, both of which went to BMW. Today’s Bentley combines W.O. Bentley’s go-faster philosophy with traditional Rolls craftsmanship, plus a little Audi brainpower woven in. In my hoity-toity opinion, it’s a hard-to-beat combination.

Still, when Scott and his wife, Kathryn, roll up to our Beverly Hills meeting point in the Rolls-Royce Ghost, I can’t help but feel a twinge of super-luxury envy. The Bentley is the lesser of these two cars in terms of engine, by four cylinders and 21 hp—and by $171,520. The longer and taller Ghost seems to tower over the Flying Spur, triggering my own 5-foot-6 Napoleonic insecurities. To my eye, the Bentley is beautiful, sexy, and cohesive, while the Rolls-Royce is regal—far less my personal style. I fear if we were to decamp to the nearby Beverly Hills Hotel, the valets would award the Ghost the coveted right-out-front parking spot.

We roll past the towering apartment buildings of Wilshire Boulevard, a little bit of Manhattan’s Upper East Side imported to the West Coast by my fellow native New Yorkers, then turn down San Vicente Boulevard and connect with the Pacific Coast Highway at one of its busiest points. The Flying Spur drives like it’s impatient with the traffic, and the feeling is contagious. I gun the twin-turbo V-8 to race around a rolling chicane formed by a Ford F-Series Super Duty and a Toyota Prius, and my wife, Robin (herself not exactly a paragon of patience behind the wheel), gives me a wifely glare. Scott and Kathryn waft by in the stately Roller, placidity plastered on their punims, and I wonder again if I have chosen the wrong car.

Relax, I tell myself, this is supposed to be an enjoyable day out. PCH is like a diver’s decompression chamber: Slowly, ever so slowly, the relentless Los Angeles traffic begins to thin, and the harsh cliffs and $10 million shacks gradually give way to rolling hills and expansive beaches. I loosen my grip on the wheel and try to focus less on the promise of the Flying Spur’s taut chassis and more on its soothing environs. I press a button on the dash, rotating the screen and replacing it with a trio of analog gauges, and settle back into the soft quilted-leather seats. The Bentley’s time to shine will come; for now, I will try to concentrate on the lovely blue Pacific. The sea is your mirror; you contemplate your soul in the infinite unrolling of its billows.

By the time we reach Sycamore Cove Beach, I am transformed, and our picnic lunch is a California dream: sea and sand, good food, and good friends. It’s tempting to wax philosophical about the finer things in life being beyond the reach of currency, but that’s an easy thing to say when you have a Spur and a Roller parked just behind your picnic table. Quoth automotive scribe Jamie Kitman, “I am reminded that while money can’t buy happiness, neither can poverty.”

Hunger satiated, we saddle up and ride on. The scenery here is what California dreams are made of: Majestic hills tumble dramatically down toward a restless ocean, the country terminating in the mother of all Hollywood endings. PCH begins to twist and turn around the rocks that jut out into the Pacific. In lesser cars, this is where I must back down from the posted 55-mph limit, but the Flying Spur sees no need to ease off its pace. It is giving me a taste of things to come.

We connect with Route 101, and I turn on cruise control and lane keep assistance to better enjoy the scenery. Here I find one of the Bentley’s few weak spots: constant warnings to put my hands back on the steering wheel, which is exactly where they already are. Worse yet, the car seems no more adept at sensing lane lines than it is at detecting the presence of my palms. I switch off the system. No doubt, if it was W.O. Bentley in the passenger seat rather than my Robin, he’d smack me upside the head. Why would anyone drive a Bentley and not want to steer themselves?

The freeway gives me a new appreciation for the Bentley’s ride, which is firm by luxury car standards but not unnecessarily so. It’s as if the suspension is equipped with a team of tiny people whose job is to examine each road imperfection in real time and decide if the resulting jolt will provide any useful information to the driver. Those that will are passed into the cabin; those that won’t are tossed in the rubbish bin. The experience is subtle, and it is magic.

Robin takes the wheel so I can try a stint in the Bentley’s back seat. I recline, activate the massager, deploy the power-folding tray, and immediately conclude I’m in the wrong place. The Bentley’s back seat is comfortable, to be sure, but it’s also a bit cramped, like one of those ridiculous French elevators. Robin, meanwhile, is all smiles. She provides an unrequested demonstration of the high-speed ride quality, and I start to wonder about the feasibility of claiming a speeding ticket on my expense report. I can’t really complain about the accommodations back here, but the Flying Spur is best enjoyed from the driver’s seat, to which I am eager to return.

North of Santa Barbara, we turn inland onto the San Marcos Pass. This is the curvy road I’ve been waiting for, and Bentley’s Flying Spur V-8 does not disappoint. Although the 4.0-liter is the smaller of the Spur’s two available engines (a 626-hp 6.0-liter W-12 is the other), 542 hp is still 542 hp. Our test team clocked the Spur to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, half a second quicker than Bentley’s claim, and praised the snappy shifts from the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Now I am translating those raw data points to real driving bliss. Less weight on the nose thanks to the smaller engine makes the car feel relatively light on its feet and has allowed Bentley to dial in a nice, heavy steering weight without making the car feel ponderous.

We detour off into a narrow road with sharper turns, and the Flying Spur begins to truly dazzle me, as has nearly every Bentley I have driven. As the curves get curvier, the Spur seems to shrink, and I feel as if I am hustling a tidy two-door coupe rather than a two-and-three-quarter-ton sedan. Robin warns me that unless I would like to add some new colors to her side of the Bentley’s purple-over-gray leather, it might be advisable to slow down somewhat. That’s fine, because I have discovered the Flying Spur’s superpower: It is brilliant no matter what type of curve lies ahead. Tight and twisty or broad and fast, the Flying Spur V-8 has the power and the grip and the poise (and the brakes) to make mincemeat of it all.

And why should this come as a surprise? W.O. didn’t set out to build great luxury cars; he set out to build great race cars. He didn’t even know Rolls-Royce was purchasing his company until his wife overheard a conversation at a cocktail party. But the cars that today bear his name have benefited from the association: The Rolls-Royce is more sumptuous, but the details of the Bentley’s finery, though more subtle, are no less elegant. Hand-stitched in England, after all, is hand-stitched in England.

The Flying Spur is a true driver’s luxury car, a point it has hammered home repeatedly on this dream outing. I don’t know how Scott and Kathryn are making out in the Rolls, but as we pull into the parking lot at Folded Hills Winery, I am confident I chose the right car. —Aaron Gold

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost: The Great Life

I can see it on Aaron’s face as the Flying Spur’s window drops. Bentley man though he claims to be, there’s no hiding that look. It’s not like I surprised him by turning up in a Rolls-Royce Ghost; it was all part of the plan. Truth be told, most people who can afford one can afford the other. That feeling you get driving something as opulent and expensive as a Bentley, that specialness, is addicting. It takes a lot to make someone driving a car like that wonder if they shouldn’t have bought one of each. It takes a Rolls-Royce.

That’s not to say anything unkind about his Flying Spur. Gliding under the ficus trees lining Beverly Gardens Park in the dappled morning light, the Bentley is absolutely gorgeous. It’s the headlights that demand your attention, illuminated rings faceted like an antique crystal vase. It’s a Bentley, so you wouldn’t doubt it if someone told you they were real crystal. The sheetmetal that follows is taut and fits the lithe body like Daniel Craig in a suit. It’s the first Flying Spur I’ve ever thought looked good, and good doesn’t do it justice.

Still, the Rolls-Royce has its own appeal. The Flying Spur is sporty and elegant, but the Ghost is imposing. It commands attention. There’s a presence, a resoluteness, that no other marque can offer, and all the more so with this new model. In a town where so many people drive Bentleys (even the company’s PR department refers to its cars as “Beverly Hills taxis”), the Ghost manages to still stand out like the queen herself in full coronation regalia. Not everyone wants to stand out, but when it comes to cars, I do.

The philosophy is simple: If you have the means, buy the best. Whatever the vehicle type, whatever you need it to do, buy the one that does it better. When shopping for an ultra-luxury sedan that costs as much as a nice house, I look to Rolls-Royce. Yes, there are sportier sedans out there, and anyone with the means to buy a Rolls can have as many of those as they please, too, and drive them whenever the desire strikes.

Don’t think for a minute the Ghost is merely a mobile living room. The hood is a mile long for two reasons. First, because it looks good, and second, because a twin-turbo V-12 engine is long. There was a time when the only thing the Rolls people would say about the engine output was that it was “adequate,” but such understatement is too Old Money for the decidedly modern Ghost. The brand today has no reservation flaunting the engine’s 563 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, enough to move this “living room” from stationary to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. The Bentley may announce itself as the sporty model, but the Rolls can move when properly motivated.

The Ghost’s presence is drama enough; it has no need to create more with its movement. Effortless is both goal and modus operandi. Wafting along the broad boulevards of Los Angeles’ Westside, the Rolls moves like a debutante in her finest gown. The feeling of imperfect pavement is allowed to reach the driver mostly to remind them the vehicle is in motion, lest their mind wander. The world outside the windows is a silent movie to be enjoyed passively, not interacted with. No one enjoys L.A. traffic, but it’s far more difficult to be bothered by it when driving a car so detached from its grind.

Thus, by the time Kathryn and I reached the ocean, we had no pressure to relieve. We were never stressed about traffic in the first place, nor was there any burning desire to unleash the sports car roiling in my brain. When I needed to get around someone (Aaron), I put my foot down, and that was that. Not throwing the Rolls hard into a corner never felt like a missed opportunity or something I’d particularly want to do, anyway.

No, this being the driver’s Rolls, smaller and sportier than the Phantom limousine, the Pacific Coast Highway is its element. Meandering up the California coast quickly but effortlessly, driving a Ghost feels like stepping into a film. Your cares and worries don’t matter. You’re living in the moment. A picnic on the beach, basket filled with sustainably raised and organically grown food from a fancy store you passed back in Malibu? Don’t mind if we do; we have nothing else going on today, and we’re here for the experience. Don’t forget the bubbly and crystal flutes hidden in the refrigerator between the rear seats.

Should you find yourself not driving up one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, the Ghost offers plenty of visual distraction of its own to hold your attention. What company but Rolls-Royce would poke more than 1,000 twinkling fiber-optic lights through the world’s highest-quality leather by hand before affixing it all to the ceiling of an automobile? The same company that would devise a way to make shooting stars appear in that same headliner. The same company that would hand-drill 850 holes into the dashboard and backlight them for a similar effect. The same company that installs a cheeky “Power Reserve” meter in lieu of other traditional gauges just to twirl about and remind you how much of the car’s incredible might you’re actively underutilizing.

And should the other half of your convoy decide to divert from the highway to a mountain pass, there’s no penalty in following them the twisty way. We’ve well established the Ghost isn’t a race car for the road, but just as it is no slouch in a straight line, it isn’t all knees and elbows in a corner, either. Blessed with a new chassis, an air suspension, all-wheel drive, and four-wheel steering, the new Ghost carries its 5,616 pounds well. It’s a willing partner, but in a reserved sort of way. It doesn’t taunt the driver, begging to be driven hard. Instead, it moves like a gymnast on a balance beam, confident and precise and deliberate, placing itself exactly at every step. Improvisation has no place here; showmanship is expressed through rigor.

Rolls-Royce is capable of building a real sports car, were it so inclined, but doing so wouldn’t serve the car’s primary mission. A Ghost must be as enjoyable for the chauffeur as it is for the chauffeured, and vice versa. The rear-seat passenger(s), alternatively Kathryn and me at different points in the drive, mustn’t be thrown about. How the car moves matters as much in placating its passenger(s) as it does in how it satisfies the driver.

To be sure, I made a point of riding in the back while Kathryn drove a particularly good section of mountain road. My wife tends to drive as quickly as the vehicle feels comfortable, just as Robin was doing in the Bentley. I reclined the seat, took command of the front passenger’s seat and relocated it, lowered the power-operated picnic table, and checked the day’s headlines on the built-in, internet-connected tablet. I don’t get carsick easily, but I know looking down at a screen on a winding road is a good way to induce it. Unless, of course, the car is a Rolls-Royce. Few vehicles can make the rear-seat experience so uneventful under these conditions—and that’s entirely the point.

Arriving at Folded Hills for wine tasting, direct from a jaunt up the coast? That’s the definition of Rolls-Royce’s business. —Scott Evans

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Folded Hills Winery and Farmstead

One hundred and thirty miles from Beverly Hills, we arrive at our destination: the Folded Hills Winery and Farmstead in Gaviota, California. Here, owners Kim and Andy Busch make wine in much the same way Bentley and Rolls-Royce build cars: by using old-fashioned methods and craftsmanship.

General manager Tymari LoRe takes us on a socially distanced tour of the winery and the farmstead, and she explains to us what sets Folded Hills’ wines apart from others. The grapes are grown organically on the hillside above the winery, and many of their varieties are still stomped by foot. “Big Wine,” we learn, will frequently use additives to give its products consistency. Folded Hills does no such thing, so each year’s wine tastes a little different—Mother Nature has her say in each batch.

We sample the 2019 Lilly Rosé and the 2017 Estate Grenache, and much like the cars, they really are exquisite. The Lilly Rosé reminds us of the Bentley Flying Spur: light, luxurious, and beautifully balanced. The Bentley has an approachability that lends an instant familiarity, and the Lilly Rosé feels the same way: It’s an expensive wine, but it’s delicious and easy to drink.

The Grenache, on the other hand, is much like the Rolls-Royce Ghost: bold and unique and unlikely to be mistaken for anything else. Rolls designed the Ghost for flexibility—to drive or be driven in, to waft gently or speed aggressively. Such is the Folded Hills Grenache: Its strong flavor can stand on its own, but it has the flexibility to fit the circumstances, be it a lone celebratory glass or a companion to a luxurious meal.

What unites these two very different wines is the same as what unites these two very different cars. All four are carefully handcrafted, using methods others in their industries have long since forsaken in favor of mindless automation. All four are shaped by consumers’ desires and by the forces of nature. All four are exquisite, unique, and unforgettable. —AG

Folded Hills Winery Homestead
2323 Old Coast Highway
Gaviota, CA 93117
(805) 694-8086
foldedhills.com

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