Crewe’s control: the Cheshire cat has been given a new lease of life with a massive injection of cash from VW. Photograph: observer
Miles per gallon: 17.1
Top speed: 198mph
What do you do when you see a sweating man changing the foot-wide punctured tyre of a Bentley Continental GT in the rain? You smile, of course, then drive past and inhale that most satisfying aroma – rank schadenfreude. Well, last weekend, on the busy A429, that man in the rain was me. To make the most of my time with the new GT, I’d taken it on a mini Grand Tour, up through the Cotswolds then back in a long lazy loop to London. I’d spent several happy hours powering past small fry and practising my look of haughty disdain. But then, to my horror, I plunged into a gaping pothole. A sickening thump was followed by the unmistakable slapping sound of a flat tyre. Worse was to come. The skinny spare has a limit of only 50mph, so I spent the day inching the 200mph supercar back home. The final insult was added when I was flashed doing 48 in a 40 just miles from London. Oh the perfect irony…
The Bentley Continental GT is enormous – it weighs in at an immodest 2.3 tonnes. The bonnet stretches into the horizon. Peering forward you can only hazard a guess where your four corners are. And yet, despite its awesome scale, it’s the little things that win you over. The steering wheel is heated. The air vents are controlled by organ-stop chrome knobs. You can press a button to remind yourself of not only the air pressure in each tyre (zero in the front left), but which set of wheels you’re driving on – the 20in, the 21in or the winter wheels. The boot is opened by lightly brushing the “B” on the rear badge. The boot and doors are self-closing and, let’s be honest, having to shut things can be a real fag. Best of all is the fact that when you sink into your fat-man’s driving seat, a small arm passes you your seat belt. Heaven forbid you might have to reach over your own shoulder.
If the Conti GT were a person it could well be Michael Winner. It is larger than life, brazen, unapologetic and quintessentially English – yet despite its shortcomings inspires great affection. It is packed with contradictions: it’s hugely overweight yet boasts graceful lines and dances round corners; it is conservative yet technically ahead of its time; it is one of the most glamorous marques in the world, yet it is built in Crewe. But, channelling its inner Michael Winner, the Bentley doesn’t hide this fact – it rejoices in it. Every vehicle has a metal plate screwed to the door with the words: “Handcrafted by Bentley Motors Ltd, Crewe, England.”
This most recent model of the Continental GT now comes with a revolutionary six-speed auto gearbox that reduces shift times by 50%. The monumental 6-litre twin-turbo W12 engine has been uprated and now puts out a heroic 567bhp. The car features active air suspension, so it raises and lowers itself to improve its aerodynamics.
All this indulgence brings with it a certain amount of pain. And that pain is felt most acutely when watching the fuel-consumption figure. You feel like cheering when the figure jumps from 4.3 to 4.4 miles per gallon. Admittedly that was in nasty start-stop traffic – on the open road it was managing an average of about 21mpg – the official combined figure is a pitiful 17.1mpg. And that’s surely enough to bring a blush even to the cheek of Michael Winner…
Today is the last day of the EcoVelocity (ecovelocity.co.uk) show. Set in the iconic grounds of Battersea Power Station, EcoVelocity is not your usual motor show. This outdoor motoring festival brings to life a new world of motoring for prospective buyers that are keen to experience the latest in eco-transport or just a great fun and interactive day out for those that just fancy coming along for the ride. You can also test drive the latest low-carbon cars and motorcycles around a specially designed track. Among the stars of the show have been the first UK public outing for the new Kia Rio hatchback, part of the Korean manufacturer’s environmentally-conscious EcoDynamic range. The new Rio is set to be the cleanest non-electric vehicle in the world, emitting just 85g/km CO2 and doing 88.3mpg. Elsewhere, Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle will also be making its UK debut and you’ll be able to be among the first in the world to travelling in a hydrogen-powered car. Please note that you will require to bring and show both parts of your drivers licence to test drive any of the vehicles at EcoVelocity. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for children.
While at the show you’ll also be able to see the full line-up of WhatCar?’s Annual Green Car Awards. The leading car magazine this week named the Vauxhall Ampera as its Green Car of the Year for 2011. The magazine’s editor-in-chief Chas Hallett said: “The Vauxhall Ampera represents a massive step for alternative-fuel cars. It offers all the benefits of owning an electric vehicle with virtually none of the drawbacks. It gives motorists the ability to dramatically reduce their emissions without changing their lifestyle, which is exactly what green cars need to do.” Other car’s of note were Kia Picanto‘s 1.0 Air which won top green supermini, while the award for best green small family car went to Volkswagen for the Golf Bluemotion. Ford’s Mondeo picked up the green family car prize, and the BMW 3 Series 318d was named best green executive car. Renault’s Scénic picked up the award for best green MPV. SUVs continue to be popular with consumers, and the green SUV award went to Peugeot for the 3008 2.0 HDi Hybrid4, the world’s first production diesel hybrid. The British-built Mini 1.6D Cooper picked up the fun car award, and in the process proved that being green doesn’t mean waving goodbye to driving enjoyment.
The UK’s first electric hearse has just been released. Steven Cousins, founder of Brahms Electric Vehicles, says that the plug-in electric hearse offers funeral directors a real green choice. “Electricity is a natural solution for this sector,” he explains. “The hearse needs a smooth ride at speeds less than 30 miles an hour for relatively short journeys. This makes it ideally suited to electricity.” It’s also quite and silence is clearly important during a funeral. What next? Will we use the heat generated from the cremation to recharge the batteries?