From a palace perched on a cliff jutting out into the Mediterranean, the Grimaldi family has ruled over a tiny stretch of coastline on the French Riviera for more than 700 years. In that time, they have turned the Principality of Monaco – all two square kilometres of it – into a playground for the rich.
One in three people who live here are millionaires and so, presumably, the other two must be billionaires. Some of the streets sparkle as if paved with glitter. Somerset Maugham called Monaco, "a sunny place for shady people."
Riding in the back of a chauffeur-driven Bentley does feel a tad shady. An iPad-style remote control allows you to close the sunroofs (there are two) and raise the blinds that obscure the rear passenger compartment.
Bentley customers will surely appreciate such privacy, especially in Monaco, which is inundated with tourists who come to gawk at all the things money can buy.
On the street in this notorious tax haven, automotive exotica is a common sight. In Canada, however, Bentley sales took a hit when British Columbia raised the provincial tax rate to 20 per cent on cars over $150,000, according to Christophe Georges, chief executive officer of Bentley Americas. Things for the company are looking up, though. With new all-wheel-drive models such as the Continental GT coupe and Bentayga SUV now hitting showrooms, sales are rebounding, George says.
The all wheel drive, 12-cylinder, twin-turbocharged, as-long-as-a-van Flying Spur has been an on-again, off-again staple of the company’s lineup since 1958.
The past few models looked like the poor relations of the Bentley family because of their low-rent Volkswagen underpinnings. The proportions looked off: the hood was too short and the cabin sat too far forward. But potential customers will be pleased to note that Bentley has rectified this largest and most glaring problem. The Flying Spur is beautiful again. It still sits under the flagship Mulsanne sedan in the lineup, but no longer feels like a distant relation.
Walking up to this 5.3-metre long limousine, there’s a sense of grandeur you don’t get with any normal car. This is a rolling palace. Bentley does, in fact, hold a royal warrant to supply cars to the Queen and the Prince of Wales, and I’m sure their highnesses will feel right at home in the new Flying Spur.
Traffic in Monaco consists of a flock of Ferraris all trying to cram down three or four narrow streets. The fear is that driving the Bentley here will feel like threading an oil tanker through the Corinth Canal. To no small amount of relief, the Flying Spur is perfectly agile owing to the addition of all-wheel steering and every electronic chassis aide known to man. It feels as if it were made for the streets of Monaco, because, well, it was.
Driving like the one per cent, you don’t need to give up ride comfort to gain handling prowess or vice versa. The twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W-12 engine makes 626 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque, the latter from just above idle at 1,350 rpm. (That’s 4.5 times as powerful as a Toyota Corolla.)
By comparison, most every other car out there is stuck in second gear: slow, shaky, noisy. Even the road feels better in a Bentley: potholes are less severe, speed bumps less of an impediment. Only the law can slow you down but then, really, can it? You’ll just pay the fine.
From the moment the valet shuts the door – a chunk of metal so heavy it could be a submarine’s hatch – the outside world fades away.
In a moment of weakness, while driving the Flying Spur through the Monaco Alps, I caught myself thinking: “Yes, this is an excellent and practical car that would make an ideal daily driver for anyone.”
But that’s Monaco talking. The Bentley is seductive in the context of this millionaires’ playground, but back in the real world it would be a bit of an awkward fit – unless you are, in fact, a member of the one per cent.
Parked at my (rented) house, the Bentley would stick out of the driveway blocking the entire sidewalk. That might cause some friction with the neighbours. And, unless you only go to places with valet service, finding large enough parking spaces would be a constant issue. In Monaco the Flying Spur might be able to fly under-the-radar, but in most places in Canada it might as well be a spaceship for all the attention it will attract. The fact that it’s not electric or even a hybrid may hurt its acceptability in certain social circles too.
And then there’s the small matter of money. The $285,681 sticker price can climb to $300,000 once you start ticking option boxes. In Vancouver, you’d be looking at another $75,000 in tax. Unless you are a member of the Grimaldi family of some other dynasty, the Flying Spur will, sadly, have to remain a fantasy.
A one per cent car really requires a one per cent life.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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