The Continental System
Whoever is looking for something special will find it in the new Berlin. Nightclubs, art galleries, burlesque variety shows - they are all present. The formerly divided city is now a magnet for creative potential. It’s also the HQ of Bentley Europe, and what better car to visit it in than the company’s latest four-door?
Tradition and modernity meet at the new office, number 21 Unter den Linden. As Berlin once personified the ancien regime in Europe, and is now cutting-edge sharp and stylish, the same can be said of the British luxury automobile manufacturer. Both have combined the requirements of exclusivity and luxury with the 21st Century’s need for modernity and greater access.
The success of the Continental GT Coupé has been phenomenal and seems to have given parent group Volkswagen the edge over its bitter rivals AUDI, Mercedes and BMW. With the four-door Continental Flying Spur the company can target a larger luxury segment. But does this expansion mean a loss of desirability, the ‘myth of the unobtainable’ that the famous flying wings badge symbolised? Our weekend with the car on the streets of Berlin proved the car is very much in the tradition of large Bentleys of the past.
Morning dawns and our test car, with the photographer Sascha Jean-Michel Melein on board, rolls down an amazingly empty Friedrichstraße, like a luxury yacht leaving harbour. Careful application of the accelerator pedal leaves the few bystanders behind, even past the city’s current landmark – a Bugatti Veyron in the showroom of Volkswagen-Zentrale. 560 HP and 650 Nm of torque give traditional Bentley acceleration. Along the Unter den Linden, past the Humbold University, State Museum and opera house to the shadow of the TV tower in the Alexanderplatz where I push on the brakes. The motorway testing is for tomorrow – today belongs to the town.
The colour of the test car borders on bribery. Deep dark green outside with cocoa-brown leather and gleaming wood veneer – with only a couple of hints of its VAG parenthood when you seen familiar cross-hatched switchgear. The front cockpit is similar to the GT Coupé, however the extra 30cms in the back soon makes itself known. Cancel that room in the Adlon, the electric rear seats in the back will do nicely thank you. A further advantage is the way the car can be optioned to individual taste. And that’s not even including the Mulliner programme.
Night time in the Flying Spur is unreal. We slide across rain-soaked tarmac, passing night club queues to the music of the surround-sound audio system. The rear seats’ massage function robs you of the vestige of reality. Next morning my mobile rings with an invitation from a car-designer friend to visit VW Group’s Design Center in Potsdam, and it’s an obvious motorway trip. Shower and breakfast despatched at record speed, I open the door of the (according to the press text) ‘fastest series saloon of all time’.
Just on the short motorway slip road I can feel the power, releasing a happy cocktail of adrenalin and endorphin. The 6-litre, twin-turbo W12 must have been sourced from a Boeing 747-500, and with its maximum torque achieved at just 1,500 rpm the speedometer needle is soon travelling past the 150 km/h mark. The six-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive contributing to the two and a half ton colossus’s handling and ride, as well as giving the accelerative forces more urgency. Grinning has never been done in more elegant surroundings.
The speedometer offers 305 km/h performance but I want to keep my driving licence, so simply drop down a couple of gears and use the acceleration, braking and handling of the car. A red Porsche is frightened out of the way, while I motor on towards Potsdam with the massage seats activated and Jazz on the sound system. Is that a bang as we approach Potsdam exit? If so it must have been the sound barrier.
Arriving at the forecourt of the Design Center I return to my considerations of past and present. With its three (GT Coupé, Flying Spur and Cabriolet GTC) versions of the Continental, Bentley has truly re-invented itself for the new millennium. The Arnage is still being produced, but the future is in the hands of these more ‘reasonable’ cars that will be built in larger numbers at a (generous) fraction of the big car’s price. Yet still the tradition of power, performance and hand-assembly lives on. Bentley has found ways of using the Group’s advantages of platform and powerplant sharing and mixing them with its own method of doing things.
A clever cocktail that could be served in the bars and nightclubs of Germany’s most exciting city.
With grateful thanks to our driver and photographer Sascha Jean Michel Melein for his time and creative energy. Sascha Jean Michel Melein has (amongst other things) photographed for DaimlerChrysler, Max, Stern and the team from Kay Degenhard. He lives in Charlottenburg, Berlin.
Text: Jan Baedeker
Photos: Sascha Jean-Michel Melein, Jan Baedeker
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