There’s one easy way to cope with life’s scarier moments: close your eyes and jump.
I had just taken the wheel of the dizzyingly luxurious Bentley Flying Spur and my first task was to ease the 140,000 craft out into four lanes of Beijing’s anarchic rush-hour traffic. Surely only a swivel-eyed loon would be so reckless.
There probably are rules governing the relentless, bumper-tight flow, but I had no idea what they were. Finally my gung-ho passenger shouted: “Go, go, go!”
I didn’t look, I just hit the gas and swooshed out into the cavalcade, which absorbed us without a ripple. Sitting unruffled in the controlled ambience of the car, it felt as if the Queen had sneaked out of Buckingham Palace and been swept up in an anarchists’ demo.
The Bentley dealership in Beijing sells more of the historic marque’s four-door super-sport sedans than any other in the world. Along with French wine, Italian fashion and Scottish whisky, China’s nouveaux riches just can’t get enough of posh English cars. A salesman explained why: “We Chinese love old world. We love history. We love these cars because the Queen drives a Bentley.”
The feeling is mutual over the next two years Bentley will open 45dealerships across China and it explains why the British firm chose to launch the car in Beijing. But there are a couple of idiosyncrasies about this brave new market that Bentley has to cope with.
The first is that the average age of a Bentley buyer here is mid-30s a decade and more younger than the rest of the world.
The second is that none of these new owners has any intention of actually driving their car. They will be quite happy to sit in the back, thank you. Never mind that the marque has spent the past century fanning the flame of its driving heritage established by thrashing all-comers at Le Mans. The salesman sees no contradiction: “The 200mph Flying Spur is the fastest non-driver’s car you can buy. Which in China is the whole point.”
The good news for the handful of Brits who will be buying this new model is that Bentley’s racing pedigree runs too deep to change either that or it cares deeply about the driving experience of Chinese chauffeurs.
With its 6-litre twin-turbocharged W12 engine, this Flying Spur is faster than ever before. The power from the colossal engine is 616bhp enough to hurtle the two-tonne dame from astandstill to 60mph in a fraction over 4seconds. The sense of potential, unquestioning ooooomph at your disposal is delicious. Maybe that’s how the Queen feels.
Virtually every exterior panel has been redesigned to give a lower, longer, sleeker shape and you’ll struggle to keep your hands to yourself when you see the distinct creases on its muscular haunches.
The car comes in 18 colours, including damson they should call it plum sauce out here. Inside it’s as posh, plush, ritzy and classy as you could wish for.
There’s a cooler for not one but two bottles of champagne, and an underfloor acoustic shield to eliminate road noise.
Tech-wise it’s state of the art, a WiFi hotspot. So sit back and sip French fizz in your German-owned, British-built car, and get on with languishing Chinese style.