THE BACK IS THE FUTURE
Chris Knapman tries multitasking from the rear seat of a Bentley
Like it or not, driverless cars are heading our way, with Volvo and even Google among those pouring cash into projects that will hand control of our vehicles over to technology. Of course, much of it is about safety, because despite the family PC’s best efforts to prove otherwise, computers are less prone to crashing than are humans. But there’s also the question of efficiency – if we aren’t driving, we can be more productive, sending emails, socialising our media and so on. Sounds great, but won’t we all get travel sick? Forget iPads, the only tablet drivers will crave is one that cures motion sickness. To demonstrate, I’m sat in the back of Bentley’s new Flying Spur V8, head buried in my laptop as my chauffeur for the afternoon takes care of the driving. Posh, yes, but if you think about it, driverless cars are just chauffeurs for the masses. And smooth as his driving is, the queasiness has begun. To go with my nausea I have Wi-Fi, acres of leg room and lots of lovely leather. What’s more, my seat is of the fully electric, massaging variety, so that when required I can simply lie back, close my eyes and imagine I am in control. That shouldn’t be too hard, given that just a few hours ago I was, in fact, in control, steering the oh-so wide Bentley through some of the finest countryside the southeast of England has to offer. The North Downs, the South Downs, the New Forest… glorious, especially bathed in spring sunshine. To recap, the Flying Spur is a four-door incarnation of the footballer’s favourite that is the Continental GT coupé. The flagship 12-cylinder version went on sale last year, but Bentley is on a mission to crack the Chinese market, hence this model with its smaller V8 engine, which will make it much cheaper to tax. Starting at £136,000, it also costs £10,000 less than its big brother, but shares the same exorbitant options list (home of the £100 first-aid kit). The good news is that this is still a very fast car. I simply cannot imagine you would ever miss the extra four cylinders or 116bhp. But the ride isn’t as smooth as it should be. A big Bentley saloon should glide over manhole covers like they weren’t there; your bottom should waft, so to speak. The fact is, it doesn’t. With permanent four-wheel drive, traction and grip are immense, and goodness it’s quiet. A 70mph motorway cruise is achieved with just 1,500rpm on the dial, which perhaps explains why Bentley drivers so rarely indicate to change lanes, such is the way the “tick tick tick” shatters the peace. Also clever is that at low speeds four of the engine’s eight cylinders shut down, which makes it even quieter, not to mention more economical. Combined with the car’s 90-litre fuel tank, it means you can do 500 miles between enormously expensive fill-ups. Two other luxurious limos Mercedes-Benz S-class Price: From £72,260 For: Superb in every way Against: Lacks Bentley’s image Rating: Rolls-Royce Phantom Price: £305,350 For: A cut above the rest Against: Costs as much as a house, and is about as big Rating: Most important, with its supreme build quality and lovely materials, the Flying Spur still carries a sense of occasion, which is good, because that’s what you’re spending your money on. Just be sure to save some loose change with which to tip the poor chauffeur. His days, after all, are numbered.