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King of the Road

The 2012 Bentley Continental GT coupe, that most royal of rides, gets a taste of Americana.


ROBERT MOSES, the controversial master builder of modern New York City, devised a system of parkways leading out of Manhattan in the 1920s as part of his grand vision for a new city. Secretly, Moses wanted these bucolic, evocatively named strips of asphalt (the Hutchinson River, the Taconic, the Sprain Brook) to be a way for the well-to-do to colonize NYC’s suburbs in shiny new automobiles.

Just after breakfast one sunny Saturday morning, behind the wheel of a 2012 Bentley Continental GT coupe, I’m thinking about Moses and the glamorous cars that first ghosted these roads — the sleek Hudsons, the extravagant Duesenbergs, the durable Ford Model A’s — with their leather benches, wood dashes and sweeping chrome brightwork. These were built with the idea that everyone who drives them is part of a new American royalty. The Continental is similarly conceived: a broad-shouldered and elegant beast with a driver’s seat so well articulated I could be sitting on a very comfortable version of my own lap. It’s a perfectly designed palace on wheels.

The Saw Mill Parkway spools silently past in a green blur. I slow down atthe Tappan Zee Bridge (where, on our way back, I would pose as the toll-taker snaps our picture), but, once over, step on the gas. The giantW-12 engine—capable of going from zero to 60 in just over 4 seconds—roars to life. The tires, which are as wide as a lion’s head, tear at the asphalt.

We pass into the town of West Point, home to the United States Military Academy. The W-12—a steel-and-aluminum fusion of two six-cylinder engines—purrs as I near Trophy Point Amphitheater in time to hear the West Point Marching Band practicing. A trumpeter in the uniform of a Rising Firstie (aka a college senior) snaps off a quick salute, and I navigate the GT back to winding Route 9W.

The Bentley is faster than it needs to be. Pros on a racetrack have hit 198 mph in the same model I’m driving. I feel no need to test the data, and instead opt for some quiet art, pulling into the parking lot of Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre park filled with more than 100 outdoor works by Donald Judd, Alexander Calder, Maya Lin and other luminaries of the American art scene. Though the Bentley has English DNA, it seems to fit right in.

After a quick, middle-class meal of tuna on toasted rye at quaint Jack & Luna’s Cafe, on Main Street in Stone Ridge, I head past the Ashokan Reservoir, which supplies New York City with its drinking water via massive underground aqueducts. The reservoir was completed just a few years before Moses broke ground on the parkways.

As the road carries the Bentley up into the Catskill Mountains, I roll down the window and let in a breeze that carries fresh pine and budding maple. The W-12 is silent, and the handling remarkably adept in the corners, considering the Continental’s portliness. Eventually, I pull into Woodstock, the famed New Age hippie burg, which is more accustomed to salvaged pickup trucks and Priuses. Suddenly, the price tag — which flirts dangerously with $200,000 — seems a little conspicuous, but it doesn’t bother me. After all, everyone aspires to royalty, don’t they?

Editor in Chief MIKE GUY was raised in Subarus by humble New England peasants.

The bells and whistles

Starting Price: $182,800

Engine: A twin-turbo, six-liter W-12 engine grinds out 567 horsepower and a skin-tightening 516 pound-feet of torque.

Performance: The Bentley isn’t as agile as the race-ready Audi R8 (nor is it as outrageously appointed as the $1.2 million Bugatti Veyron), but it travels faster than any sane driver should go and can turn on a dime without spilling a drop of your Earl Grey.

Perks: Peerless 11-speaker Naim audio system, buttery leather throughout and rich wood veneer in the passenger cabin feel like first class on the QE2. And rarely does a car run this fast this quietly: Even over the roughest stretches of the Saw Mill, I could hear my heart beating.

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