Your dream driving lesson in a Bentley
"Tim emphasised good forward observation as an aid to positioning, smoothness, and safety, whilst giving an expert detailed commentary behind the wheel."
Courtesy of a complimentary upgrade, I’ve just taken delivery of a new mobile phone. Along with 99.9% of the rest of the population, I will never learn how to use all of its features. ‘Smart’ phones are only ever used properly by smart (usually young) people, toddlers even.
No doubt when the latest Blacksungiphone SamBerry 17 comes out, phones will be able to make the morning coffee with a digital signal to your digital coffee maker. I’ll probably be dead before I work that one out. Quite frankly I don’t care, partly because dead people don’t care anyway and what’s more, the new 17 wouldn’t have cost me anything more than signing the dotted line on a new contract.
Yet if I owned a spanking new Bentley it’d be different!! I’d want to get the most out of the car. Wouldn’t you if you’d just blown £225,715 on a new motor? (That includes £40k worth of options by the way). I’d want to learn all about the technical stuff and what’s more, I’d want to have the skills to drive the car properly.
Finding the instructor
Looking for help to learn how to drive your new Bentley properly isn’t a bad problem to have is it? So I got on the phone to Bentley HQ and they put me on to Tim Oakes, Bentley’s most senior driver training instructor. Tim leads a specialist team of advanced drivers/instructors totally devoted to enabling you, the customer, to get the most out of your Bentley.
Tim suggested we meet at the Norton Park Hotel at Sutton Scotney in Hampshire, where there are some decent driving roads. Over coffee he set out the plan for the day. We’d start with a brief overview of the features of the car (the Continental GT Convertible Speed Six), and some general tips on setting me up for the drive. After that we’d go out on the road with me driving initially, and then Tim getting behind the wheel from time to time to demonstrate the theory. In the afternoon, we’d be looking to bring it all together by using all the technical and set up features of the car “to maximise our on-road driving experience.”
I’ve driven a few Bentleys over the years, but when Tim began to explain the various features of the car, it made me feel like I’d driven them previously with my eyes closed. For example, providing the seatbelt is on, the electronic handbrake automatically disengages when you apply the throttle from rest – “Not only is this a convenient feature to use when temporarily stopping at traffic lights,” says my instructor, “but it also prevents the driver behind you having to stare at your brake lights whilst stationary.” Here’s another one; as long as you ensure the little toggle switch for your electric wing mirrors is in the straight ahead position, then it automatically heats the door mirrors when the heated rear window switch is activated. Small, but useful tips easily overlooked in routine driving.
After thoroughly explaining all the features on the car Tim emphasised the importance of obtaining a good seating position from the outset, taking the time to get it right for safety and concentration – even down to the detail of the lumber support. The seat adjustment options in the Continental are endless – no excuse then for not achieving a totally comfortable position.
“Drive normally please…”
On the road, Tim suggested I drive “as normal”, whilst he gave me some friendly driving tips en route. Whilst he’s a stickler for the quarter to three position on the wheel, he’s not one for insisting you apply the Learner Plate ‘push- pull’ steering technique. Instead, he suggests that the ‘fixed hand’ technique – keeping your hands fixed at quarter to three when you steer – is the most efficient and safe method of steering when driving cross country. Tim emphasised good forward observation as an aid to positioning, smoothness, and safety, whilst giving an expert detailed commentary behind the wheel.
On the limit
Next came cornering. With diagram on pad in hand, Tim explained the ‘Limit Point’ theory of cornering (a method familiar to Police drivers), where the furthest point you can see ahead into a bend and the acuteness of its angle enables you to judge a safe entry speed. He went on to explain that with a Bentley being a four wheel drive, you can extend the concept by using the limit point theory early and apply progressive power earlier through the bend. Tim also explained that, depending on conditions and visibility, positive application of the drive can be applied at different points of entry into the bend depending on the amount of vision you have ahead. It might all sound a bit complicated but in practise, once explained, it’s simple and works a treat in getting the most out of Bentley’s all-wheel drive system.
Later on in the afternoon, we worked on making the best use of the Continental’s 8 speed gearbox. Tim demonstrated the virtues of changing gear manually with the steering mounted paddle shift, enabling us to make even firmer progress on the more challenging and engaging roads, focusing on achieving that all important ‘balance and flow’ with the smooth application and gentle easing of the throttle. He also showed how the manual application of the gears allows you to match the acceleration and deceleration characteristics of the engine in a particular gear with the changing characteristics of the road; “This avoids unnecessary use of the brakes, and helps to achieve balance and flow in the car whilst threading swiftly through the bends,” says my instructor
We then went on to experiment with how the various optional suspension settings on the car (various electronic variants from ‘Comfort’ to the firmer ‘Sport’) influence the handling and ride.
We were soon having great fun, with time taken out for coffee breaks and reflective discussion, I soon found that not only was I enjoying driving the car more, but I was also taking advantage of all its technology in real-life driving situations, making the whole Bentley driving experience an extremely enjoyable one. I had a better appreciation of the car, and equally so, my own skills. Reassuring stuff when you’re piloting around a quarter of a million pounds on four wheels.
Bentley Continental GT Convertible Speed Six
Engine: 6.0 litre W12
Maximum Horsepower: 633
0-60 mph: 3.9 secs
Top Speed: 206 mph
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