Aspen is the intimate mountain getaway where opulent boutiques hum with casual ease while the epic scale of snow-capped summits is downplayed by the elegant whoosh of downhill skiers. The alpine enclave projects a quietly glamourous ideal of winter; unlike rough and tumble outposts and posh pretender towns, Aspen is—for lack of a better phrase, a casually upscale locale in much the same way Bentley Motors offers low key opulent for the spendy, trendy set.
The Crewe-based brand is facing a dramatically different future than the one W.O. Bentley envisioned when he launched his namesake in 1919 with the goal to “… build a good car, a fast car, the best in its class.” Those heady early days later saw upheaval with Rolls-Royce’s acquisition of the carmaker in 1931, and again when the Volkswagen Group took over the brand in 1998. But the biggest uprooting lurks right around the corner: with a fully electrified lineup promised by 2030, Bentley as we know it—the nameplate that forged a foundation on a massive V8 engines and eventually built over 100,000 12-cylinder powerplants, will run entirely on electrons.
All We’ve Got is this Moment
Here and now, as winter creeps into spring, Bentley is phasing out traditional gas engines for hybrids before the brand switches entirely to pure EVs. 12-cylinders are going by the wayside in favor of 6 and 8-cylinders before the entirety of its internal combustion engine production goes kaput.
Fanned out against the backdrop of a makeshift winter driving circuit are a Skittles stash of current Flying Bs: the upright and elongated Bentayga Extended Wheelbase, the rakish Flying Spur Speed, and the swept back Continental GT Speed, among other subvariants. Think of this selection as a moment in time when the transition into hybrids offers a pregnant pause before the burble of gasoline is replaced by the whir of pure electric motors.
Aimed at the short but sinuous snowy driving course in a Flying Spur Speed, our instructor advises us to follow his instructions to a tee, aiming the front wheels into the tracks at a leisurely pace before we goose the throttle and shock the 2.5-ton sedan into a slide. It seems anathema to Bentley’s stately wood and hide-lined cabin, but the slow-motion move sends the Spur into a snow-spraying drift, its tail swinging out as its nose points perfectly towards the apex. Considering the small-scale brutality of internal combustion— tiny explosions of flammable fluid triggering a cavalcade of mechanical movements that shoot a vehicle forward—the act feels placid from the driver’s seat, save the exhaust’s low frequency arpeggio as the engine rises to the occasion. There is a symphony of interlinking pieces that translate a stab of the right pedal into motion, but it’s the cohesion of all this—the differentials, the brake vectoring, the throttle mapping—that makes for a graceful drive, even when pitched sideways.
While the Flying Spur delivers its own unique cornering dynamics, so does the Continental GT and Bentayga, each with its distinct strengths and weaknesses that betray the model’s inherent character. The GT lacks the hilarity of the Spur’s lurid changes in yaw due to its shorter wheelbase, but the Bentayga is the most challenging to drift due to its higher center of gravity and general unwillingness to boogie.
Back on the road, the extended wheelbase Bentayga proves itself the comfiest Bentley cruiser thanks to its so-called airline rear seats. The perches are designed with livery in mind: the rear doors shut themselves at the touch of a button, sealing in an environment with expansive legroom, folding footrests, and up to 40 degrees of recline. Should the occupants crave cossetting, the seats can be programmed for a traditional massage. Working behind the scenes is an anti-fatigue system that creates ergonomic micro-adjustments based on pressure sensors, and a climate control system that adjusts based on body temperature readings.
The Company You Keep
Putting a finer point on the experience, Bentley collaborated with Bomber for a downhill package powered entirely by gravity. Bomber’s skis are tidily finished pieces that can be ordered with somber Bentley branding as well as expressive collaborations with the likes of artist Jean Michel Basquiat; nothing like bombing down the mountain with vibrantly expressionist skis. We also complemented Bomber’s extroverted designs with understated winter gear from Artilect. The brand uses techy textiles like ExpeDRY 700 infused with nanoparticles of gold for ultimate insulation and wickability. And because nothing warms the cockles like a potent potable, Bentley’s curated dinner at James Beard-nominated Bosq was complemented by The Macallan with a whiskey flight that unleashed enough body heat to make the brisk night air nearly tolerable. While Bentley’s four-wheeled offerings manage to stand on their own just fine, the brand’s collaborators paint a broader picture of how luxury intersects across multiple planes.
21st Century’s Yesterday
Our Aspen experience with Bentley and friends illustrates that while immersive brand experiences can feel larger than the sum of their individual parts, nothing packs quite the same sensory package—sight, smell, G forces, and movement—like a proper luxury vehicle. As Bentley and essentially every other automaker teeters on the precipice of big change, let’s savor this weird, wild moment before it’s gone into the future. Buckle up and enjoy the drive; it’s later than you think.