Bentley Bentagya – can you love the ugly one?

 

I drove the Bentayga in the UAE when Bentley launched the falconry special edition. The trouble with the Middle East is that nothing seems too expensive or vulgar.

But driving one around the countryside of England, I wondered how the great and good of the Cotswolds would react to such a statement of ridiculous wealth.

Well, perhaps because the Bentayga has such ‘dubious’ styling and is a tad understated for some, nobody seemed to bat an eyelid.

I mean, this car is twice the price of a Range Rover!

Perhaps if they sat inside the wonderfully silent cabin, sunk their feet into the sumptuous deep-pile carpet and ogled at the amount of wood and chrome on display, they might see things differently.

The fastest, most powerful SUV money can buy is a remarkable first step into the ‘utility’ market for Bentley.

Both petrol and diesel engines haul 2.4 tons of metal to amazing speeds without the minimum of fuss.

Oddly though, even with a raft of extras that would buy you Porsche Cayenne for the same money, the Bentley leaves me unmoved.

It is a wonderful way to travel in pure luxury but unlike some other Bentleys I could mention, it’s more of a brilliant tool than a soul machine.

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Fiat 124 Spider – swinging back to the beat of the 1960s

England won football’s World Cup, The Sound of Music topped the albums charts and Fiat unveiled a new two-seat convertible to rival the best-selling MGB roadster.

London was swinging to a new beat in 1966 and car manufacturers hoped to capitalise from the same feel-good vibe. The 124 Spider wowed audiences when it was unveiled at Turin Motor Show that year, looking every inch as cool as a Ferrari.

Pininfarina styling and a budget price made the soft-top an instant hit –just a little racier than the more ‘traditional’ MG, with a whiff of dolce vita about the tasteful design.

Fifty years on and Fiat has launched a new Spider that captures the same spirit. It shares a platform with the popular Mazda MX-5 – a car that also happens to be it’s main rival.

Both offer a very different driving experience, the Italian powered by a turbocharged engine that requires plenty of gear-shifts to extract the most fun. Like Fiat’s 500 city car, the bodyshell shamelessly harks back to a 1960s original.

To my eye this is no bad thing. The MX-5’s slit-eyed headlights and angular styling lacks the charm of the retro Fiat – although the Mazda’s 2.0-litre engine is more relaxed around city streets and has been the number one convertible for decades.

Spider strips open-top motoring back to the best of basics, although my Lusso Plus model has plenty of standard kit, such as sat nav, Bluetooth and a DAB radio. Heated seats might be just as important for open top winter jaunts around the West End.

The Fiat sports a decent sized boot for shopping, a cheeky rasp from the exhaust and an interior that feels very smart indeed. It’s just a shame the infotainment screen sits flat on the dashboard like a bolt-on afterthought.

I wasn’t old enough to enjoy the swinging sixties but I’d like to think I would have been more of a Fiat Spider man that a MG driver. A car to put a smile on your face – even if we haven’t won the World Cup since.

Retro roadster with bags of appeal – Fiat 124 Spider

The 124 Spider’s fabric roof lowers faster than a Porsche Boxster – or even a Bentley Continental. How come? Well, the Fiat costs considerably less but isn’t lumbered with the response time of an electric hood mechanism.

Pop a clip above the windscreen, push the hood backwards and the whole roof disappears in a flash. It’s just as easy to pull up again and the wind insulation at speed is exceptional.

The Spider is just the sort of car for a winter’s drive across the Cotswolds, heater on full blast, hot seats and your favourite tunes filtering into the cabin from the Bose sound system.

There’s a lot of Mazda-ness about the Spider’s interior but it does feel a touch classier than the MX-5. The seats are superb – Fiat has placed speakers in the headrests so you can even take a phone call sans roof.

The cabin is an absolute delight. Everything is well-placed, there are cubbyholes for bits and pieces, while the general appearance is rather charming – just what you want from a machine that takes its design cues from a different era.

And while the performance figures reveal it takes over seven seconds to reach 60mph, passengers sit so close to the road it actually feels much faster. There’s a more expensive Abarth edition that offers extra thrills.