Chauffeur so good for a stress-free cruise
Some of us were born to drive, others to be driven. A skittish-to-obnoxious passenger, I fall into the former camp. The passenger seat gives me too much opportunity to point out what the driver is doing wrong.
A recent surgery on my right- shoulder rotator cuff put me in a sling and out of the driver's seat, just as Bentley offered me use of its Mulsanne luxury sedan, complete with a day's use of a chauffeur.
Good timing. And an opportunity to see if rear passengers do, sometimes, have it better.
Bentley and Rolls-Royce started up with coach-built cars, in which the most important person sat in the rear.
Bentley doesn't track the proportion of owners who employ a driver, though the numbers have surely fallen, as the driver- oriented Continental GT series is now its best-selling line.
In China, however, being chauffeured is a sign of status, one reason why Audi sells so many long-wheelbase cars, and why companies like Ferrari are creating cars such as the FF, with full-size back seats.
I've driven the Mulsanne before and found it to be a big car that proved surprisingly wieldy. It drives a tidy line despite its massive fenders, 3200kg of gross weight and a length of almost 5.5m.
The 6.8-litre V-8, with 377 kilowatts and 1020 Newton-metres of torque, shoots it forward as if on rails.
Three days after my surgery, Mike, my driver for the day, pulled up outside my Manhattan apartment in a Mulsanne, a car costing NZ$555,000.
He opened the door and I gingerly slipped into the right rear. You need only nudge the door closed and it vacuum seals itself automatically with a soft click. A fantastic detail.
The interior was tan leather with blue, deep-pile carpet. The dash and sides of the doors were outfitted in a dark-coloured, burled wood.
I moved the front right seat forward using my own centre-console controls for maximum legroom. I also engaged the spa-worthy seat- massage function and turned on the seat coolers.
The lap of luxury? Yeah, pretty much.
I told Mike we would head to Brooklyn to pick up my buddy Josh, who complains that I refuse to meet him in his own borough. We picked him up at his Carroll Gardens brownstone, and then I asked Mike to take us directly back to Manhattan. (Happy now, Josh?)
As the Mulsanne slipped into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, we tried to figure out how to operate the remote control for the back-of-the-seat screens.
Josh wondered if we could watch live TV (we couldn't), then spent five minutes trying to change the Sirius satellite radio station.
My experience with Bentley's electronic gadgetry has been consistently poor, and we eventually asked Mike to simply change the channel for us. I also noticed that Mike used his cellphone's navigation function rather than the car's system.
Back-seat arrivistes could opt for Bentley's new "theatre specification" option, with a drop-down LED screen operated by a hidden laptop. Or the optional rear fridge, which accommodates two bottles of the bubbly stuff.
My car didn't come with those luxuries, but it did keep us well entertained with the Naim stereo, which sounds like it has a gazillion speakers.
We put on a classical station just to hear the pomp and circumstance at maximum clarity and volume. The helicopters blaring Wagner in Apocalypse Now have nothing on this thing.
Mid-town traffic, I noticed, was much less irksome when I wasn't doing the driving. In fact, after running a series of errands that would have been otherwise painful, both physically and psychically, I felt remarkably fresh.
Chores done, we picked up another friend at Union Square and then spirited ourselves north to Central Park's Boathouse for a cool libation by the pond. Mike dropped us off among a sea of ladies for lunch, saying he'd be waiting nearby.
Several hours later, it was time to jettison the boys and pick up my wife, Miranda, from work. It was also Mike's quitting time. The keys were handed over to Miranda, who had been cleared as my next driver.
We were headed for a weekend in the country but unfortunately started out during the worst of Friday rush-hour traffic.
Miranda seemed remarkably unfazed. I popped out of the car, ordered a sandwich, and returned to find the Mulsanne had moved just three car lengths.
My patience was ebbing and she insisted that we put on the Spa radio station. It actually helped. An hour and a half later, we finally reached the Lincoln Tunnel.
I wisely chose to keep my mouth closed once we cleared the city and Miranda exercised the full power of the Mulsanne. Despite its size and cost, she handled it fearlessly.
With two hours more to go, I lowered my seat and closed my eyes.
Being a passenger does have its pleasures.