Elana ScherrCar and Driver
From the February/March 2021 issue of Car and Driver.
I don’t understand luxury. How do you decide what is luxurious enough and how much you should pay for it? I understand performance. It’s easily trackable with numbers and math and records, and I can follow the logic that would make huge performance worth huge money. A bespoke sedan? A lifestyle of twinkling-star headliners, embroidered butterflies, knurled turn-signal switches, and open-pore wood? Do you value it by the butterfly? By the knurl?
It’s possible I just haven’t experienced enough high-end living. So I made the sacrifice of spending time in two cars from the most famous luxury auto brands on the planet, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, to see if I could gain some understanding of what exactly a luxury lifestyle is. To remain relatable, I started this new all-wealth-and-glamour experience with the more entry-level cars: a $428,625 Rolls-Royce Ghost and a bargain-priced $298,455 Bentley Continental GT convertible.
The Ghost is as white as its namesake, with the imposing visage of an oncoming train. The Continental is the dark red of a roasted beet and curvy where the Ghost is right angled. You can see its hippy quarter-panels in the side-view mirrors. In the Ghost’s rearview, all you see are pedestrians wondering which celebrity just went past. The Bentley convertible is the friendlier of the two. An open car invites eye contact and interaction. “Aren’t you cold?” asked a grandmotherly type one lane over. “No, this has neck warmers,” I answered. “That sounds lovely,” she said, and it is.
Even with the windows down, the Ghost has the feel of a fortress. This is a car to protect you from having to talk to anyone. It blocks out the bumps in the road, replaces the harsh and disappointing sun with a sky of your own imagining, and even hushes its twin-turbo V-12 using the same tricks manufacturers usually employ to make their cars sound louder and sportier. Not so for the Continental. The V-8 Bentley has a Sport mode that ups the growl and allows the exhaust to emit the most uncouth farts and burbles when you let off the throttle. Given the choice, I’d pick a lifestyle that means getting to make rude noises whenever you want. Both brands have electrification plans for the next decade, but only in the Bentley will you notice the change.
There’s an oft-repeated idea that a Bentley is for driving and a Rolls-Royce is for being driven in. Rolls says the Ghost is equally pleasant in any seat, but why would you subject yourself to having to pay attention to the road when you could be reclining in the back, seat massager on, rosé in the icebox, and outrageously plush carpet beneath your feet? It’s made of lambswool, that carpet, fluffier than a perfect baked potato, softer than forgiveness. From now on, when I see a Ghost, I’m going to assume the owner is in the back rolling around naked on the carpet in a pile of $100 bills.
In the Continental, on the other hand, the back seat is barely big enough for a baked potato, so it’s a good thing the car is such a delight to pilot. I set out for a local taco stand and ended up visiting a food truck 200 miles from my house because Sequoia National Park was only a little bit farther, and I felt as though the wood dash might enjoy visiting its still-living cousins. I just wanted to keep driving.
After suffering through several days surrounded by massaging interiors that smelled like a wealthy uncle, I do feel as if I’ve gained some understanding of why people seek luxury. It’s not only about showing off rare materials and portable refrigerators; it’s also a method of counteracting the outside world, which can be unpredictable, uncomfortable, and unattractive. Rolls and Bentley aim to solve this in different ways. The Ghost provides an alternate universe that is quieter, softer, and more sparkly than reality, while the Continental allows the outside in but warms the cold air before it touches you. One lets you pretend there’s nothing bad out there, and the other lets you see it and drive away. Is it worth the money to escape the real world? Lemme spend a little more time on the research. I’ll get back to you.
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