Baby, You Can’t Drive My Car (Because It’s a Bentley)

1190742114I own a Honda Civic hybrid, and for good reason: I like small, modest cars that go light on the environment. But when Bentley Motors offered me a four-day loan of their 2008 Azure—a sleek, $340,000 hunk of elegance—I had to wonder: What makes a car worth this much? (You know, aside from the twin-turbocharged engine, 450 horse power, top speed of 171 mph and leather seats with Brookstone-style massagers installed in them.) I took the loan, and drove it around from Friday to Monday. Here’s what I learned:

1. The car makes the man
As I cruised down Newbury Street, a meter maid asked, “How much does this thing cost?” I didn’t know at the time, and told her so. She looked at me accusingly, and asked, “Is this your dad’s car?” But by displaying even a slight modicum of confidence, I was in The Club, taken seriously by rich men who might otherwise ask me to carry their golf clubs. As I cruised by the Taj on Arlington, a well-dressed, silver-haired gentleman got downright giddy. “It’s a lot bigger than I thought!” he said.

And at a red light on Mass Ave., I stopped next to a man driving a Jaguar with Louis Vuitton interior. We complimented each other on our cars, and he told me I should consider changing up my interior: He got tired of his old Louis fabric after a year and just swapped in a new one, at the spare-change rate of $18,000. I said I’d consider it.

2. The car is a man magnet
When the Bentley first arrived at the office, my coworkers told me I should line up some hot dates. “Women will go wild for this,” said one. But alas, that wasn’t true. As I drove around, women barely noticed the car. Men, however, loved it. They stopped and stared. When I was parked, they asked if I would pop the hood. One dude on a Duck Tour took a picture.

I was surprised at first, but this makes some sense: The car is classic, not sporty, and appeals far more to gearheads. “Can I get a ride?” one man yelled on Boylston, as I cruised with a carload of magazine staffers. “If there was an open seat, it’d be yours,” I shouted back, to which one of my coworkers chided, “Feifer, you’re flirting with him.” But no, it was worse: I had become a sucker for other people’s envy.

3. The car is a little-man magnet
“Major announcement!” I shouted, as some coworkers and I pulled up next to a group of college students on Comm. Ave. “There’s an opening in this Bentley, and it’s yours! Wherever you’re going, this Bentley is, too. Who wants a free ride?” Seems like a reasonable sales pitch, but nobody—to our mild surprise, nobody!—took us up on it. But every time we drove by little boys, they went bonkers. “That’s my car!” one kid said, tugging on an adult’s hand. Elsewhere, a little boy asked if he could have the car. “No, sorry, but I have another one at home. Do you want it?” I asked. His response: “Do you play for the Red Sox?”

4. The car is hell to park
The Bentley is smooth and fast, classing up any road it’s on. In a parking lot, though, it’s just a pain. Partially, that’s the car’s fault. This baby is 17.7 feet long and 7 feet across, meaning it sticks out of any normal spot and is difficult (and considering its price, nerve-wracking) to maneuver around tight spaces.

But it’s also the driver’s fault. When you have a Bentley, you develop a sense of car superiority. It seems perfectly reasonable to take up two (or hell, four) spots in a lot, because, you know, this car is so far more valuable than the ones around it. It sounds obnoxious now, but try parking when you’re responsible for a $340,000 vehicle.

5. The car is hell to park, and parking professionals agree
I left the car overnight in a garage on Newbury, because I figured the guys who work there are used to expensive cars (or at least won’t take it out for a spin). Indeed, they didn’t seem flummoxed at all: They took my key, gave me a ticket, and away I went. But when I came to retrieve the car the next morning, the attendant brought me into a car-sized elevator—and up we went, to a floor the Bentley had all to itself. “You drive it out,” he said to me. “If anything happens to it, I don’t want to be responsible.”

6. The car is a distraction—for everyone
People stare at this car. And as I got further sucked into this world of luxury car ownership, I couldn’t help but stare back at them, appreciative of how much they notice me. This wasn’t good for driving, though: At one stoplight, I sat idle for a full minute after it turned green. When the guy behind me honked and shouted, I waved and said, “Thank you.” Later, a coworker told me the guy had shouted, “Share the road!”

CONCLUSION: Is any car worth $340,000? Technically speaking, of course not. It got me around just as well as my Honda. And although the Bentley Azure can reach 171 miles per hour, who’s ever going to drive that speed? (And even if you wanted to do it around here, who could ever find a stretch of road open enough?) It’s also a money pit: In four days, I spent $130 on it—about half on gas, and half on garage parking. But it is a really nice, classy ride, with the design of classic, old-style car but all the power and finesse of a modern one. And if you’re looking to buy status, $340,000 will do just fine. Rich people take you seriously, and the rest of us slobs know you mean business. I would have pooh-poohed that before, but I admit, it’s a little infectious. But then again, it doesn’t last long. Every time I’d park the Bentley and walk away, I became just another guy. The car retains all the power.