I wrote this for my job as a Staff Writer at Web2Carz. I liked it, so I'm posting it below. There's also a photo gallery of the road trip, shot by automotive photographer Jeremy Cliff, but you'll have to go to the site to see that.
Illinois is not known for its driving roads. We don't have mountains springing up from every corner of the state, nor do we have the curvaceous asphalt that bisects said mountains like sharp-edged cloud cover. We barely have altitude changes at all. This put undue pressure on your author, as I was given the task of finding a good driving road somewhere within these Illinoisan borders. The road needed to be good because the car I'd be driving out there was very, very good.
Sometime recently, whilst fast asleep, I must have sleepwalked and saved a whole host of children and animals from a burning orphanage that doubled as a cute-puppy store. Clearly, I don't know what I did in this life to deserve a Bentley press car, but whatever I did, I'm glad I did it. Once Bentley set in stone the dates for delivering us the car, I knew I had to work fast to find a road that could match the grand-touring nature of the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed.
The GT Speed is not your average Bentley Continental, except that it, too, will likely be purchased by somebody that has a television-show contract with Bravo. The GT Speed represents Bentley's best effort in building a grand-touring car to date. It retains every inch of creature comfort you'd expect in a car that costs as much as a nice condo in downtown Chicago, yet underneath the hood lies something sinister, something so downright angry that it can't even adhere to a standard cylinder arrangement.
Instead of your standard V, the GT Speed's twelve cylinders are arranged in a W shape, which is Volkswagen's favorite way to build an engine that large. Each of those twelve cylinders will suck, squeeze, bang and blow in harmony with the other 11 to produce 616 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, otherwise known as "enough." The exhaust note is deep, replete with all manner of overrun – it will pop, burble, and burp its way down the rev range after a satisfying downshift from its eight-speed, ZF-sourced automatic transmission.
Despite the GT Speed being the fastest production Bentley ever built, it's still supposed to be a grand tourer, and a damn fine one at that. In order to achieve that moniker, it must be eminently capable of sending two people (or more) across vast stretches of land while exhibiting both luxuriousness and sportiness. In my head, I knew the car would be great for this exact purpose. Now, I just needed to find a road.
After plenty of map-scouring and Googling, I had two roads to choose from – Sheridan Road on Chicago's North Shore, or Scenic Ridge Road on the far west end of the state. The former is a road I drive every day, one that's crowded with both real estate and cars. There's one real fun spot to drive on Sheridan, but it's wrought with blind curves, low speed limits, and high stone walls just past the curbing. Plus, what kind of epic road trip can you have when the destination is less than 5 miles from work? I wouldn't even get the whole day off if I chose Sheridan Road.
And so the choice was made – we would depart from Highland Park, situated along Lake Michigan, and proceed to drive the Conti west until we hit the Mississip. By we, I mean myself, my coworker Dave, and Jeremy Cliff, a good friend of ours who happens to be one of the best automotive photographers in the business. Once the Bentley arrived at Web2Carz and we managed to pry the rest of the staff off it, the three of us hit the freeways and headed west.
Taking I-90 was a mistake. It started out well enough – there was plenty of open space on I-294 heading south towards 90, which gave us ample opportunity to test out the Bentley's straight-line acceleration (only up to the speed limit, of course). Once we merged onto 90 and started moving past the suburban sprawl, we hit construction. Miles upon miles of construction, and us, watching minutes disappear behind semis and the occasional Camry.
Thankfully, this portion of the trip was a perfect chance to determine whether or not the Bentley's adjustable air suspension was up to the task of dealing with every kind of road, including gnarled, pathetic excuses for temporarily-shifted freeway lanes. With everything in comfort (the way it should be, the spirit of Bentley will whisper to you in a hushed Queen's English), the car exhibited not a single disruptive movement as we sailed over the pavement. Meanwhile, I sat in the driver's seat, terrified that a single errant rock might produce a chip in the Bentley's paint job, at which point the company would immediately call my cellphone and demand I relinquish the car into its hands. That never happened, by the way.
Once we'd made our way off the highway, we took some alternate back roads to our destination. Finally, hills began to appear, and with them, curvy roads. This was the closest we'd get to emulating a blast down a British B-road, so we flipped the transmission into sport, along with the suspension, and I cast off into a sea of curves at a reasonable and prudent speed. These settings would stay all the way through the remainder of our trip, and they would come in especially handy on Scenic Ridge Road.
Scenic Ridge Road is likely the best road I've come across in Illinois, and I've driven a fair number of them. There's a bit of elevation change, although not much. But it makes up for that by throwing all manner of curves at you over the course of just a couple miles. Decreasing-radius, cambered, flat, and crested – turns of all shapes and sizes were accounted for, and summarily eaten whole by the Bentley's steadfast handling.
Between the curb weight and the all-wheel-drive system, the Bentley took everything we threw at it. Steering into the corners, the front end felt light enough to position nicely, and not so heavy that it felt like it was carrying too much momentum. The car felt lighter and smaller than it actually was, likely due to the 600 horsepower emanating from my right foot. With power like that, you can getanything moving quickly. Even Congress.
After a few more passes on the road, we again whipped out our cell phones (well, two of them – AT&T coverage was horrendous) and, after taking in our view of the Mississippi river, we set a course for home. Everything went back into comfort and we just sat back, relaxed, and cruised east on I-88, avoiding the construction on 90 and everything that came with it.
Did the Bentley Continental GT Speed prove its mettle as a brilliant GT car? It most certainly did. It took three grown-ass men (one of whom is an old-ass man) nearly 400 miles in a single day, and not once did anybody complain about anything. It was supremely comfortable, yet when speed was required, speed was delivered without changing the comfort level. We felt like we were moving along the highway in a Gold Coast condominium with a Saturn V rocket strapped to its backside.
Did Scenic Ridge Road turn out to be one of the best driving roads in the state? In my experience, yes. That said, Illinois lacks the real sort of geography to make a great driving road possible, so based on what little we're actually working with, it succeeded. It's no Tail of the Dragon, it's no Pacific Coast Highway, but it's something.