I MET someone the other day who uses an old Nokia mobile telephone. “I can make and receive calls”, he said, “and I can send texts, and the battery lasts for days. What more could you want?” I couldn’t be bothered to answer.
Using a phone that can’t receive photographs or dispatch emails or store music is like living in a cave. Yes, it’s dry and it’s warm and it needs very little maintenance, but you’d rather live in a house with central heating and a cooker. No, don’t argue. You just would.
Yes, I admit that whenever there’s a week in the month, Apple drives me mad. I don’t like the way I buy a film from it and then it doesn’t let me watch it unless I find some wi-fi and select a new password — “No, that’s not good enough.” “And that isn’t either.” — and give my credit card details and accept its terms and conditions, which basically say it owns my soul until the end of time.
I also hate the latest music storage system, which won’t let me put the damn thing on random and have it flip from the Bee Gees to the Clash. And the iCloud makes me fall to my knees and howl at the moon. Because as far as I can tell it’s just an intangible soup full of nothing but poor old Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts.
But despite all this I’d rather lose a lung than lose my iPhone. I’m more likely to remember to take it with me in the morning than my trousers. And every day, someone shows me a new feature or a new app that makes my life even more amazing, easy and enjoyable. If I couldn’t have Snapseed to adjust my photographs, or Instagram to peek into the perfect lives of friends, or a map to show me just how much traffic is on the Oxford ring road, I’d have to commit suicide.
And that brings me neatly to the mildly tweaked Bentley Continental GT Speed I’ve been driving. It’s been mildly tweaked because the design is getting on for 15 years old. But it still doesn’t have a USB port. My Volkswagen Golf has one. A Fiat 500 has one. But this £168,900 über-grand tourer does not. Sure, it has Bluetooth, which Bentley probably thinks does the job just as well. But it doesn’t, and, anyway, it didn’t work.
“’Homey, you can catch me swooping. Bentley coupé switching lanes, ha-ha!’ So sang 50 Pence, apparently”
My phone just sat there saying it was searching for devices with me bouncing up and down in the seat, waving it at the dashboard and shouting: “How can you not find a Bentley, you stupid piece of junk? It’s huge.” Until eventually it delivered a photograph of Jennifer Lawrence with no clothes on.
Even more amazingly, while conducting a fingertip search for the hole into which I could plug my cable, I opened the glovebox, and in there was a meaningless flex that would connect to nothing from this century, and a CD autochanger. Which, in terms of technology, is up there with a Garrard SP25 turntable.
We all know the problem, of course. To fit the Continental with a USB port would require the whole infotainment system and the entire dash to be redesigned. That would mean refitting the production line, and that would cost about a hundred and ten hundred eleventy billion pounds.
And, you may think, what would be the point? Bentley is almost duty-bound to fit its cars with a gramophone and with a wood-burning stove instead of a heater, because the people who buy such things are old and stuck in their ways.
But in fact the average age of Bentley’s customers these days is about six. The Continental has become the weapon of choice for absolutely everyone who’s made it in the world of rap. Urge your fans to kill a policeman on Saturday and you’re in leather-lined luxury on Monday.
“Homey, you can catch me swooping. Bentley coupé switching lanes, ha-ha!” So sang 50 Pence, apparently.
In America, Bentley is now so synonymous with the rap culture that when I went to pick up a New Yorker from the airport the other day, she climbed into the Continental and said: “Oooh. An MFB.” In a family newspaper I can only tell you that the B stands for Bentley. You’ll have to work the rest out for yourself.
But the point is clear. This is now a youthful car. A cool car. But could I drive a car that doesn’t have a USB port? I guess the answer is yes, just as I could write this column on a typewriter and then send it to The Sunday Times in the post. I could do that. But I wouldn’t want to.
There are some other issues with the car as well. It started out in life with a body that managed to be vulgar and bland at the same time. But a couple of years ago some very small styling tweaks made it extremely attractive. And now the company has gone backwards again, especially at the rear, with a boot lid that puts me in mind of a Sunbeam Rapier.
The biggest problem, though, is the enormous 6-litre twin-turbocharged W12 engine. There’s nothing wrong with the power, which is immense, or the torque, which is planetary, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the noise, which is a muted, slightly frightening rumble that rises to a muted, very frightening rumble when you open the taps.
I’m not going to grumble either about the incredible speeds it can achieve, and neither am I overly fussed by the fuel consumption. No, my beef is twofold. First of all, this W12 engine simply isn’t as good as the V8 that Bentley offers as a cheaper alternative. Yes, you get a dribble more oomph and a slightly higher top speed, but the downsides are pronounced. It makes the car heavy. Which means you are aware when you go round a corner that the suspension and the tyres are having to work harder than is necessary.
The problem is even more obvious when you brake. It feels sometimes as if you are trying to halt the tide.
Genuinely, the less you pay for a Continental GT, the better off you are. The V8 S still feels how a Bentley should — grand and opulent — but it feels weighty without actually being heavy. And that means it’s nicer to drive and more chuckable and more economical than the Speed.
It comes with pretty much the same interior and pretty much the same level of equipment. Which means it doesn’t have a USB port either. This is something Bentley is going to have to deal with, whatever the cost may be.
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