America is a nation of car lovers, on a more local level, we are a region of luxury car fanatics. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus are so commonplace that most go unnoticed. It’s not uncommon to be sandwiched by Maseratis at the grocery store.
2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
($285,885 as tested)
It turns out that Naples is the No. 2 Bentley market in the entire United States (behind only Beverly Hills). That probably comes as no surprise if you’ve spent more than 2 minutes on any local road. They. Are. Everywhere. Why? Because they’re almost perfect. The 2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible is the best combination of everything from the high-end group. Head-turning style? Check. Ridiculous amounts of power? Check. Reams of luxury? Check. Daily livability? Check, check and check.
Its spectacular power comes from a 626-hp W12 engine, helping this 6,393-pound convertible reach 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds with a top speed of an absolutely insane 203 mph. It’s a rocket. If Richard Branson were in town, he’d slap the word Virgin on its side and start a commuter airline. Luckily he’s not, because the word “virgin” would be meaningless to the driver of this car.
Though it’s missing the cutting-edge technology of the Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Range Rover we tested, Bentley knows how to keep its occupants happy. Engine notes are muted (though subtly aggressive); the ride is plush, yet taut, thanks to its German overseers (Bentley is owned by Volkswagen Group); and there’s room for four adults who’ll appreciate quilted leather seats (handmade with your behind in mind).
We took the GTC Speed to its natural setting (Port Royal) and cruised Gordon Drive in an effort to fit in while playing with as many buttons and levers as possible. And fit in we did. When I pulled over to admire myself in front of the Port Royal Club, we were passed by three Bentley GTCs and a Flying Spur. That was a 2-minute span. If I sat there any longer I might have spotted dozens—each driven by platinum blondes of an indiscernible age. But none of that mattered once I hopped back in and turned on the seat massagers. It’s like a woman named Olga had been sewn into the seatback for my own personal pleasure. I gripped the Mulliner-bezeled shifter and jetted toward my home on Galleon Drive content with the knowledge that this car has it all. It’s badass and top-shelf all at once. I also discovered I don’t live on Galleon Drive. My apologies to whomever’s house that was. By the way, you’re out of milk.
2017 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG convertible
($200,625 as tested)
There are those among us who prefer understated to bombastic, but who still require all the bells and whistles and performance that come from the world’s top automobiles. And Mercedes-Benz knows those people better than anyone. When we called Mercedes-Benz of Naples’ managing partner David Wachs to tell him we were looking for the best money could buy, we thought he’d direct us to a Mercedes-Maybach S600 sedan. Nope. He had something newer (and rarer) in mind: the brand-new 2017 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG convertible with a 570-hp turbocharged V8 (though the S65 AMC coupe is slightly more ostentatious with its biturbo V12 and standard Swarovski crystal headlight diffusers, it doesn’t come in a convertible).
Salesman Justin Bockholt gave us the tour of the new S63 AMG and its tech-heavy features, which tend to come to life once you’ve hit the open road. From its Magic Body Control suspension that neutralizes road imperfections to plush carpeting with its Adaptive Drive Technology that almost does the driving for you, this car is likely the most technologically advanced vehicle in the group.You can remote-start it with your phone from anywhere on earth (yes, there are numerous safeguards in place to keep your neighbors from driving off with it).
It has sensors in the steering wheel, which allow it to register your level of input and awareness while using the Active Lane Keeping Assist. Add to that extras such as double-paned side glass; aluminum interior touches; and dual 12.3-inch dashboard monitors that display not only the standard speedometer and tachometer and gauges, but 360-degree camera angles. (It has cameras built into the front end to give you a better viewpoint for when you’re pulling out of a blind driveway. A great feature for Sanibel homeowners who contend with cyclists scooting across the end of their driveways every day.) It even has a Hot Stone Massage setting built into the seats.
And it goes without saying that the build quality is superior. Wachs literally jumped and put all of his weight on the driver’s door while it was open. Many cars would need to have that door realigned immediately. Not a Mercedes. Although, I must admit it’s disconcerting to have a businessman swinging from the door of your car while you’re hoping to make a quick run to the club.
On the road the car is deceptively quick, hitting 60 from a dead stop in just 3.9 seconds. That’s a tick quicker that the S65, thanks to the S63’s all-wheel drive. Even in light rain you can punch the gas pedal and rocket to 90-plus mph without a concern for anything other than local police. A built-in radar detector is a good option for this car, but chances are the cops will be looking at the Porsche or Aston Martin first. And therein lie both sides of the coin for this car: It’s subtle. If you want supercar performance, world-class technology and Old World build quality, this is your car. But if you want to stand out in the crowd, you might look elsewhere.
2017 Porsche 911 Turbo S
($196,200 as tested)
Let me just say this about Porsche Brand Ambassador (aka salesman) Philippe Martin—he is a fine human being. He’s charming, knowledgeable and speaks French like Marcel Marceau—probably better. But why this lovely man would start my test drive of the fresh-from-the-factory 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo S in the middle of a school zone is beyond me. That’s right, a yellow-light-flashing 20 mph school zone.
“Slow down! Slow down! Theez iz a schul zone,” he says with an accent that Meryl Streep could only dream of.
“Why would you bring me to a school zone with this car?” I asked, exasperated. He had no answer.
Let me tell you first and foremost: The brakes work exceptionally. So does the gas pedal. Martin started our test drive behind the wheel for two reasons: One, he wanted to show me how the new adjustable driving features worked before letting me loose. Two, he knew I wanted to be somewhere yesterday.
Seriously, he drives as though we just robbed a bank. In fact, it’s very possible (probable, even) we hit 130 mph on Golden Gate Parkway between 41 and Goodlette-Frank Road. (I can’t be sure because it happened so fast and my head was pressed against the back of the unbelievably supportive 14-way leather-covered power seats.) Nevertheless, I guess it was fine for him to drive like he was evading a hurricane, but for me? School zone.
“Yes, zeh technology has made seh cah perfect for both zeh track and going to get groceries,” Martin says, “but it iz very fast. You must still be caheful.”
With a top speed of 205 mph and a 0 to 60 time widely accepted to be in the 2.5-2.6 second range, this car is faster than ever before thanks to a twin turbo-charged 6-cyclinder making 580-hp. It is the very definition of stupefyingly fast. And if it weren’t for its use of road-holding technology and German dedication to improvement, it could be extremely dangerous. But it is as easy to drive as any car you might find yourself in. Easier even. It’s also useable and bulletproof, capable of daily commutes or track days at Sebring. Most owners of this car will do both—regularly.
The all-wheel drive sports car features PCCB carbon brakes and Porsche’s dynamic chassis control, which keeps the car flat through turns. A new feature is the Sports Response dial, a 918-style rotary driving-mode selector mounted on the steering wheel that allows you to select various driving modes geared toward whatever action you’re looking for: “going fast,” “going really fast” and “pooling bodily fluids in the back of your cranium.”
With state-of-the-art technology such as Apple CarPlay and Connect Plus, you can use your smartphone to see real-time traffic on the car’s display monitor or use your favorite apps while driving. You can even operate audio and communication functions via gestures or on the monitor’s touchscreen. It’s safe to say there’s nothing this car can’t do. Other than carry four adults. Or tow a boat. Or hold more luggage than an overnight bag. But otherwise, PERFECT.
2016 Aston Martin Vanquish
($323,876 as tested)
It’s gorgeous. It’s angry. It will take your money, but you won’t care. While those sound like lines from a first draft of a Robert Palmer song, they’re actually our lasting impressions of the 2016 Aston Martin Vanquish.
Though all things are subjective, the truth is that in person this car is so beautiful that if you were to stare too long, you might end up with a harassment suit brought against you. Trust us, it’s worth the risk. Regardless, salesman Ron Ball of Naples Luxury Imports had to remind me I was there to test drive the car and not ask for its phone number. “Don’t talk to me. I’m too cool right now,” I replied. Of course, he was right—the car is meant to be driven. Slipping the crystal key fob into its position in the middle of the dash allows you to press the starter button and awake a sleeping giant—a 568-hp V12 engine that roars like a proper racecar when asked. An English gentlemen in a carbon fiber Savile Row suit who’ll punch you in the mouth for the asking. But don’t worry, around town it’s silky smooth.
The interior on this particular car was nice, but not spectacular, due in large part to the center console’s piano black lacquered veneer, which looks more plastic than ‘tastic. And the technological add-ons (specifically the pop-up GPS/parking video monitor) seem dated. But the seats and driving position are terrific and perfectly capable for both spirited, tight-cornered jaunts or long-distance trips. In addition, the car allows the driver to select from several different suspension and engine modes, taking it from sublime grand tourer to track-ready racer in an instant. And unlike some luxury models, you can truly feel the difference. This car goes 0 to 60 in just 3.6 seconds and has a top speed of 201 mph, meaning you can conceivably get from Naples to Fort Myers in about 10 minute . We took the car through downtown Naples in an effort to hit every red light possible so people could look at me. Mission accomplished. Tourists along Fifth Avenue South gawked and I rewarded them with the occasional rev. You’re welcome.
Ultimately, it’s a car that turns heads and goes like a bat out of hell while still being mostly comfortable. However, there are no backseats, just quilted leather shelves designed purely to take your French bulldog to the groomer. If you want to look cool, sound cool and be cool, this is the car for you.
2016 Range Rover SV Autobiography LWB
($203,985 as tested)
We weren’t planning to include a Range Rover in our testing for the simple reason that Bentley, Jaguar and Maserati all have new SUVs entering the marketplace. And surely one of them would be a better choice, right? Well, not so fast.
If you’re truly looking for the best, Range Rover’s top-of-the-line limited-edition long wheel-based SV Autobiography is perfect for things such as trips to the polo fields, picking up guests from the airport, and antiquing for fun and profit. This particular vehicle in Santorini Black screams “Hollywood producer!” at the top of its lungs thanks to its optional deployable running boards, built-in voice recorder, dual panoramic sunroofs with screens, 29-speaker Meridian stereo system, front and rear LCD monitors, and executive seating.
Speaking of seating, rear passengers will feel like they are traveling first class on Singapore Airlines thanks to seats that recline and feature automatic footrests that slide out from under the front seats, not to mention automated tray tables, which fold out of the rear center console.
But as much as the SV Autobiography is wonderful to drive—and it really is beautifully balanced and easy to drive for its size—it’s best to be experiencing this vehicle from the backseats. Of course, that’s in part due to the fact that the Range Rover comes with a beverage chiller and glasses, perfect for a bit of bubbly while your manservant handles the driving. There’s also a spectacular rear infotainment system with wireless headphones, and front and rear climate-controlled seats with massage. In addition to a semi-autonomous driving feature, which features blind-spot monitoring with closing vehicle sensing and reverse traffic detection, it also has lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition along with its head up windscreen display.
My favorite feature is the perpendicular and parallel parking assist with park exit and 360-degree parking aids. Ball and I spent far too much time letting the Range Rover park itself throughout downtown Naples just to amuse ourselves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t find parking for you, it just parks itself with the touch of a button once you’ve found that rarest of items: convenient parking in Southwest Florida. As tiny homes go, this is one of the nicest.
2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn
($421,845 as tested)
If you end up purchasing a 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn available in one of a million different colors, congratulations. You’ve arrived. The all-new four-seat convertible from the world’s most luxurious brand is testament to awesomeness in excess. This particular model eschews the image of both the stodgy, cigar-smoking corporate giant and the Cristal-swigging rap star. Yes, this car is George Clooney in Portofino, Keira Knightley in Lake Geneva and you right here. Even in this town, it gets looks.
Cruising around town is effortless, though you are aware that it’s a wee bit larger than a typical automobile. Yet, that size is deceiving. Once you’re standing next to it or sitting behind the wheel, it’s a joy. And speaking of design, it’s a beauty up close. One of the more stunning features is its enormous suicide doors. They’re large to allow for ease of access to the backseats, which actually fit adults. But because they’re so large—and hinge from the back—they’re a bit ungainly to close. But not to worry, for RR has placed a discrete button on the dashboard that, when pressed, silently closes the door for you. No effort needed on your part.
A quick trip through Park Shore with Ball proved that the Dawn commands attention wherever it goes. And thanks to parent company BMW, the Dawn has all the technology you’d expect at this price point: Active Cruise Control, Adaptive Headlights with a grille-mounted infrared night vision camera that detects potential hazards more than 300 yards ahead. “If you don’t like this color, Rolls-Royce will make this in any color you want,” Ball says as we wait for a light to change at the corner of Park Shore and U.S. 41. “If you want your car to match the shirt you’re wearing, we could just send them a swatch of that cloth and they’d match it perfectly. Even with the leather. These cars can be completely personalized to your taste. If you have a tree in your yard you’re particularly fond of, we can send it to the factory for the veneers in your car.