The morning briefing, delivered from the confines of our warm hotel, is brief. It’s a decent day for lake and land-based testing, with a fresh dusting of snow giving relatively good traction. Please remember to keep the fabric covers draped over the interior, with the bonnet and doors left firmly closed, to frustrate the spy photographers. Lights on for the snow spray, which will be considerable, given a Bentayga Speed is leading our convoy. Oh, and keep an eye out for the black bin bags.
The what? Because Autocar is piggybacking this winter-testing excursion only as a passenger, I keep shtum. Nigel Tew, Bentley’s long-serving director of whole vehicle engineering, will later explain that locals tie bin bags to roadside poles where reindeer have been seen crossing. Despite the copious snow and ice in northern Sweden, people don’t hang about on the larger roads. It follows that, with the mass of the animal conveniently concentrated at windscreen height, any car – and, realistically, its occupants – will feel it if metal and mammal collide.
This metal is precious, too. It’s the new four-door version of the Bentley Continental, the crucial successor to the Flying Spur, and one of 12 prototypes currently ‘in territory’ for fine-tuning before the wraps officially come off later this year. Three weeks ago, it was hot-weather testing in South Africa, but it has since returned to Crewe for a quick software update and preparation for Sweden, the industry venue of choice when engineering teams need to cover everything from traction control tuning to fluid viscosity at -30deg C. I’m told New Zealand is another option if more winter testing is required out of the European season, but only for those manufacturers with the deepest pockets, because the cost of air-freighting the cars 11,500 miles across the world is by all accounts unholy.
Bentley’s engineering teams – separated for chassis, electronics, powertrain and so on – typically spend a week at a time in Arvidsjaur, the small town that has grown around car industry since Opel first tested here in 1967 and, thanks to Bosch and Mercedes, is the birthplace of electronic stability control. “For the chassis, we’re looking about how the wheel arches fill with snow, how the steering and dampers work at low temperatures,” says Florian Sprenger, formerly of Porsche but now Bentley’s head of chassis engineering and a bit of hand in these ‘low-mu’ conditions.
But as a global model that should prove popular not least in Russia, there are also more prosaic issues that demand cold-weather testing: does the parking brake freeze on overnight? Do the touchscreens struggle to wake up? Does the screenwash freeze as it hits the windshield? Equally, if snow packs the grille, snuffles a sensor and leads to catastrophic engine overheating, it’s unlikely to go down well with customers who have paid for the last word in luxury and sophistication.