Flying down Jebel Hafeet with a Bentley
So I had this Bentley Continental GT Speed at hand, and I was wondering what to do with it, besides the usual battery of tests. I’ve been in the United Arab Emirates my whole life, and I hadn’t seen that popular Jebel Hafeet road yet. I also heard that at the top of the mountain road is a flat piece of pavement, so I grabbed two buddies, threw a barbeque kit into the luggage trunk and set off to Al Ain and see this road for myself.
I picked up the car in the morning and finished off taking the usual round of photos and measuring the numbers for the actual review. It was already decided that we’ll set off for the city of Al Ain at sunset. The car’s trunk is rather big, and our stuff fit easily. One of my buddies had to sit in the cramped back seat, and he didn’t mind it too much. The other buddy in the front also had to move his seat front and be a bit tight, so the buddy in the back can be more comfortable.
The trip from Dubai to Al Ain was probably more than 100 km, and took less than an hour, but once in the city, we had to navigate using the vague signs, but it isn’t difficult since the city layout is so simple. Al Ain is just like Dubai, only 20 years out of date. When we were sure of our bearings after half an hour of wandering, we stopped off at a mosque for a prayer break, before we headed for the mountain of Jebel Hafeet.
The well-lit road up the mountain was already visible from the mosque’s parking lot. But I still wasn’t sure what to expect yet. The roads heading towards the actual mountain were rather empty by now, being 8:30 pm on a weekday. Not many hang around this area on a working day.
Once we hit the mountain road, I was already amazed. Two lanes go up, and one lane goes down, with nothing but painted double lines separating the two, and concrete walls along both sides. I was driving at moderate speeds until I stopped at the first little rest stop, with a lot more road left to go to reach the top. The view was great.
I then drove all the way to the top, cautiously keeping my speed up. Going upwards is easier, since two lanes mean more space to manoeuvre, sort of like a wider racetrack. The road was largely empty, but that didn’t make the drive any easier. There was a never-ending series of corners. Many of these corners were seriously tight, with some almost having the radius of a U-turn. And most of these were blind curves, due to the high safety walls. Pretty sweat-inducing stuff if you drive fast. There were black marks on the walls of almost every corner. Many overconfident dodos had been beaten down by the upright concrete.
We reached the top, none the worse for wear, to find a large flat piece of pavement. I was tempted to do the usual hooligan stuff, but I didn’t bother. Maybe I’m growing up. Or growing old. The brakes were already stinking anyway after the moderately-quick 12 km drive up.
The view up top was great. The entire city of Al Ain was probably visible, but I was left wondering how the view might’ve been with sunlight. Anyway, the real view was the Bentley, as every car that drove up to the grounds did a slow drive-by of our car to check us out. And I’m not even famous yet.
So we had our barbeque, sitting on the ground and eating badly-cooked food on sticks next to our Bentley, with a great view and even-better March weather — easily one of life’s best moments.
Cats were swarming around us, looking for bites of food, and they all turned out to be harmless. Domestic cats on top of a mountain?
We decided to head back at around 11 pm. I wasn’t burdened by loose coal and food in the trunk any more, the road was all downhill, and I had a fast car called “GT Speed.” My buddies were already strapped in with seatbelts, knowing my intentions. It was the moment of truth.
I hit the road again at full throttle. This car is seriously fast, but the corners came quickly again and again. I was sawing at the wheel with tightly-gripped fingers, as the Bentley’s power steering is rather hard, but offers limited feedback. Somewhat straight roads lasted only a few hundred metres each time, and I pounced on the accelerator in those parts. The Bentley built up speed faster than most other cars, and compounded by gravity on the downhill, we were easily doing 120+ kph before having to jump on the brakes again, using threshold braking to try not letting the ABS intervene. The stability control never butted in because the Bentley’s all-wheel-drive system was handling the road just perfectly. The tyres made loud rustling noises, but hardly ever squealed, which meant I never reached their actual limits. Which was fine by me.
This may sound odd, but the big Bentley handles fast corners better than the slower ones. It is easier to steer smoothly on the long corners and feel the Bentley do its thing. But tighter corners, like the ones as small as a U-turn, require heavy braking and sharper turn-in, which is when the weight of the Bentley can be felt as it wants to understeer, but the 275-width tyres don’t let it. At one point, I did have to pound on the brake pedal, using ABS to stay in control as I headed for a wall on an unexpected tight turn, staring at concrete damaged by previous accidents.
We overtook two slower cars on the way down, which is no easy task, with only one lane and largely blind corners. It was handled quickly by the 600 hp GT, so we didn’t scare any oncoming traffic. When was the last time you saw a Bentley doing high-speed corners?
The million-dirham ride of a lifetime probably lasted maybe 5 or 10 minutes, but I wasn’t counting. By the time I reached the bottom, the fuel tank was empty, and I pulled into a petrol station. The brakes were stinking of burning pads again. My ears were nearly blocked, pretty much like when a plane lands too fast. Except my partial deafness lasted all the way till next morning. I told my buddy to drive us back to Dubai, as my numb fingers were strained, and I could not hear nearby cars any more.
That road is ideal for smaller cars, but solid brakes and precise steering are a must. Leave your overconfidence at home, and take it easy. Stay safe and have fun.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.