Driving the twin-turbocharged 500-hp, old-money Bentley
Bentley's contemporary range can be split into two camps: "old money" and "new money." The Continental GT, Flying Spur and even the new GTC are the choice of the professionally successful. Each was developed before Volkswagen's takeover of Bentley in 1998, and is based on the platform of the Volkswagen Phaeton. They are ultramodern sophisticates laced with old-world charm. In their native Britain, they are the preferred choice of the professional soccer player.
The 2007 Bentley Arnage T, though, is different. This is a car that was developed in the mid-'90s and can trace its lineage back to the 1920s and the time of W.O. Bentley. Priced from $242,990, it remains the choice of the discerning, old-money elite. Its British owners are often prefixed by the title "Lord" or "Her Majesty."
Since its 1998 unveil, the car has undergone several significant overhauls. The old Bentley 6.75-liter turbocharged V8 was reintroduced in 1999 and a heavily revised version of the same engine — now featuring twin turbos — was introduced in 2002 as part of a raft of dynamic changes. Then in 2005, the styling was revised with the return of round.
For 2007, the car has been face-lifted again with changes to the Arnage T model boosting power output to 500 horsepower and torque to a tugboatlike 738 pound-feet. This is the car that's waiting outside Bentley's British headquarters, with our name on the key.
Elegance, thy name is Bentley
The Arnage has tremendous road presence — you arrive in the Bentley. This is a vast car — in short-wheelbase "T" guise it's still 17 feet 8.6 inches long — but it also has a timeless elegance that transcends whimsical fashions.
The interior, too, is a haven of good taste. The cows that died for the leather trim should be proud of their lifelong work, and if the burr walnut looks like it was lovingly crafted by hand, that's because it was. There are some wonderful touches, such as the analog fuel gauge that reads from "full" to "empty." The tactility of some of the fixtures and fittings, such as the door handles, is also a delight. Our test car had a classic beige leather/walnut ambience, but Bentley also offers a mix of black wood and machined aluminum, which looks terrific.
There are faults, of course. Whereas the vastly cheaper Continental range gets an integrated navigation and stereo system, for example, the Arnage makes do with an ugly stereo and an off-the-shelf navigation system that pops out of the top of the center stack. But they don't ruin the splendor of the occasion. No Mercedes, not even the Maybach, conjures such a sense of well-being.
An age-old favorite reborn
One of VW's first acts when it took over Bentley was to announce the return of the company's age-old 6,761cc V8. This pushrod engine could trace its roots all the way back to the 6.25-liter of 1959 and it was thought too dated to cope with contemporary emissions regulations. But with a little German know-how, it was reborn and now it's been revised again.
The old Garrett turbochargers have been replaced with a twin set from Mitsubishi. These new blowers, coupled with modifications to the camshaft and valvetrain and a new engine management system, have seen the peak power rise from 450 hp to 500 hp at 4,200 rpm. If that sounds impressive, then consider that this engine also produces 738 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm, which is 281 lb-ft more than the new Porsche 911 Turbo musters.
To help make the most of all this twist action, Bentley has dumped the old four-speed automatic in favor of a six-speed unit from ZF. It offers standard and Sport modes and a sequential shift function for latter-day Bentley boys.
Bar bores will delight in the raw figures. Bentley says this 5,699-pound leviathan will scurry from zero to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds and bludgeon its way across the globe at 179 mph.
An emotive experience
What the raw figures can't reveal is the nature of the driving experience. Whereas most high-performance engines peak at around 7,500 rpm, the Bentley V8 calls time at just 4,600 rpm. There is none of the highly stressed freneticism of a modern unit, just a guttural roar and effortless urge. The new gearbox also slurs shifts with grace — only on uphill gradients does it occasionally hunt for gears, causing a slight jolt in the cabin.
The deployment of the power has been made easier by the development of a new Bosch ESP system. The old system used to intervene with all the subtlety of a Playboy party, but the new system engages with measured sophistication. It can genuinely be described as a driving aid.
The rest of the chassis is unchanged, but that's no bad thing — the Arnage is surprisingly accomplished. The steering is nicely weighted and offers much greater feedback than the system in the Continental GT. Body roll is also well checked and there's plenty of grip, although you're always aware of the car's immense size and mass.
A switch on the center console allows the driver to choose between standard and sport settings for the electronic dampers. Sport offers improved body control on undulating back roads without unduly compromising the ride quality. The standard mode delivers more low-speed comfort, although it's still not as smooth as the latest Mercedes S-Class. The four-wheel disc brakes could also benefit from a little more feel.
Charismatic and capable
The T is joined in the Arnage range by the 450-hp R, which is tuned for more comfort, and the long-wheelbase RL, which targets the chauffeur market. These are cars without an obvious rival. The Arnage is significantly cheaper than a Maybach or Rolls-Royce, but it's much more expensive than an S-Class. Objectively, the latter is a better car. It rides better, handles more adroitly and boasts a wealth of technology, but it can never match the exclusivity or hand-built charm of an Arnage — Bentley only builds around 700 each year. The 2007 Bentley Arnage T is something of a motoring curiosity but it's no longer a car for which you need to make excuses. It's both charismatic and capable.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.