Lifestyle

Bentley's Battleship


The Bentley Arnage may be a rolling humidor, but it's still awesomely powerful and the last word in automotive luxury

When the Bentley Arnage T rolled into my driveway for testing, I suddenly wondered in which closet my late father's felt fedora was hiding. Then I thought to myself, "Do I have any good Port in the house?"

The Arnage T isn't so much a vehicle as it is a flirtation with a life I've never led. It's big, bruising, fast, luxurious. But it also seems excessive and a bit sloppy to drive. It's not hard to reason out the purchase of a Continental GT, which is as fine a sports car as there is in the world. But the Arnage, I confess, feels and looks a bit like an old luxury hotel where only a few eccentrics still stay.

At 5,760 pounds, this saloon (it seems suitable to use the European word for sedan here because it feels about as big as a bar) is longer than a Lincoln Navigator, yet zooms from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds on the back of a V8 engine that produces 500 hp. Its massive brakes stops all that brawn in just 165 feet from a 70-mph cruising speed. The engine produces an astonishing 738 foot-pounds of torque, giving it the acceleration dynamics of a truck, but with speed-rated tires. Fuel economy is 11 mpg.

Build Your Own Bentley

Driving the Arnage T around town is not as much of a hoot as driving a Rolls-Royce. Because of the Arnage's understated silhouette, it attracts fewer stares—and is probably often taken for the copycat Chrysler 300. On the highway, it screams with twin turbos that lay waste to anything else on the asphalt. Interior leather, as you would expect, is sublime. And the interior craftsmanship of the instrument panel and center console hasn't lost anything since Volkswagen (VLKAY) took over Bentley. Toggles and switches are yacht-like. But a navigation system that requires a remote-control? The Arnage can be a study in generational engineering, with the German-owned Brits tacking on modern systems without overhauling the whole machine to make it all work properly.

German ownership has its advantages, though. Take the ZF six-speed gearbox, which replaced the ancient four-speed the Brits had been using since, it seemed, the war—when England and Germany were on opposite sides. The V8 engine, though, is still a derivative of one engineered—no kidding—in the 1950s.

Over the Hill?

Bentleys are bespoke cars, which is most of the appeal. Colors, leather, fabrics, materials, wheels, badging, entertainment systems, and the like allow buyers to create their own one-of-a-kind dream ride. Want the headliner to match your family tartan, or the seat leather to be from cows raised on your cousin's Tuscan farm? No problem.

If the Arnage were a baseball player, it might be Barry Bonds. Pumped up on 'roids, gruff, but a car that can still clear the fences on a pretty regular basis. But how much is Bonds worth now that he is past 40? I ask the same of this luxury hotel on Pirelli speed-rated tires. I could buy a BMW 7-Series, Porsche 911, Cadillac SRX, and a MINI Cooper for the $267,000 my local Bentley dealer wants for this rolling humidor, and still have enough left over for a trip to the Amalfi coast. For about 50-grand less, a buyer could have a Continental Flying Spur delivered, which, for this kind of money, would be my choice as a more modern interpretation of luxe driving and a better overall value.

But the Bentley Arnage isn't for people who are looking at the price tag. And that, I think, is the point.

Kiley is a senior correspondent in BusinessWeek's Detroit bureau .

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