“Why?” If you have to ask, this is not the car for you. “Why” became a very common question for us as we spent time with the 2003 Bentley Arnage R. People would approach us at the gas station, the grocery store, the restaurant, the marina, the McDonald’s drive through, you get the idea…
“That sure is a nice looking car, it’s a Bentley?” is usually how the conversations started.
“Yep,” we’d respond, trying to sound rather nonchalant.
“What does it cost?” they’d ask, their eyes following the sleek yet muscular lines of the Arnage.
“They start at around $199,000, give or take a couple of grand,” we’d say, trying again to make it sound like it wasn’t any big deal.
“Why would anyone pay that for a car?” their eyes now wide open, jaws opened a little farther past comfortable.
And that is how just about every conversation went. Of course, we were more than happy to engage folks in whatever discussion they wanted to have regarding the car, but the pressing question that appeared time and time again was “Why?”
“The Bentley” as it became known around our office, arrived just about mid-morning on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday morning. We went out to have our first look, and the first thing we noticed was the “presence” that this car carries with it. Sitting in a parking lot with approximately 60 other vehicles, our eyes were immediately drawn to the blue Bentley.
It’s lines are, well, breathtaking. I hate to use that word because it’s so overused, but try as I might, I couldn’t find a better word to describe the Bentley. It literally takes your breath away every time you get near it, sit in it, drive it or walk away from it. And don’t think you can walk away from it without looking over your shoulder once (or twice) – it ain’t gonna happen.
The car wasn’t as big as we had expected it to be – don’t get me wrong, it’s no Geo Metro, but it’s not “school bus big” as I had envisioned it to be. It carries its weight well – much like a power lifter would. You know that it’s big, but you never think of it as fat – it just sits there, commanding your attention and manipulating the parts of your soul that control greed, envy and lust.
Open the heavy door and you’re greeted with a luxurious, hand-crafted interior. Supple leather, fine carpets and fabric, and enough burr walnut to make you wonder if the world really is running out of trees – this car is gorgeous in every sense of the word. We took a deep breath of “Bentley Air” – the leather still smelled great; ah, now this is living.
The front seats are very comfortable, and offer the perfect blend of support and cushioning. You don’t exactly sit “in” the seats like you would in say, a Ferrari, but you don’t sit “on” the seats like you would in a utility vehicle. You’re cradled perfectly, but then again, you should be as Bentley designs and crafts all of their seats completely in house. Why? Well, because they can – Bentley has invested two-plus years in designing the seats to meet their requirements.
Rear seating accommodations are superb – plenty of room for tall guys like us (we’re all over 6’3″), and once again, the seats are perfectly crafted to offer the best of both support and comfort. The folding tray tables (mounted in the backs of the front seats) fold down, out and up to give you plenty of leg room.
There are numerous controls in the rear of the car, including power seat controls – the rear passengers can adjust the rear seats to provide optimal comfort. Climate and lighting controls are top notch throughout the vehicle.
DRIVING POSITION AND IMPRESSIONS
Slide in behind the steering wheel (which automatically raises itself up when you open the door) and you’re be greeted by white-faced gauges with black text and orange indicators. The gauge layout is interesting, as directly in front of the driver are a speedometer and tachometer. All other gauges reside just above the radio and HVAC controls in the center portion of the dash.
The controls are, for the most part, very well laid out. Our only complaint with the controls is the heavy BMW influence – the HVAC system appears to have been lifted directly from an E38 BMW, as have the steering wheel mounted cruise controls.
The thickly padded, leather clad steering wheel feels great and offers great “feel” when driving – both at parking lot speeds and freeway speeds…more on that later…
The leather adorned chrome shifter requires you to lift up (vertically) before it will move from Park or Drive. It took us a while to get used to this, but once familiar with it, the motion became second nature. Mounted on the top of the shifter is a push button that switches the engine, transmission and suspension programming from Sport to Normal.
Another quirk (and complaint) that we noticed was that the car doesn’t appear to indicate outside temperature. It “dings” at you when the temperature is near freezing, but try as we might, we couldn’t find any way to display outside temperature. Call us “stuffy”, but we’d think that potential Bentley owners might appreciate knowing whether or not they need to put on the mink before they step out into the elements.
The premium sound system is made by Alpine and is hidden behind a manually operated folding walnut door. It has only two knobs and a few push buttons. There’s a wireless remote control that resides in the drivers door pocket when not in use. Sound quality was incredible, but imaging was slightly off, perhaps due to the placement of the mid-bass so far away from the tweeters. Again, a very minor complaint and almost not worth mentioning.
Finally, what ultra-luxury vehicle would be complete without a navigation system? The Arnage R answers the call with a dash mounted, motorized LCD screen that elegantly raises or lowers itself from the top of the dash. There’s a DVD player and six-disc CD changer for those who require entertainment while driving.
MUSIC TO OUR EARS
Speaking of music, we rarely played any, as the Bentley Arnage R loves to make its own music. The twin-turbo charged, 6.75 liter pushrod operated V8 loves to be pushed. It was shocking to feel this vehicle accelerate like it did – with 600+ foot-pounds of torque available at 3000 rpm, there’s little that will stop the Bentley from going where it wants to go.
Why twin turbos? The smaller, Garrett T3 turbo chargers increase throttle response and eliminate virtually any turbo lag (which is common in traditional single turbo charged V8′s). When you mash the gas, there’s no waiting – you simply go! And go, and go and go.
With all of that power on tap (0 to 60 comes in less than 6 seconds, according to Bentley), you’d think the 5,700lb vehicle would be a bear to stop or turn. Wrong on both accounts.
The Bentley Arnage R handles like a car 1/2 its size. It swallows up corners like only a canyon carver can, and it brakes like a sports car thanks to large, 13.7″ front disc brakes and equally large 13.5″ rear discs.
Apply the brakes and you’ll be stopped in no time thanks in part to a fairly complex ESP (Electronic Stability Program) system that incorporates traction control, ABS, “Electronic Brake Pressure Distribution” (EBD), Engine Torque Control (ETC) and Hydraulic Brake Assistance (HBA). That’s a lot of fancy acronyms for “stop now, with complete control”…
Driving the Bentley at cruising speeds is no problem. The steering transmits the perfect amount of feel, and the variable resistance makes short work of maneuvering this beast. Need to parallel park? No problem – the steering is light and nimble; the power assist leads you to believe the front end is light as a feather. Need to kick it up a notch and dive for that tricky apex? Again, not a problem – the steering assist offers the perfect amount of resistance and feel.
The transmission is glass smooth, and shifts are crisp and spot on, without being notchy or jarring. Our only complaint with the drive system is Bentley’s apparent use of an “on-off” switch where the gas pedal would normally reside. It seemed like smooth, gentle throttle transitions were not possible – the engine was either loafing or roaring (but to be honest, we preferred the roaring mode).
Road noise was somewhat higher than we would have expected from such a heavy, luxurious car, but we blame most of the noise on the heavily cupped Pirelli PZero tires. Apparently, the journalists before us had quite a good time with the Arnage R – I wouldn’t doubt it if this car had seen some serious track time prior to our experience with it.
All in all, the ride was plush and comfortable without being wallowy or boat-vague. That’s an incredible accomplishment for a car as heavy as the Arnage R. Oddly, however, we found ourselves commenting that we were feeling things that we didn’t expect to feel – speed bumps were more like “speed hills” – the heavy front end communicated its dislike for the bumps with a lot of noise and exaggerated up/down movement.
On the road, the comments continued. “In something like the Tahoe, we’d never have felt those bumps,” commented one tester. “It sure objects to potholes,” commented another. This may be a direct effect of the worn Pirelli tires that were fitted on our tester, however, we believe it has more to do with the Arnage’s sporty suspension. Champagne drinkers take note: you may end up wearing your Crystal if you hit the right combination of road irregularities.
While we complain slightly about the firm ride, there’s no mistaking that the chassis has a very solid, Fort Knox feel to it. Bentley has done a remarkable job of creating a stiff chassis and there’s no doubt that in the event of a collision, the Bentley would prevail victorious. Speaking of collisions, should one occur, Bentley has you covered with a complete array of safety features, including driver and passenger air bags, 4 side-impact air bags and full length curtain air bags on either side of the interior compartment.
Our time with “The Bentley” was too short – just as we had perfected our answer to the “Why” questions, we made the mistake of answering the phone – Bentley wanted the car back. Our week with the Bentley went by entirely too quickly.
So, while the Bentley Arnage R may be a status symbol to some, and an icon worthy of worship to others, we found it to be a true driver’s car. It handled every task with ease, and it drove and rode like a real car should. It loved to be out on the road, with its long hood effortlessly swallowing up pavement, its healthy engine making short work of long roads.
It’s a shame that so few people will be able to experience what it’s like to drive a Bentley – we believe that Bentley is one of the only car manufacturers who’ve been able to figure out exactly how a car should drive and ride. BMW, Maybach, Mercedes, Rolls-Royce take note: this is the car you need to build. Why? If you have to ask….
PERFORMANCE SPECS: 2003 BENTLEY ARNAGE R
Price As Tested: $218,768
Engine Type: Aluminum V8 (block & heads) w/steel sleeves & Overhead Valves
Size: 6.75 Liters
Bore/Stroke: 4.09in x 3.90in (104mm x 99mm)
Compression Ratio: 7.8:1
SAE Net Horsepower: 400hp @ 4,000 rpm
SAE Net Torque: 616lb/ft @ 3,200 rpm
Turbocharger: Garrett T3 (twin)
Oil System Capcity: 9.975 Quarts
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Final Drive Ratio: 2.92:1
Front Tires: P255/50/R18 Pirelli PZero
Rear Tires: P255/50/R18 Pirelli PZero
Front Wheels: 18.0 x 8, Cast Alloy
Rear Wheels: 18.0 x 8, Cast Alloy
Front Brakes: 13.7″ vented disc
Rear Brakes: 13.5″ vented disc
DIMENSIONS AND PERFORMANCE
Curb Weight: 5,699 lbs
Wheelbase: 122.7 inches
Overall Length: 212.37 inches
Overall Height: 59.69 inches
Weight Distribution (%): 50/50
Fuel Economy (EPA): 10/15
Fuel Capacity: 26 US gallons
0-60: 5.9 seconds
0-100: 15.4 seconds
50 – 70 mph: 3.3 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph (goverened)