Bentley Arnage R - An Englishman in New Delhi

Now this is a classic question that all stinking rich people who are careful not to waste their money should ask: Do I buy one Bentley Arnage R or go for four Mercedes-Benz S 350 Ls instead? To put it in the common man’s perspective – which obviously means us poor folk – you can get over 100 (that’s one hundred) Maruti 800s for the same price. Tough choice, eh? There’s only one way to answer it, and that’s to experience the Brit machine. Looking at the Arnage R, it hardly seems obvious that it’s a German car maker who decides the fate of the revered Bentley marque. That’s because the butch, meaty look, the touch of handmade perfection inside and the overall appointment of the car screams through a stiff upper lip that it’s stereotypically British. Take for instance that ramrod straight front end which contrasts with the droopy rear end treatment – only a British car could get away with that.It looks so much the part of Mayfair or St James, that you rub your eyes with disbelief when you see it on Mumbai’s Worli seaface.

Yet, you must remember that some of the greatest Rolls-Royces or Bentleys were bought by Indian maharajas in the past – in fact, it’s safe to say that these royals bankrolled both the manufacturers between the two great wars. So be it Connaught Place or Colaba Causeway, don’t be surprised if you see a modern maharaja in his Arnage R.However, what surprised folks in Mumbai one October day was an unshaven, chubby, bespectacled guy driving this Rs 2.5 crore machine. They didn’t know it was that expensive of course, but what they did know was that the joker driving it certainly couldn’t afford to own it. Otherwise why would he be revving the engine and blazing down the roads, with a large 32-tooth grin on his face, instead of driving it in a dignified manner? The reason for that, ladies and gentlemen, taxi-drivers and bicyclists, zebra-crossers and bikers, is a 6750 CC V8. As if cubic capacity is not enough, they have added two turbochargers as well! So what you get is the most powerful four-door production saloon in the world, a full 400 horses at only 4000 rpm and a staggering 84 kgm of torque at 3250 revs. If power corrupts, then this is a smashing way to get corrupted.

The monstrous powerplant is mated to a four-speed automatic gearbox; it’s like an obedient and quick-thinking Jeeves sitting behind the engine and doing the tiresome work of shifting for you. And the hired help does a great job indeed, especially when you consider it’s four-speed, and not a five-speed tranny.I am ensconced in this throne of a driver’s seat – it seems that Bentley is one of the few manufacturers in the world who design and manufacture their seats completely in-house, and it shows. If you can’t get the kind of seats you want from suppliers, why don’t you make it yourself – jolly good, I say. Not just the seats, but the way the chromed knobs and switches, the leather stitching, the veneer inserts are all obviously hand-crafted – it definitely doesn’t look mass produced. While that may be special in the West, I don’t know how important a feature it is to us Indians.

Having driven vintage Bentleys, I can relate to the hand-crafted treatment – except for the addition of new electronic gizmos and buttons, there is still a direct link between the craftsmanship in this 2003 model with those from the past. A large wood veneer dash is spread out in front of me. Placed upon it are chrome-ringed analogue instruments with a rich ivory background, looking very much like the designer food you see in ads for five-star hotels. The rev needle to the right is as jumpy as Brit popstar Robbie Williams, while the speedo is dignified, like Prince Charles. But between them, it’s a class act.The Arnage R is surprisingly docile in town. I was thinking that this car would be a handful in traffic and a little cranky, but I was in for a surprise. It’s so well behaved that you wouldn’t believe that there’s a whopper of an engine under the long hood that doesn’t have a problem being reined in. If the same thing was in a sports car, in the same situation, the engine would have been testy. Well sports cars be damned, because here is one perfect gentleman who, after wooing the ladies at night, is equally capable of saying ‘pistols at sunrise’ to the sports car fraternity. All that’s required then is a little firmness of the right foot. There is a dramatic change that overcomes the Bentley beyond 3000 revs. It gathers so much momentum, yet the aggression is controllable; calling it a civilised beast is just about as perfect a cliched description I can manage.There’s hardly any turbo lag or any of the typical delays associated with automatic transmissions. Part of the magic lies in the fact that Bentley has shoehorned two small Garrett T3 turbochargers instead of a single large T4. By using two small turbos, Bentley says that the response times are faster. Also, there have been mild enhancements to the venerable V8 engine to ensure a smoother performance. And oh boy, it is smooth.

The transition from commuter mode to grand tourer is flawless, and in no time you would be fiddling with the CD-changer while the car’s cruising absolutely effortlessly at 180 kph. I think the Bentley Arnage R’s the reason the Mumbai-Pune Expressway’s been built.We have not yet tested the car, and Bentley claims a 0 to 100 kph timing of 6.3 seconds and a 80-120 kph figure of 4.3 seconds, now that’s frighteningly quick for a 2,585 kg, 18-foot long brick! And with a top speed of 249 kph, this is one mean lorry. What I can’t wait to see is its 0 to 60 kph timing – wonder how the two turbos and automatic gearbox will come to its rescue then.

This car is longer, wider and taller than an S-Class, and with those kind of dimensions, you’d expect it to wallow like Queen Elizabeth II (er, the ship, and not the lady). Well, surprise, surprise. The Bentley shows hardly any roll, maintaining its Jeeves-like poise under pressure. Yet its ride is finely tuned, it cossets you without losing its composure over curves or rotten road surfaces. The rear is a great place to rest your expensive bum, and the Arnage simply glides over whatever the rubber takes on. The suspension set-up at the rear utilises a steel subframe supporting upper and lower wishbones, while at the front is again a subframe with a double wishbone arrangement. Add three-stage adaptive electro-hydraulic dampers and ride height control with auto load compensation, and you’re in for the ride of your life. In the Arnage R, Bentley has added an anti-roll bar at the rear, while the one at the front has been thickened. The rubber on offer is nothing less than 255/50 ZR 18 Pirelli P Zeroes, and stubby six-spoke alloys.

And with all the electronic stuff like ESP, ASR, EBD and other three-lettered mumbo-jumbo in its specs list, it’s safe to say that the Bentley will be like James Bond, straightening his tie with nary a hair out of place while being tortured by any driver.So is this gentleman faultless? 

A full test should sort that question out comprehensively, but what can definitely be faulted is the stratospheric price tag – thanks to import duties and what have you. Yet, it seems that ten particular hyper-wealthy individuals have already booked a piece each, and some of them have customised their Arnage R (and I think when the Maybach does come, these same individuals will again pick one each!). What they do get for their loose change is a luxury automobile that’s not a common Mercedes-Benz S-Class, bespoke and extremely indulgent interiors, and more importantly, unbeatable performance from whatever you can expect from any mass-produced sedan in the world. 

Now is that worth 100 M-800s? What a stupid question, why do you need 100 M-800s anyway?