Font Size

- Aa +

Mon 12 Oct 2009 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Last man standing

The Bentley Arnage Final Series is the last of the line, as the name suggests - and what a way to go, says Georg Kacher.

Last man standing

The Bentley Arnage Final Series is the last of the line, as the name suggests - and what a way to go, says Georg Kacher.

Bentley's Arnage is the automotive equivalent of tux and patent shoes: formal, elegant and a bit out of place in a Spinneys car park.

To celebrate the last of the line, the Crewe-based manufacturer is building a farewell batch of 150 Final Series models. They're all spoken for, and nine out of ten of them are going to the bespoke Mulliner trim department for pink lizard hide trim, full armour plating and who knows what.

The Arnage was introduced in 1998 but some of its structural elements date back to the Turbo R conceived under Vickers in the 1980s. "The best Arnages were built from 2006 onwards," claims Ulrich Eichhorn, board member in charge of R&D. "The big breakthrough was the launch of the 500bhp engine and the upgraded suspension, steering and brakes that went with it."

And there has never been a finer Arnage than the Final Series, according to Eichhorn, because it blends the driver appeal of the T with the luxurious cabin ambience of the R. "For good measure, we threw in elements of the Brooklands like the seat trim, the five-spoke 20-inch wheels and the optional carbon brakes."

That 500bhp comes from the 6.75-litre overhead valve Rolls motor that's just celebrated its 40th anniversary - it made its first appearance in an automobile under the bonnet of the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI of 1968. It replaced a BMW V8 turbo when the proposed Anglo-Bavarian deal fell through and the Flying B went to the Volkswagen group instead.

Like all the versions before it, the Final Series Arnage is only marginally less conspicuous than a Rolls-Royce Phantom, so it's as socially acceptable as a mink coat.

While it doesn't excuse such headline figures as 19.5 litres per 100km and a carbon dioxide output of 465g/km, most cars made in Crewe do low mileage and are hand-built to last forever, and it's difficult not to be captivated by their charisma. Capability of this British car icon is definitely another story.

Dynamically, the Arnage combines awesome straight-line urge with varying talents in handling. The steering is light and quicker than before, but it feels emphatically nose-heavy.

Traction is marginal, body roll extensive, and the car's composure is chip-controlled rather than the work of clever geometry. Yet this is still a thrilling drive because the Arnage invites you to surf the tallest torque wave of any four-door. Keep the knurled chrome auto selector in Drive. It's the best of three modes - the other two being Sport and Tiptronic - for the six ratios, because there are no paddles for manual selection and nudging the 4,200rpm red line makes little sense. Simply unleash the torque and hear the V8 blend an earthy intake rasp with a hushed exhaust roar undercurrent.

With ESP off you'll qualify for The Millionaire Drift Challenge. Push hard and the faraway rear axle bucks and bends in a futile attempt to maintain decorum. It's rather like the effect of a wrecking ball on a castle built without foundations.

But the Arnage is not about braking late and catching the wayward rear end. Instead, treat yourself to the art of wafting. Ah, that's better, even if the ride is firmly stable rather than cosseting. Back off and the roar of the V8 keeps itself somewhat muted to suit. Inside, you'll find alloy pedals, solid wood waist rails with chrome inserts and Bentley logos, an on-board bar, picnic tables, four umbrellas and a larger radio display. In the standard range, you can choose from 42 body colours, 25 different leather and trim colours and three types of polished timber. With Mulliner, the choices are endless.

The sole must-have option is the 1,100-watt Naim audio system that downgrades your living room to the second-best place for listening to music. But sadly, not even the Final Series Arnage can offer enough front legroom, a fully adjustable steering column, or a decent infotainment package.

Special features outside include a dark matrix grille with matching air intakes and twin fat tailpipes. The radiator still stands as proudly perpendicular as it did in the Birkin and Barnato days, the flying-B mascot drops even faster into its vandal-proof hideout than Rolls-Royce's Emily, and air flow in the cabin is controlled by the same type of organ stops that were introduced in the 1965 Bentley T1.

So take your peaked hat off to tradition as this Bentley drives its last.

Fact file

Price:$360,000

Engine:6761cc twin-turbo V8, 500bhp @ 4200rpm, 738lb ft @ 3200rpm

Transmission:Six-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Performance:5.5sec 0-100kph, 288kph, 19.5L/100

Weight:2,585kg