2005 Bentley Arnage Preview

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Ian Norris Ian Norris Editor
May 2, 2004
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With its Continental GT now in full production and all the groundwork in place for a four-door version that will be unveiled in 2005, Bentley is putting the spotlight back on its big sedan, the Arnage. The 2005 model year, which we have just sampled, has a new face, a redesigned interior and technical changes that will keep it emissions-legal for the next few years. These are coupled with specialist body-building facilities that will help it face up to the monster limousines from Rolls-Royce and Maybach.

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Announced as a semi-clone of the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph back in 1998, when the two companies were under the same management, the BMW-engined Bentley Arnage was not a car that the new VW management was going to keep after it bought the company. One of the first jobs handed to Bentley engineers was to resuscitate the company’s old 6.75-liter V-8, making it comply with current emissions legislation and adapting it for the Arnage.

That task was achieved for the 2000 model year, and the twin-turbo powerplant has been further tweaked for the 2005 model to make it compliant with standards that come into force next year, giving it a clean bill of emissions health until a replacement is needed, probably around 2010.

With 400 horsepower for the standard Arnage and 450 for the performance ‘T’ version, the V-8, which has a bloodline that goes back over fifty years to a GM design, is still fully capable of providing power worthy of Bentley’s reputation. In addition to the upgrading of the engine, the Arnage also has a number of minor chassis modifications that improve its handling and comfort.

On the outside, the main change is a modified face, with twin circular headlamps replacing the rather awkward oblong units of the original. They give the car a look that fits in with that of the Continental GT and thus establish a ‘family’ style. The grille and hood now integrate more smoothly into the front wings, and the designers have paid special attention to a natural dividing line formed there. This will make many customers opt for a duotone paint scheme similar to those used on Bentleys of the 1950s and ’60s.

2005 Bentley Arnage

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Inside, there’s a new sweeping center console with a cleaner look thanks to covers over the radio and controls that are used less often. Naturally, the dash and console, together with the door trims, are available in a variety of wood finishes. The choice of the wood, and every other aspect of the car’s interior, is a matter of customer choice.

Bentley sets great store by its ability to tailor its cars to individual tastes, and has a special operation, based on Mulliner, a famous name in bespoke body-building, that concentrates on special orders. The policy now being followed by the company is to link Mulliner and the Arnage very closely, enabling customers to specify cars that will be built expressly to their design. This doesn’t just mean color and trim. Mulliner has the ability to extend the Arnage’s standard length of 212.8 inches by up to 17.7 in., and its height from 59.6 to 63.6 inches.

This means that Bentley can compete with the long wheelbase cars from Rolls-Royce and Maybach, while they cannot offer shortened cars to compete with the Arnage. Costs of a Mulliner special are limited only by the customer’s taste and pocketbook, but it is not impossible to double the $200,000-plus cost of the standard Arnage.

Driving the Arnage, whether in standard or ‘T’ form, is a unique experience. One sits high, with a commanding view of the road ahead, and this means the awesome overtaking power of the engine can be used to the full. On the British country roads we tested the cars on, it was possible to identify overtaking opportunities by seeing over the car ahead and taking them with just a gentle pressure on the throttle. The accelerative boost was accompanied by a joyful, but not intrusive, noise from under the bonnet — sorry, hood — which subsided to blissful silence as soon as the obstacle to genteel progress was dealt with. Surrounded by the pleasures of wood and leather that appeal to the senses of sight, touch, and smell, driving a Bentley is an experience that only the rich can afford. But it is one that every car enthusiast should try at least once in his or her lifetime.

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