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Hammond’s icons: Bentley Arnage R

  1. Maybe it’s the size, or the shape - that simple, boxy profile with a bonnet, a cabin and a boot - but whatever it is, the Arnage has got presence. Oodles of it. If villains really did turn up in trilbies and long black coats with fat cigars in their mouths and violin cases under their arms, then they would arrive in this car.

    In black, the Bentley Arnage blows away any pretence of poshness and posturing in favour of a menacing presence easily the equal of an Apache gunship or a monster in the wardrobe. That it swooshes up with a sinister burble from the 6751cc V8 only adds to the effect.

    Words: Richard Hammond

    This feature was originally published in the August 2011 issue of Top Gear magazine 

  2. The Rolls-Royce version of the Arnage was the Silver Seraph, a car so laden down with golf-club pretentiousness and scrap-dealer brashness that it’s a surprise it could move. The Arnage though, feels like a last roar for the proper, old-school, big Bentley. It’s a car a rascal would drive, a cad. It comes with a moustache, even if you can’t see it. A big one.

    Stepping in is, as one would hope in a car costing the best part of two hundred grand when new, a bit of an event. The width of the sill, the quality of the aluminium tread plate and the deep, luscious carpet beyond make you feel like you’re crossing a threshold to enter a room rather than a mere motorcar.

  3. Settling into the quilted seats, surveying the dashboard, bristling with chromed switches and instruments. Soaking up the silence as deep as the carpet inside this cocoon of luxury shielded from the outside world, you feel like you really have crossed into a different place.

    It doesn’t have the magnificent ‘Power Reserve’ dial in place of a rev counter, like the modern Rolls-Royce Phantom, but the fuel gauge does at least say ‘Empty’ and ‘Full’, properly spelled out in English. And only by really standing on the throttle is there any aural indication that the big V8 gives 450bhp, enough to take this 2.5-tonne statement to 60mph in just 5.8 seconds.

  4. But it’s not a big dumb beast; the suspension uses adaptive electro-hydraulic technology, but uses it more, I suspect, to control body roll through corners to keep driver and passengers comfortable than for chasing a Lotus Elise. And it’s so very quiet. Under load the engine coughs discreetly and pipes up with a gentle, but purposeful growl. And you’re glad that it does.

    It is knocking on a bit now, the Arnage. The first ones arrived 13 years ago, and it shows in a few places. The centre console feels dated, the buttons to operate the electric seat and, in this one anyway, the mobile phone all feel slightly too proud of themselves for being there.

  5. But these features will age well. Give this car another five years, and they’ll feel classic, not dated. It’s still an expensive thing; you can pay well over a hundred grand. And it won’t have finished depreciating; you could lie in your bed and listen to the whistling noise of your car in the garage losing money overnight.

    Cheaper ones are out there. Anything from twenty grand upwards. But you’d want to be very, very sure indeed that it was a good one, because running the thing ain’t gonna be cheap. In the same way that repairing a jet fighter isn’t cheap.

  6. But those are all dreary administrative issues. Above all else, at every point in every journey, it’s all happening whilst you’re inside a proper, big Bentley. I would never, ever tire of getting out of this car, hitting the lock button and walking away, not from a car, but from a Bentley.

    I would never tire of ringing people up and saying: “Yup, meet you there. What’ll I be in? Oh, a Bentley. A black one.” Some things are just cool. This Bentley Arnage is one of them.

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