Comfort, prestige and a hefty price tag - Michael Booth and four readers get a taste of the high life in the Bentley Arnage
A Bentley is all very well but, as I found out, you really do need the lifestyle to match. Originally, when "my" Arnage was booked I had planned to spend a couple of days behind its hand-stitched, leather- trimmed wheel aimlessly swanning around. I was going to visit The Savoy, just to see the doormen (who had ejected me once for not wearing a tie) grovel. Unfortunately, those plans had to be abandoned and in the end I spent my two precious posing days behind the wheel of one of the world's most spectacular cars visiting Ikea, trawling around the estate agents of Brixton, and finding a cheap second-hand cooker.

Though there were plenty of sarcastic stares in Ikea's car park and the cooker salesman definitely overcharged me, it was at the estate agent's that the Bentley caused the most problems. The first two agents I visited clearly couldn't grasp why someone with a Bentley wanted pounds 200 per week rental properties and refused (albeit in the most obsequious way) to show me flats in my price range. One clearly suspected the car wasn't mine but couldn't quite bring herself to ask outright: "Lovely car," she wheedled. "You must feel wonderful every time you get in it." "Yes," I replied inscrutably, pondering the details of a pounds 500,000 mansion, "I do."

The near-mythic Bentley is not a car to concern itself with the mundanities of life and neither, usually, are their owners, which generally makes for a happy marriage. But neither my appearance nor lifestyle remotely resembles that of a Bentley owner's, which made reactions to our pairing all the more fascinating. To have interpreted the looks as I pulled into a pub car park with assorted members of my family crammed in the back as a mixture of shock, envy and bewilderment was not, I think, unduly paranoid. We must have looked like the Larkins on a spree.

Despite its size and weight, hustling the Arnage at sports car pace is thoroughly enjoyable. There is immense power on tap from that twin turbo, 4.5 litre BMW engine. The car name's, however, contains a deep irony. "Arnage" is a corner of the Le Mans circuit (where Bentley last won in 1930), but corners are not this car's forte: though it is peerlessly smooth in a straight line, the Arnage pitches, rolls and understeers frighteningly round the bends at speeds other large saloons, like Mercedes' new S-Class, would relish. A combination of Herculean weight, tardy kickdown from the five-speed auto 'box, and tedious turbo lag means that overtaking can be fraught, but 0-60mph is still possible in just over six seconds. Top speed is limited to 150mph.

Of course performance is never the prime consideration when judging a car like the Arnage. As with its twin sister, the V12-engined Rolls Royce Silver Seraph (the two are soon to be parted, Bentley to VW, Rolls to BMW), the Bentley's price is not justified by its constituent parts, nor by the way it is put together. If the Arnage's pounds 145,000 price tag can be justified at all, I'd say it buys a tangible sense of well-being, cosseted superiority and, most surprisingly of all, heaps of fun. That and a warm welcome at The Savoy.

Road test If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

Adam Featherstone, 27, marketing associate, from Manchester. Currently drives a VW Sirocco

Adam was also a little overawed by the Bentley to start with: "It's a fair size isn't it? Personally I wouldn't feel happy a bout all the attention it attracts. Perhaps in the '80s you could have got away with something as ostentatious as this but in the current climate I'm not sure. For a heavy car the performance is very impressive and you get used to the size quickly. It's fantastically good looking, especially in this colour, and it's got great presence that doesn't come across fully in the photographs. It would be lovely to waft up to Scotland in it."

Tanjit Panesar, 33, nanny, from Slough, Berkshire. Currently drives a BMW 3-Series

"Eat your heart out Prince Naseem! This is nice, but I don't think that for pounds 145,000 it's very good value for money: you're paying for the name. I think if it came to spending this sort of money I'd like an Aston Martin. This is too big and bulky. It's quite smooth, you can't feel it changing gears, but a friend of mine has just bought one and he complains about the petrol consumption all the time. I think if I had one all the neighbours would either think I was smuggling drugs or had won the lottery."

Simon Houlthan, 29, freelance comedy promoter, from Eton, Berkshire. Currently drives a VW Golf

"This is probably the biggest thing I've ever driven. It's like driving a tank, it'd be a nightmare to park," said Simon. "It's definitely too ostentatious for me - though it wouldn't be out of place in Eton. I was amazed by how easy it was to get used to the automatic, though - it's so liquid. I think it's gorgeous to look at, remarkably comfortable, and you feel very assured driving it, and the power! It's great for cruising but it's got plenty of oomph when you want it. I thought it would be boring to drive but it's not."

Nick Luft, 36, systems librarian, and Hatti Luft, 36, non-teaching classroom assistant, from Bracknell, Berkshire. Currently drive a Renault 19

"The last thing this size that I drove was a minibus," said Nick, "but it's surprisingly easy to manoeuvre. It takes a few seconds to pick up speed - you could never call it sporty - and the brakes are a little soft. I think it's a piece of art, a cruise liner for those who can't afford a crew." Hatti: "When I first saw it, it didn't look like a Bentley, just a very big car. The back seats are very slippery and inside it looks like the inside of a yacht. The kids would love it but I think the dog would be sick in the back."

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