Bentley Arnage T - The Verdict

The Bentley Arnage is an ecological disaster on wheels, but its powerful presence and fine engineering will turn heads, says Sean O'Grady

Price: £170,005
Engine: 6.75 litre petrol; 450bhp
Performance: 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds; 13 mpg;
CO2: 495g/km
Worth considering: Mercedes-Benz S-Class; Daimler Super Eight; used Rolls-Royce Phantom

Let's get the vulgar abuse out of the way first. Yes, this car is evil. It is one of the most polluting vehicles you can buy.

Out of its impressively big-bore twin exhausts it dumps, on average, some 495 grammes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilometre it travels. The equivalent for a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, say, is 475 grammes, for a supercharged Range Rover it is 376 grammes and for the average Ford Mondeo it is 187 grammes. Now, even though the Arnage is no one's idea of an eco-machine, the extent of its environmental criminality is still awesome to discover.

The only fragment of justification, in eco-terms, for this car is its durability. As with most of the Bentleys built before it, there is a very strong chance that it will still be on the road in three or four or five decades' time, maybe doing service on a wedding run or as the pampered pet of some indulgent enthusiast. It also destined to do relatively modest mileages. Just as well, really.

Judged purely as a piece of engineering and craftsmanship, however, it is a very virtuous achievement. Given that it was first launched in 1998, the shape has worn surprisingly well. After the complicated sale and break-up of the old Rolls-Royce/Bentley combine, BMW got Rolls-Royce and VW got Bentley.

Of the two, it is VW that has made a better job of managing its precious asset, and an essential part of that was to keep the Arnage as the crafts-built apogee of a much expanded Bentley range, which will add two convertible models - one based on the Arnage - this year. It even threw out the BMW 12-cylinder engine the previous British management had inserted and resurrected the old Rolls 6.75 litre unit - in much modified form - that first saw the light of day in 1959. Nothing wrong with that, though.

Plenty of anoraks wonder whether there is any need for this old-school Bentley when the newer, smaller models such as the Continental GT and Flying Spur offer almost as much as this car - and sometimes more - for much less outlay (say £50,000 difference).

The answer is that that is not how things work. What the Bentley offers its owner, above all else, is presence. If you drive around in a Flying Spur - or a new Mercedes S-Class for that matter - you'll go faster and have much more modern electronic gadgetry at your fingertips, and you'll have almost as serene an experience as you would in the Arnage - but you just won't get noticed half as much on the road or when you arrive. And making people fully aware that you have arrived is what you pay for.

Tom and Liesl Houghton, Doctor and nursery nurse from Leicester
USUAL CARS: VW PASSAT TDI AND VW GOLF

Tom says: Superlatives don't quite describe this car. You sink into an armchair rather than the driver's seat and a whole field of cattle were evidently sacrificed for the experience. Fuel consumption figures approach single digits, but owners of this car could afford to buy another planet. Heads turn as you drive, and that's probably why it feels majestic at 25mph.

Liesl says: The Bentley looks the part and if you want to turn heads this is the car for you. When the sports button was applied, the acceleration was amazing. You had to be careful when first going around the roundabouts, as the car is so heavy. Sitting in the back made you feel like royalty.

Roger and Marilyn Turner, Retired insurance broker and university administrator from Leicester
USUAL CAR: FORD MONDEO

It is not easy to give an objective evaluation of a car that costs more than the average semi, but to describe this incredible piece of mechanical engineering as simply "a car" is a misnomer. Driving it is more akin to being in the cockpit of an executive aircraft and, although it is not possible to test the manufacturer's top speed claim of 168mph, the phenomenal acceleration suggests that it is totally attainable. This is a big, beefy motor, but it is surprisingly easy to handle in most town and country situations. Its appearance underscores the sense of tremendous latent power, and draws plenty of admiring looks.

John Calutas, Satellite technician, west London
USUAL CAR: RENAULT GRAND ESPACE

The first thing you are struck by is the sheer size of the car. Surprisingly, driving around town wasn't as difficult as I expected, mainly because the car isn't so very wide, but parking could be a problem. The Bentley drives beautifully - it's smooth and quiet and it does everything in a very civilised manner. Needless to say there is ample power from the 6.75 litre engine. My only negative points are the brakes, which didn't inspire me with confidence, and the parking brake, which is a foot pedal - I couldn't rest my left foot properly when stationary because the parking brake was in the way. Inside the car it was sheer opulence - leather everywhere.

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