Road impressions: Rolls-Royce
Fuel-injection, giving more power from less fuel, heads the list of mainly invisible changes in the Rolls-Royce and Bentley ranges. Apart from a new design of air-dam, all other revisions are under the skin, including anti-lock brakes which are now standard, improved air-conditioning, and a larger radiator.
Inside, the front seats have been restyled to give improved lateral support, and now feature four push-button memory positions. New cylinder heads and low-friction pistons combine with petrol injection system to raise the power by 20%, while at the same time boosting economy.
These revisions are shared by both marques in the stable, the Silver Spirit and the long-wheelbase Spur behind the Spirit of Ecstasy, and the Mulsanne and Bentley Eight under the winged B. That leaves the Bentley Turbo R, which has also gained horsepower with the injection system, though with a smaller jump of 10%. A digital ignition system with twin distributors and twin coils and a new exhaust manifold designed to reduce back pressure are also incorporated. Sports-style seats with the memory system and a sports steering wheel emphasise the performance aspect.
A few years ago, driving a modern Bentley around a race circuit would have sounded a ludicrous proposition, but that was just what the company arranged recently to demonstrate the abilities of the Turbo R. The venue was the Hungaroring outside Budapest, a fairly tight and demanding ordeal for any road car, and a fleet of gleaming Turbos was waiting when the Press arrived. It is rather ususual to be so far from the ground on a race circuit, which emphasised the angle of roll, but overall the handling was impressive; pressing on inevitably removes rubber from the front tyres, but the light steering allows easy compensation. Grip is really very high, and the tauter suspension settings of the latest model keep the bulky Crewe Express body well under control as the car switches from left to right lock. Even more important, the increased side-support of the seats does a good deal to keep the driver in place, so that he can enjoy this performance. However, they are hardly in danger of rivalling Recaro units, the bench-mark in sport seating.
No brake fade showed up on the track, although the enormous impulsion of the 6750cc V8 rapidly pushed the weighty car to very high speeds — remember that this luxury limousine can turn in 0-60 times of around seven seconds. And back on the motorway the Turbo proved that it will wind its speedometer needle off the clock at 145 mph plus.
The company’s overt intention to give the Bentley name a sporting image again is quite apparent in the Turbo R. In its early form, the Mulsanne Turbo chassis was simply not up to using the performance; its soft spring rates heaved passengers around alarmingly when driven quickly through bends. Stiffer suspension on the R version means that the driver can comfortably use the grip of the fat Avon tyres, although the overall ride quality is still rather gentle and soothing. The normally-aspirated Mulsanne and Eight models also have a slightly firmer feel, in common with the Spirit.
Taking a Spirit over a winding B-road and down into the Danube valley, apart from showing off some of the beautiful scenery that Hungary has to offer, proved that these chassis revisions make a worthwhile difference: the body is no longer prone to falling behind what the wheels are up to. Now the response to steering inputs is more positive at speed, and roll seems better controlled, although the car’s progress remains outstandingly smooth and placid.
Riding in a Rolls-Royce remains a very special experience; old-fashioned care is visible everywhere, from the burr walnut dashboard to the magnetically closed cover over the boot-lock. A bi-level air-conditioning system second to none is but one of the material comforts inside, but it is the astonishing quiet and calm of the interior with its lofty outlook which sets Rolls-Royce travel apart.
Prices: Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit — £68,944. Bentley Eight —£54,692. Mulsanne — £64,721. Turbo R £79,397. GC