It has been years since we cajoled a Bentley or Rolls-Royce away from Crewe for anything other than the briefest of press launch impressions. So when a patriotic BRG Bentley Turbo was offered, almost 1600 miles were amassed in no time at all. That required over 111 gallons of unleaded to satisfy a thirst that equated to just over 14 mpg…
At the conclusion of a test during which Michael Schumacher had been a passenger, we nudged 140 mph at Millbrook and the lanes of Devon had been penetrated, the Bentley had left a big impression on us, as indeed it should, with a kerb weight of 2.5 tons. There simply is no other car made to this formula today. It is not the performance that leaves a unique stamp upon one’s memory, but the manner in which the Bentley delivers its awesome acceleration. The marque’s strong pre-war traditions have been retained, albeit appropriately translated for the 1990s. The 6.75-litre Turbo has an imposing presence, whether static or galloping around the test track banking at close on 140 mph. Bentley blends the environment of a rather raffish gentleman’s club with unruffled travel. That applies both when wafting along at pedestrian pace and when devouring more than two miles per minute.
First, an explanation of the model we tested, for it is not the straightforward Turbo R. The designation is RL, which we took to mean ‘really long’. That’s not far from the truth, for the RL appellation signifies a longer (by four inches) wheelbase. Overall length is similarly stretched. If that’s still not enough, you can buy the North American model, of which the safety bumpers are 0.4 in deeper still. The RL specification adds £12,455 to the asking price and 50 lb to the weight. Retail price of the test car begins at £131,882. You could purchase a decent performance car for the VAT £19,64 – alone!
There are an enormous number of optional paint, wood and trim finishes that one can select, all the way up to the cocktail cabinet. The modern Turbo R customer – our investigations uncovered two racing drivers, a property developer and Swiss-registered examples in the UK – might be more interested in an optional air bag (steering wheel only, £1000), or the selection of radio telephone installations that can cost over £1,400. The Rolls-Royce Bentley range begins at less than £90,000, after the removal of car tax, with the emotively badged, £87,549 Bentley Brooklands. At the top end, you find the £161,563 Bentley Continental R, which is mechanically much the same as the test vehicle (but reborn on the shorter 120.5 inch Turbo R wheelbase). There are currently half as many Rolls-Royces listed as there are Bentleys. These start at £95,966 for the Silver Spirit II and culminate in the £163,347 Corniche convertible. To be honest, these prices are no more than a guide, as Crewe will tailor a car to a customer’s particular requirements, in much the same way as companies such as BMW now vigorously promote their ‘individual’ option packs.
The mechanical recipe beneath the bluff lines of the Pressed Steel Fisher four-door body is deceptively simple. Details aside, you could be reading the specification for a large front-engined American car or an older Mercedes, although it is worth remembering that this V8 is cast from alloy and the independent suspension carries a number of electrical and hydraulic sophistications.
The Turbo R first went on sale in 1982, badged as a Mulsanne Turbo. It was then a comparatively rustic SU carburettor and Garrett AiResearch turbocharger installation, lacking the fuel injection, engine management and intercooling arrangements of the current model.
The aluminium V8, with its central camshaft driving overhead valve gear, has remained constant for both the turbocharged and normally aspirated variants during that decade of development. Even the compression ratio remains at 8:1 for both forced induction and natural aspiration. Boost for the turbocharged model is set at a gentle 0.49 bar.
It was 1985 when the Turbo R designation surfaced, the ‘R’ signifying ‘roadholding’. Spring and damper rates were stiffened substantially to complement uprated tyres. Previously, the model had had to be restricted to 135 mph, so demanding was its unprecedented power and weight. The autumn of 1987 brought Bosch ABS and fuel injection to the Turbo R, and it’s worth noting that anti-lock brakes are a standard fitment throughout the range today. Late in 1988, Turbo R improvements included the vital provision of an intercooler, round headlamps (amongst the best we have experienced on a road car) and Bosch Motronic engine management. The effective automatic ride control with interconnected shock absorbers was introduced in September 1989.
Build time is around 12 hours per engine, two hours longer than it takes for the simpler fuel injection V8s. Each turbo unit is tested on full throttle at 3000 and 4000 rpm, its exhaust manifold heated to an angry blush at more than 820 degC.
Power and torque is not officially quoted, but we have sourced accurate information from a German contact. There is certainly an honest 320 bhp to propel such bulk at around 140 mph on steep banking. Yet it is the massive torque over – 450 lb/ft – that shifts the RL from rest to 60 mph so smartly, allowing accessible pulling power virtually from tickover upward. Not only is the engine magnificent, it is also durable. Rolls-Royce Bentley sees no reason why it should compromise engine life through the turbocharging process. It anticipates the usual 250,000 miles “without the heads coming off”… always assuming the owner ensures proper servicing, and uses reputable fuel and oils with proper filtration and cooling.
First impressions, especially of the RL version, are naturally concerned with its sheer size and weight, but – behind the slim, three-spoke steering wheel – only the weight leaves a lasting impression. Braking distances demand respect.
The BRG coachwork was striking in green and few ignored its presence, to the point where Jaguar owners came over and requested further details or enquired about the origins of the well-known TU series of number plates on Rolls-Royce Bentley demonstrators. So far as actual paint standards and finish were concerned, the Bentley kept a fine shine on its bonnet whatever grime was daubed over its flanks, but the shut lines and door operation did not appear to be any better than one might find on a Toyota Lexus, Mercedes, BMW or Audi.
Inside, there is no mistaking the difference between this and a more conventional executive class car. The company quite rightly stresses that the finest Connolly hides, Wilton carpets and a choice of woods (walnut veneers are standard, while mahogany, elm rosewood and maple are options) are crafted with extreme care. For example, it takes “many days”, according to the company, to create the wood facia and door cappings. A ride in the lounge-like rear highlights items such as the superbly worked wood surrounds to the C-pillar mirrors and folding tables that extend from the back panel of the front seats with sparkling metal edges which highlight the soft glow of the dark wood facings.
As we all have to spend more and more time stuck in traffic, the interior workmanship of a Rolls-Royce Bentley becomes increasingly relevant and should grow in importance as a sales carrot.
Whilst there is no doubt that this is one of the most opulently comfortable conveyances anyone is ever likely to command, some of the omnipresent shiny fittings are beginning to look dated, even a little vulgar. Only when you examine them a little more carefully do you wonder at the workmanship involved.
Given the vehicle specification and an urban fuel consumption of 11.04 mpg, we were pleased with our average of 14.26 mpg. Our most economical interim check revealed 18.2. On the bulk of the longer runs, where the Bentley excelled, it returned around 15 mpg while loping along at an idle 80 mph/2600 rpm.
The standing start and maximum speed statistics are not particularly important for this model, which majors on fabulous mid-range performance and the soothing delivery of such vigour. The automatic transmission (far from the best in the world for change quality) kicks down very swiftly to accompany enormous torque. Few manual models will match the Bentley from 50-70 mph. It is worth stressing that using the four-speed auto’s ‘sport’ setting only yields fractional advantages. Factory claims of 0-60 mph in less than seven seconds were entirely justified on each and every run that we undertook. Such consistency is a rare attribute.
We were also very impressed with the initial acceleration, the massive Turbo R proving to be only tenths slower from rest to 30 mph than the Alpine A610 Turbo tested last month.
However, by the time you have reached Britain’s legal limit (in less than nine seconds) the absence of an aerodynamic outline is beginning to sap energy. At 100 mph it runs into the kind of brick wall that promotes a notable increase in wind noise levels. The Turbo R still runs 0-100 mph in less than 20s, which seemed a marvellous achievement in view of the fact that you appear to be taking a small terraced house along for the ride. At the absolute maximum (fractionally over 139 mph) the Bentley was amongst the best behaved test cars we have experienced. The steering required very little work and the engine does not sound stressed as it nudges into the red warning band, at 4500 rpm.
Such equable high-speed stability showed that, despite appearances, aerodynamic considerations have been treated seriously at Crewe. The Continental body does permit an extra five mph, but the manufacturer governs that car to prevent further gains.
Most Motor Sport readers will be at least as interested in how this substantial performer feels at the wheel, or as a passenger. Here the Turbo R – or its lesser sibling, the Brooklands – are not so convincing. In meeting the contrary demands of ride comfort, sports handling and a total weight in excess of two tons, Crewe engineers have not had the success of their (admittedly lighter) opposition. With such a long wheelbase one is entitled to expect ultimate ride comfort and plush insulation, but the Turbo R shudders over bumps and concrete motorway sections. You are not unduly disturbed, as you would be in a mass production saloon, because of the wedges of leather clad padding between you and the tarmac, but we did get the feeling that this four-door body was never engineered with the thought of such high spring and damper rates in mind. The latter provide a shock to the system that even such luxurious surroundings cannot disguise.
Otherwise, the Bentley passes dynamic muster.
The steering is well weighted to convey the increasing understeer that is the normal road mode for brisk outings. Should you be bold enough to crave power oversteer, it is also well geared at just over 3.2 turns lock-to-lock to countermand any such errant instructions. Any such activity must be restricted to private circuit usage. We encountered a club racing champion who thought he could contain his own car’s 455 lb/ft of torque on a wet roundabout.
Throughout, you understand how the master of a well fitted power cruiser might feel, especially in terms of extended stopping distances and the eight dial instrumentation. The elevated driving position, halfway between that of a Range Rover and a conventional limousine, is a blessing for gentle touring, but the occupants are bound to slither helplessly across acres of leather should you press on with undue zest.
With practice you learn to ease along swiftly and discreetly.
Small features that we disliked were the footbrake (at least it disengages automatically when you select ‘drive’) and the occasional selection of ‘sport’ mode when engaging reverse. The electric gearchange is a low effort success, but reversing the 17.6 footer took courage and experience in the proximity of concrete walls. The breadth also proved a handicap in Devon; one set of road works outside Widdecombe would have left us beached, had not the tipper lorry operator not been so co-operative. A touch embarrassing.
There was the occasional blush at other road users’ attitudes to such conspicuous consumption in these hard times. Forget all that droit de seigneur. Faced with parked cars, oncomers in the ’90s aim their Fords and Vauxhalls squarely at the plump Crewe coachwork.
One relief is that you do not worry too much about those who squat on the back bumper in low speed traffic queues. You feel so totally insulated that you become convinced that even a heavy impact would not disturb your largely unflustered progress, never mind inflict GBH. Stiff suspension and attendant creaks apart, serene speed is the key to this Bentley’s character. As with Rolls-Royce today, one’s first impression is that the cars are out of step with the times, but as the miles slip by you learn to relax and appreciate a truly uncommon vehicle.
To Rolls standards of luxury the RL adds enormous rear seat space (passengers had nothing but praise for the levels of comfort, so the ride rumbles proved almost irrelevant) and a quietly intoxicating turn of speed.
This is a magnificent machine in the finest traditions of the breed.
There are plenty of cars that have more automotive virtue, but no rivals in the business of providing five-star civilisation and startling straightline pace. We missed the Bentley RL sorely when the generous test period finally expired, but not half so much as our local garage’s accounts department. They literally rubbed their hands in glee on every one of the plentiful occasions that it took berth alongside their pumps. J W