Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Bentley Turbo R: The Big Fast Saloon

Before the AMG S55 and the Audi S8, there was another large, powerful, luxury sedan-- the Bentley Turbo R.

The R was ahead of its time. Introduced at the Geneva Auto Show in 1985, it stood atop the luxury sports sedan pinnacle for a decade. The stats are mind-boggling: a 6.75 liter engine with a Garrett turbocharger (intercooled), almost 400 hp, about 560 pound-feet of torque, weighs 5,300 pounds, a wheelbase of 120.5 inches (124.5 for the longer wheelbase version). Mileage of 5 to 10 miles per gallon was the norm. Zero to sixty in about five and half Mississippis.

When new, this car was strictly for the Pacific Northwest lumber magnate (Less than Zero) and industrialist (Rushmore). But now, for around $40,000, a driveable (though not Concours-grade) used example can be easily had.

As with any exotic that can be had for very little now, like the Merak, Urraco, and 308GT4 in a 2005 Top Gear comparo, the true cost is in repairing and maintaining the car. Shock absorbers, electrical gremlins, fragile rubber hoses and steering racks all hemorrhage the owner's checking account at a rate greater than the R's acceleration from 60 to 100 miles per hour.

But in the end, 9 out of 10 R owners will tell you it's all worth it. Despite its gargantuan size, it fits like a snug yet comfortable glove with the driver. It is nimble, fast, and stops on a dime. The sedan accelerates like a dragster but carries its occupants in stately, smooth, Lexus-silent, opulence.

The S55 and S8 may have more technology and may be more reliable, but they will never possess the cachet of the R.


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