Versus the competiton:
The voice on the other end of the phone line was saying: “Would you like to have a Bentley Arnage Red Label to drive over the Super Bowl weekend?”
Without thinking, I instantly said “yes” to the Bentley Motor Cars representative … not really understanding the consequences. Oh, sure, I knew it was a Bentley and would therefore have a hefty price tag as standard equipment. And I vague-ly recalled that the Red Label model had some extra pop.
After I hung up the phone, I found the exact numbers on Bentley’s Web site.
Base price: $209,000.
Engine: 6.75-liter turbocharged V-8 rated at 400 horsepower and 619 foot-pounds of torque.
It was right about here that I started to know real fear.
Maybe I could volunteer for something less nerve-racking, say guarding Britain’s crown jewels or transporting nitro over the Sierra Nevada by pack mule.
The dread disappeared, however, when I was handed the keys to the Red Label. With apologies to BMW, this is the ultimate driving machine.
The Arnage Red Label, a 2000 for this test drive, overwhelms just sitting there — graceful lines, imposing size, long hood, classic door handles and a here-comes-somebody-important-styled grille.
The parked Red Label drew a crowd of passersby, some of whom took several laps around the car to get a better look. Pushing my way through the mob, I opened the driver’s side door and stepped into an environment probably not too far removed from the Presidential Suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
Exquisite leather seats are offset with rich wood trim. Elegant analog gauges reminded me of Duesenberg in its heyday. A seemingly limitless number of comfort/convenience controls are within easy reach — heated seats, navigation system with pop-up screen, dual climate control, the works.
The carpeting is plush, and the doors and panels are thick and stylized. Electrochromic glass reduces the glare of lights at night. Even the rear seats can be powered around for more comfort.
The biggest point Bentley makes with the Arnage Red Label is that the turbocharged V-8 moves the 5,500-pound car around like a sports car. The advertised zero-to-60 miles per hour time is 5.9 seconds.
The engine is indeed a marvel of power, but 5,500 pounds is 5,500 pounds — no amount of performance makes the Red Label feel like a sports car.
When accelerating the Red Label to high speed on the open road, you feel like you are going very fast … while sitting in your living room.
Thankfully, the four-wheel disc brakes are monster performers, bringing the heavy Arnage to a stop much more abruptly than one would expect.
Speed-sensitive steering dilutes the weighty feel of the Arnage to some degree, but it also combines with a double-wishbone independent suspension, a computer-controlled adaptive electro-hydraulic damping system, stability control and ride-height con trol to make 70 mph feel like 40 mph. That’s not a good thing because a nearly three-ton Bentley tends to attract the attention of the California Highway Patrol.
In fact, the Arnage Red Label attracts the attention of just about any motorist with a pulse. And that’s where the fear of driving it comes in.
Fellow motorists who wanted a better look at the stately Bentley on the move would buzz right up to the rear bumper. I was waiting for someone to rear-end the car, prompting the accompanying insurance nightmare. Imagine the pressure of dealing with that on a daily basis … for years.
I don’t know how Bentley owners endure the pressure. A scratch on that beautiful body work would bring me to tears. A dent would prompt a deep depression.
Who would dare park the Arnage Red Label on the street, where a branch could fall from a tree or where it could be tagged by a driving school student learning to parallel park?
Another concern was the mystery o t e mirrors. The Red Label has tiny exterior mirrors — almost as small as what one would see on a Formula One race car. Why would Bentley pour so much engineering brilliance into a car and then equip it with mirrors that give the driver maybe a 60 percent view of what’s going on behind the vehicle?
I guess my bottom line on the Bentley Arnage Red Label boils down to this confession: It’s too much car for me.
Even if I was worth $100 million, I would not buy a 30,000-square-foot house with 18 bedrooms, and similarly, I would not opt for the Bentley. It just has more than I need, and I would constantly worry about keeping it in mint condition.
Fortunately for the folks at Bentley, not everybody feels the same way. International Bentley sales jumped 35 percent in 2000, with 1,364 units being snapped up by the rich and famous. Sales percentage growth in the United States alone was 29 percent.
The Red Label provided me with a nice couple of days of fantasy, which I would heartily recommend to anyone who gets a similar offer.
If you get a chance to spend a night in the Presidential Suite of the Waldorf-Astoria, take it. But if a spin in the Arnage Red Label is offered as another option, the Waldorf can wait.