RAC

Bentley Azure

The Bentley Azure is no shrinking violet. Andy Enright reports

Ten Second Review

In today's society cars like Bentley Azure shouldn't exist. It's too big, too wasteful and too representative of social division. It's ludicrous and ostentatious and magnificent and beautiful. If logic were all-pervasive, the brilliant endeavours of extreme minds would never exist. Nor would cars like the Bentley Azure. There's a lot to be said for lustful irrationality.

Background

After a while, you almost get used to it. Almost but not quite. I think it's the disappointment on people's faces when they realise you're not a Premiership footballer or an A-list celebrity, instead just being a no-mark road tester. Driving a Bentley Azure does tend to promote self consciousness but after, even the fact that everybody is goggling at you loses its novelty. Which is just as well, as the Azure is a whole lot more diverting than the hordes of the unwashed - of which I have conveniently and temporarily absented myself - staring at it. Open topped cars have formed an integral part of the brand's history, initially in collaboration with esteemed coachbuilders such as Mulliner and Park Ward and latterly in-house at the company's Crewe plant. The 1955 Continental Drophead Coupe was a notable, as were the Corniche, Continental and the previous Azure models. The latest drop top car to carry W O Bentley's signature is the most elegant of the lot. Unveiled at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show as the Bentley Arnage Drophead Coupe, the Azure, is based on the latest Arnage chassis, and shares much the same look to the front end. Move back and the entire cabin and rear of the car have been completely redesigned with a unique interior said to be influenced by contemporary furniture design. One glance inside suggests that it is cutting edge Scandinavian designers rather than Linda Barker at DFS that supplied the influences.

Driving Experience

With a twin-turbocharged V8 engine under the bonnet, this Azure is good for no less than 450bhp - or 500bhp if you go for the more powerful Azure T version. Double wishbone suspension and an extremely rigid body structure means that it can deploy that power very efficiently too. The Azure features ventilated brakes with a powerful anti-lock system with brakeforce distribution as well as an Electronic Stability Control programme, should you get a little over-enthusiastic during cornering. The comfort suspension system that was pioneered on the Arnage R also makes a welcome appearance. To ensure the car met the torsional rigidity targets - crucial in a big open car such as this - a number of strengthening members have been welded into the chassis. These strengthened steel parts sit in the sill section and extend into the A-pillars that form the windscreen frame. Underneath the car there are extra cross-braced members that reinforce the entire body shell. Strengthening has also been applied behind the rear seats where an advanced rollover protection system has been engineered. In conjunction with the strengthened windscreen frae, these pop-up rollover hoops can support the entire weight of an overturned car.

Design and Build

"The Azure is the latest in a long line of much admired Bentley convertibles and we wanted to reflect that heritage as directly as possible," said Dirk van Braeckel, the Director of Design for Bentley Motors. "The key to a four-seater convertible is that its grace and elegance is on display when the roof is down but it shouldn't lose any of that beauty when it is raised. We think we have struck that balance with the beautiful lines of the roof." The three-layer canvas top features seven bows for shape and rigidity and electrically raises and lowers in 25 seconds. In order to achieve a rakish profile, the windscreen has been inclined as far as possible. Because the roof stows in its own dedicated well, there's no change in the amount of boot space when the hood is up or down. Other dynamic details include prominent wheelarches and a tapered rear end that results in what Bentley dub a 'horseshoe trailing edge.' This shape recalls the first Crewe-built Bentley, the 1946 MK6, the bold front and almost delicate rear giving the impression that all the power is stowed up front. It's not a false impression either.

Market and Model

Two models are on offer - the standard 450bhp model and the 500bhp Azure T. Both are eye-wateringly expensive, nudging the quarter of a million pound mark. Are they worth it? Having been shopping for a flat recently, it actually looks remarkably good value and for the price of a one-bedroom flat in my neck of the woods, I could have an Azure and a fairly decent motorhome for sleeping and showering duties. Once sampled, the Bentley gets you thinking in this utterly irrational manner rather quickly. Everywhere you look there are intriguing touches. The LED tail lamps utilise technology borrowed from the Continental GT Coupe, while there's a good deal more chrome than on contemporary Bentleys, ringing the lamps, on the exhaust finishers, bumpers, sills and 19-inch alloy wheels. The elegantly curved rear seat and armrest are beautifully finished and for added atmosphere, indirect lighting casts a warm pool of light behind the door arm rests. Burr oak veneers with a Boxwood inlay contrast with Cotswold and Nautic Blue leather trim, while a unique chrome and wood steering wheel acts as a key internal design feature.

Cost of Ownership

It seems almost crass to start talking about the Bentley Azure's fuel consumption figures and insurance groupings. Needless to say, if you're at all concerned about these, you can't afford an Azure, metropolitan flat prices notwithstanding. In case you're idly curious, the figures stand at 14.5mpg on the combined cycle for the standard model and Group 20 for insurance. Environmentalists will get a fit of the vapours at the Azure's 465g/km carbon emissions, but given the numbers that are sold each year, the Bentley Azures on our roads pump a tiny fraction of the CO2 that the Toyota Priuses do. You've got to love statistics.

Summary

Normal rules do not apply here. The conventional measures by which we assess, compare and form decisions on cars tend to go out of the window when you're spending almost a quarter of a million pounds. Of course, it may well be in the manufacturer's best interests for us to lose sight of a steely-eyed value proposition, and such a confidence trick would be inexcusable were the item in question one that could so easily be reduced to component parts of nuts and bolts. This is a Bentley Azure. It is a car that is so much greater than the sum of its parts; that breathes life into these inanimate fixings, mouldings and castings. At once beautiful, brutal, serene and spectacular, the Azure bombards you with so many contrasts, that such force of personality mark it down as an extremely special vehicle. There's an alchemy in its engineering that's quite magical. Normal rules do not apply here.

Normal rules do not apply here. The conventional measures by which we assess, compare and form decisions on cars tend to go out of the window when you're spending almost a quarter of a million pounds. Of course, it may well be in the manufacturer's best interests for us to lose sight of a steely-eyed value proposition, and such a confidence trick would be inexcusable were the item in question one that could so easily be reduced to component parts of nuts and bolts. This is a Bentley Azure. It is a car that is so much greater than the sum of its parts; that breathes life into these inanimate fixings, mouldings and castings. At once beautiful, brutal, serene and spectacular, the Azure bombards you with so many contrasts, that such force of personality mark it down as an extremely special vehicle. There's an alchemy in its engineering that's quite magical. Normal rules do not apply here.

In today's society cars like Bentley Azure shouldn't exist. It's too big, too wasteful and too representative of social division. It's ludicrous and ostentatious and magnificent and beautiful. If logic were all-pervasive, the brilliant endeavours of extreme minds would never exist. Nor would cars like the Bentley Azure. There's a lot to be said for lustful irrationality. With a twin-turbocharged V8 engine under the bonnet, this Azure is good for no less than 450bhp - or 500bhp if you go for the more powerful Azure T version. Double wishbone suspension and an extremely rigid body structure means that it can deploy that power very efficiently too. The Azure features ventilated brakes with a powerful anti-lock system with brakeforce distribution as well as an Electronic Stability Control programme, should you get a little over-enthusiastic during cornering. The comfort suspension system that was pioneered on the Arnage R also makes a welcome appearance. To ensure the car met the torsional rigidity targets - crucial in a big open car such as this - a number of strengthening members have been welded into the chassis. Two models are on offer - the standard 450bhp model and the 500bhp Azure T. Both are eye-wateringly expensive, nudging the quarter of a million pound mark. Are they worth it? Having been shopping for a flat recently, it actually looks remarkably good value and for the price of a one-bedroom flat in my neck of the woods, I could have an Azure and a fairly decent motorhome for sleeping and showering duties. Once sampled, the Bentley gets you thinking in this utterly irrational manner rather quickly. STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, curtain and side airbags, ABS, ESP stability control

In today's society cars like Bentley Azure shouldn't exist. It's too big, too wasteful and too representative of social division. It's ludicrous and ostentatious and magnificent and beautiful. If logic were all-pervasive, the brilliant endeavours of extreme minds would never exist. Nor would cars like the Bentley Azure. There's a lot to be said for lustful irrationality. With a twin-turbocharged V8 engine under the bonnet, this Azure is good for no less than 450bhp - or 500bhp if you go for the more powerful Azure T version. Double wishbone suspension and an extremely rigid body structure means that it can deploy that power very efficiently too. The Azure features ventilated brakes with a powerful anti-lock system with brakeforce distribution as well as an Electronic Stability Control programme, should you get a little over-enthusiastic during cornering. The comfort suspension system that was pioneered on the Arnage R also makes a welcome appearance. To ensure the car met the torsional rigidity targets - crucial in a big open car such as this - a number of strengthening members have been welded into the chassis. These strengthened steel parts sit in the sill section and extend into the A-pillars that form the windscreen frame. Underneath the car there are extra cross-braced members that reinforce the entire body shell. Strengthening has also been applied behind the rear seats where an advanced rollover protection system has been engineered. In conjunction with the strengthened windscreen frae, these pop-up rollover hoops can support the entire weight of an overturned car. Two models are on offer - the standard 450bhp model and the 500bhp Azure T. Both are eye-wateringly expensive, nudging the quarter of a million pound mark. Are they worth it? Having been shopping for a flat recently, it actually looks remarkably good value and for the price of a one-bedroom flat in my neck of the woods, I could have an Azure and a fairly decent motorhome for sleeping and showering duties. Once sampled, the Bentley gets you thinking in this utterly irrational manner rather quickly. Everywhere you look there are intriguing touches. The LED tail lamps utilise technology borrowed from the Continental GT Coupe, while there's a good deal more chrome than on contemporary Bentleys, ringing the lamps, on the exhaust finishers, bumpers, sills and 19-inch alloy wheels. The elegantly curved rear seat and armrest are beautifully finished and for added atmosphere, indirect lighting casts a warm pool of light behind the door arm rests. Burr oak veneers with a Boxwood inlay contrast with Cotswold and Nautic Blue leather trim, while a unique chrome and wood steering wheel acts as a key internal design feature. Normal rules do not apply here. The conventional measures by which we assess, compare and form decisions on cars tend to go out of the window when you're spending almost a quarter of a million pounds. Of course, it may well be in the manufacturer's best interests for us to lose sight of a steely-eyed value proposition, and such a confidence trick would be inexcusable were the item in question one that could so easily be reduced to component parts of nuts and bolts. This is a Bentley Azure. It is a car that is so much greater than the sum of its parts; that breathes life into these inanimate fixings, mouldings and castings. At once beautiful, brutal, serene and spectacular, the Azure bombards you with so many contrasts, that such force of personality mark it down as an extremely special vehicle. There's an alchemy in its engineering that's quite magical. Normal rules do not apply here.

Scores
Performance 9
Handling 6
Comfort 10
Space 6
Styling 9
Build 9
Value 4
Equipment 9
Economy 2
Depreciation 4
Insurance 2
Total 70

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