Bentley has traditionally done a nice line in convertibles and the Azure T is the current state of the art. Steve Walker reports.
Ten Second Review
Bentley's Azure T is quite the all-rounder. One of the most luxurious cars in the world, it features a convertible roof, four adult-sized seats and a 6.75-litre twin turbo V8 engine with 500bhp. The only thing the big Bentley can't manage is being even remotely affordable to anyone yet to secure their place on the Sunday Times Rich List.
Most of us would find it hard to imagine but sometimes, perhaps when you're running late for a garden party at Buckingham Palace or your private jet has been grounded and you're due in Monte Carlo for the weekend, the 450bhp in the standard Bentley Azure just isn't enough. On these occasions, the sort of people who regularly drop in to see the Queen or jet off for a weekend aboard a friend's yacht, the kind who keep a Bentley Azure in their garage, might wish they'd opted for the Azure T instead. It's true that Bentley buyers do tend to operate in a different stratosphere to that occupied the rest of us mere mortals. The Continental sportscar is just about attainable if you strike it lucky on the lottery but really blue-blooded products from the marque like the Azure only really look comfortable being polished by a chauffer on a stately home's driveway or cruising through the most salubrious quarters of the world's major capital cities. The Azure T is a further step up the Bentley ladder with more luxury, more performance and more exclusivity. We shouldn't be so vulgar as to mention money but yes, it costs more of that too.
Lurking beneath the prodigious bonnet of the Azure T is Bentley's legendary 6.75-litre V8 engine. In this form, however, the British marque has seen fit to bolt on a pair of turbochargers for good measure. The result is a nice round 500bhp and an even nicer and rounder 1,000Nm of torque. That represents a 14 per cent increase in torque over the standard Azure which uses the same engine, and 90 per cent of that total pulling power is available between 1,800rpm and 3,800rpm. It's this leviathan low end muscle that characterises the Azure driving experience. The Azure T weighs 2,695kg but when it's idling at the lights, 60mph is only 5.2s away and there's the potential to be sailing past 100mph in 12.1s. Maintain that kind of commitment and the Azure T will see 179mph before running out of steam. The double wishbone suspension on the Azure T is tuned to deliver the imperious ride quality that Bentley customers expect but not at the expense of driver enjoyment. The adaptive electro-hydraulic dampers soften or firm things up according to the road conditions and the driver's style. The ride height is also electronically controlled and the six-speed ZF automatic gearbox offers three transmission modes - Drive, Sport and Manual. Bentley offers customers the option of upgrading to a state-of-the-art braking system to help keep all that car even more firmly in check. This features huge ventilated carbon/silicon carbide discs and eight piston callipers. In total, it brings an 8kg reduction in unsprung weight and can decelerate two and a half tonnes of convertible Bentley like it's been driven into skip full of golden syrup.
Design and Build
The Azure is a piece of automotive art and the Azure T embellishes the masterpiece with a package of exotic detailing. Anyone spotting an Azure and wanting to identify whether it's the T version or not can look to the 20 inch five-spoke alloy wheels, the Le Mans air vents in the front wing or the twin exhaust tailpipes. The car's classic oblong shape and elegantly distended rear make it a striking prospect, whether the three-layer, seven bow canvas roof is folded or deployed. The car offers abundant space for four adults to sit comfortably and a luggage compartment measuring 310 litres, which might be a trifle stingy for four people on a weekend away. The interior of the Azure T features diamond quilted leather on the door inserts and the seating and the fascia is finished in machined aluminium. There are embroidered Bentley emblems on the seats and the pedals are in drilled aluminium. Customers can also personalise their car with a choice of 42 exterior paint colours, 25 different leathers and 8 different unbleached wood veneers. There's also a massive array of bespoke enhancements that can be made to each car by means of Bentley's Mulliner service.
Market and Model
Equipment levels on the Azure T are predictably opulent with the sound system particularly worthy of note. For a car this steeped in tradition, the technology behind it is cutting edge even down to the stereo. The system comes with iPod, mini USB, USB and 3.5mm AUX jack connectors as well as an SD card slot, so virtually any music storage device is compatible. The real fireworks start, however, when customers upgrade to the premium audio system built for Bentley by leading hi-fi manufacturer Naim. It's a 10-speaker system with a dual channel sub-woofer and a 1100-watt amplifier. The Bentley Azure T operates in such a rarefied are of the market that it has few rivals. Customers with this kind of money to spend have to world's best motorcars at their disposal and can afford to buy them without worrying about fuel, insurance, maintenance and depreciation costs that would financially cripple the average Joe within a week. The Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe is the Bentley's arch rival but there are likely to me more than enough customers to go round for these low volume models.
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 T. In case you're idly curious, the figures stand at 14.5mpg on the combined cycle 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.
Bentley set out to build the best convertible in the world with its Azure and the Azure T model has an extra 50 horsepower plus 125Nm more torque. It's a formidable car, impossibly elegant in its design and brim full of the finest craftsmanship. You will not be surprised to learn that it also costs an absolute packet but it's good for those of us without hereditary peerages or international business empires to have something to aspire to. Most people will never see an Azure T, let alone get the opportunity to push their noses up against the window of one to see which member of the moneyed elite is luxuriating inside, but if you should encounter one, enjoy it. In this age of environmental fundamentalism and tightening vehicle emissions regulations, cars like this hark back to a simpler time that may now be passing forever.