From the March 1994 issue of Car and Driver.
If the $226,450 price of the 1994 Bentley Turbo R seems a bit, well, extravagant in this era of frugality, a short tour of Rolls-Royce‘s assembly plant in Crewe, England, will soon put things in perspective.
The factory where Bentleys are built employs both space-age technology and olde-worlde craftsmanship. There are gleaming clean rooms where engines are assiduously assembled to extremely close tolerances, and there are workshops where craftsmen go to extraordinary lengths to shape and polish veneered dashboards and to cut and stitch flawless hides.
It is precisely all that diligent craftsmanship that helps offset any financial misgivings prospective owners might have, even knowing there are several arguably better cars to be had for less than half the Bentley’s price. Of course, better is a relative term. After all, the Bentley Turbo R will propel itself from rest to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, and through the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 93 mph. In our hands, the car also ran a 146-mph top speed, and stopped from 70 mph in just 171 feet.
These are more than modest accomplishments for a five-seat luxury car weighing more than 5300 pounds. And now, after an extensive corporate reorganization that has resulted in significant new product-development programs, the 1994 Bentley Turbo R is also better equipped, more refined, and more efficient. The engines have new cylinder heads with larger valves and manifolds that flow more freely, and the motor electronics have been optimized in the area of turbo-boost control and transmission-shift energy management. Plus the car’s suspension has been carefully recalibrated.
On the other hand, the car is also another year older. Although the company could argue that it is one year better, the unavoidable side effects of its old design are readily apparent. Climbing into the car, for example, we are reminded how uncommonly high the floors of these cars are. Likewise, the seat and windshield are at an elevation not unlike that of a pickup truck. This is what Bentley calls “a commanding driver’s position.”
And it’s true. You get a lofty perch and a good view of the road ahead. But the driver’s seat is so high that people with long torsos will find their scalps uncomfortably close to—or even touching—the wool headliner, and their view of overhead traffic lights neatly cut off by the roof where it meets the windshield. A retreat to the rear seat will not provide much relief. The space back there, while adequate for passengers of average size, does not compare favorably to that found in, say, a Chrysler New Yorker. (For more space, try the Turbo RL model with a wheelbase that is four inches longer.) Fortunately, the ambiance provided by the elegant wood veneers, the impossibly even-grained leather, the lambs-wool rugs, and the other lavish interior appointments go a long way to negate any niggles about space.
To set the raffish Bentley apart from its stuffy stablemate Rolls-Royce, the Turbo R’s cockpit boasts features like a tachometer and a gear selector that has been moved from the steering column to a much sportier position in the center console. The selector is a switch rather than a lever that sends electronic instructions down to the four-speed automatic transmission as it slides effortlessly from position to position. But it looks the part, and the transmission now has a shift strategy that coordinates engine and transmission functions electronically so that engine torque is reduced briefly during shifts for smoother driving.
The engine now features electronic transient boost control, which provides a brief period of high turbo boost during the initial stages of full-throttle acceleration. This is of particular value during passing maneuvers, when the big Bentley steams by slower traffic with surprising vehemence. At full throttle, the car belies its size and weight, pulling through each gear on an unrelenting wave of torque.
With this much punch, the Bentley obviously needs help from the rest of the chassis to stay on the road in corners. So the car’s suspension is more firmly sprung than lesser Bentleys and Rollers, and has more stringent roll control. It also has Bentley’s adaptive ride control, with three levels of damping firmness for a ride that is poised and fairly taut without feeling harsh.
The refinements have eliminated nearly all of the structural creaks that we’d noticed on poor surfaces in earlier Bentley Turbos. A self-leveling system operates at the rear, and you can set up a series of front-end pogo-ing motions with a couple of well-timed dab at the throttle before the rear jacks up to restore the car’s composure.
Considering its size and role, the Turbo R exhibits a good compromise between comfort and control—an achievement worth applauding even after a decade of development—and it can be driven with enthusiasm while retaining a fair sense of what is going on at the contact patches. The steering is also new for ’94, and it feels much livelier and more naturally weighted than the Rolls version, although it’s still somewhat remote by contemporary car standards.
The brakes leave little to be desired, but we were disappointed when the brake pedal refused to return to its resting position after our braking tests, causing the brake lights to remain on and requiring us to rig up a firmly tensioned bungee cord to restore normal function. We also noticed that at idle the big V-8 produces a discernible bobbing motion, and that it is quite vocal when asked for maximum output. Our car also shook the front passenger seat significantly when it was unoccupied.
Nevertheless, our microcassette recorder played back our verbal notes with remarkably little rumble and roar, so perhaps the crew at Crewe knows which frequencies to kill and which to ignore. They’ve certainly done a convincing job of making the Bentley perform like a modern car while incorporating the traditional trappings needed to justify the enormous price of ownership. The challenge now is to attract enough wealthy customers to sustain profitable operations. And that will be a considerable challenge indeed.
Everyone seems enthralled with the Turbo R’s unusual combination of performance and weight, as if weight were a property of some intrinsic virtue. I think the best aspect of this car is its terrific paint job. The color is deep and rich and the finish is uncontaminated by even a trace of murkiness or orange peel. The hood reflects every detail of the drifting clouds overhead, as if it were a flawlessly tinted mirror. There are faster luxury sedans for less money, but if your hangup is paint, there’s no substitute for the Bentley’s hand-rubbed finish. —Csaba Csere
Is my judgment clouded by bourgeois awe, or is this actually a pretty decent car? Rollers and Bentleys have never been terribly good at doing the things car magazine editors like doing. Yet, if I’m not mistaken, I enjoyed driving this zillion-pound tank at least half as much as I enjoyed arriving in it. It goes and stops as well as many good sport coupes weighing half as much. Its demeanor at 146 mph is as imperturbable as any Mercedes. It corners flatter than most 2.5-ton vehicles I’ve driven. And my neighbors just died! (I guess we’d better not discount the bourgeois awe factor). —Frank Markus
What I like to do with a Bentley Turbo is crawl along a freeway at about 50 mph, then floor it. The sensation is of an old 707 at liftoff, and the sound of this huge, ancient engine issues forth a great deal of fury. There is just nothing like a Rolls. A lot of people will say that’s the problem, and they have their points because it is a dinosaur. But what a dinosaur! What other car has a choice of horns? Or a hood the length of an ICBM? Or leather seats as hard as saddles? Of course it makes no sense to most people, but the Sultan of Brunei and the Duke of Kent are not regular Joes. —Steve Spence
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