Aristocrat's favourite or celeb bling plaything? Alex ponders the true meaning of Bentley
I’ve always been a lover of the Bentley’s older models. The Turbo R and Continental T are two of my all-time favourites, and high on my ‘fantasy garage’ list. But since VW’s takeover, I must admit that I’ve found it hard to get excited about the newer cars. To my eyes, the Continental GT and Flying Spur never quite had the sleekness of an Aston, the subtlety of a Jaguar, or the precision of a Porsche. And the heavy association of these newer models with the blinging world of celebs and footballers hasn’t helped matters.
Turbo-R: old-school Bentley at its best?
So a recent visit to the factory – more of which will be coming soon in a separate feature – left me thinking about what Bentley is today, and what that name actually means to car lovers like us.
It’s clear from talking to Bentley’s staff that the company still wants to be seen as traditional in its approach, preserving the values of high performance, opulence and attention-to-detail that made its name great. In fact, one gets the impression that Bentley has had its chintz palace reputation rather thrust upon it. And while nobody at Bentley would eschew any customer looking to buy one of their cars purely for that image, the company has been careful to maintain the old-school values and corporate image that have brought it its recent success.
Bentley Boys still a big part of company's heritage
You need look no further than the company’s heavy emphasis on personalisation to see this. Now, more than ever, Bentley is keen to demonstrate that its cars really can be painted, trimmed and detailed however their customers see fit. No commission is ever rejected, irrespective of how well it fits with the image the company would wish to convey. As a result, customers who might want to choose loud colours and cutting-edge interior finishes can have their way. The man from Bentley will simply say ‘Of course, sir’ and tick the relevant boxes on the order form.
But of course, that man from Bentley will still be dressed in the sharp, Savile Row suit, crisp white shirt and discreetly-monogrammed tie. And when you ask him about the brand as it stands today, he’ll use lots of words like ‘heritage’, ‘venerable’ and ‘Brooklands’. I reckon that’s a good thing. It would be easy, after all, for Bentley to try and re-invent itself to cater to the youth market that loves it so. But it’s resisted that temptation to tread down that path, and the result is easy to see. The new Mulsanne and GTC are both exceptionally attractive cars, referencing the company’s glorious past without feeling like pastiches. And crucially, apart from the de-rigeur LED lights, both still manage to avoid the trappings of glamour that they could so easily have taken on. To drive, both feel reassuringly, as solid, luxuriant and quietly powerful as you’d expect a Bentley to.
New Mulsanne still feels like a Bentley from in here
Yes, you can dress your Bentley up in bright yellow and fit chrome wheels the size of the moon should the urge take you. But you get the feeling that the Bentley salesman will still breathe a sigh of relief when you don’t. Irrespective of that, though, it’s good to know that beneath it all, it’ll still feel just as a Bentley should; just as every Bentley before ever has done. That’s a feat that can only be achieved when a company remembers to stay true to its core values. Good show, Bentley. Good show.