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Tuesday 30th September 2008


BENTLEY AZURE

Is there any point to a three-tonne leviathan like the Bentley Azure any more? Nauman Farooq drives one to find out...


This is the £225,900 Bentley Azure, and at first glance it’s not very convincing. For a car that is worth more than most people's houses, you'd expect it to be the last word in technology, but nothing can be further from the truth. I mean, for starters this car has no telescopic steering wheel (it only tilts), no laser guided cruise control, no air-conditioned seats, no self-closing doors and no folding hard-top roof.


All these features can be found in a much, much cheaper Lexus or BMW, and plenty of other cars. So by this point you may be wondering what the point is of such an expensive dinosaur. Well, the truth is this is in fact a rather good car. Let me tell you why.

For a start, it is one of the last truly hand-made cars. If you are someone who prefers hand painted art pieces to something that comes out of a printer, you will understand the value of this car. The Azure shows that proper craftsmanship still exists in this world. Every detail is worked over with painstaking accuracy and the end result will put a smile on anyone’s face – it’s nothing more than a celebration of what man can still do with his hands.


Because every detail of this car, from trimming of the seats to the shining of the chrome, is all done by hand, it takes a very long time to put one whole car together. A Dodge Charger SRT-8 takes just 10 hours to complete, a Porsche 911 takes about 40 hours to put together, even the more mass produced Bentley Continental GT takes 200 hours to finish, but an Azure takes a whopping 450 hours to complete, more if you specify some personal touches. This should give you some idea where the money is going.

Another reason this car is so expensive is because of its hand-made 6.75-liter, twin-turbo, V8 engine. This old unit can be found in many power trims in the Arnage, and in the latest Brooklands coupe this engine produces 530bhp. In the Azure however, you get 450bhp, and a simply colossal 645 lb/ft of torque at 1800 rpm, which is more than enough to melt the tyres away.

So despite this car having a gross weight of 3,065kg, it will still rocket you down the road like a gazelle that has just spotted a lion in the bushes. In other words, 0-60 mph is achieved in 5.6 seconds, and theoretically if you could find a long enough stretch of road that is empty and void of speed cameras (good luck finding that) it will max out at 171 mph. That makes it almost supercar fast, but don't go thinking this is a supercar. Sure it has the power but it is used in a more gentlemanly manner.


That grunt is sent to a six-speed automatic with semi-automatic shifts and a sports function. Then power is channelled through just the rear-wheels via a traction-control device that cannot cope with this car’s immense torque. But while it can move like a sports car, this is not this car’s true character.

Hence I think that the semi-automatic gearbox is a bit pointless in this car, because you are never really encouraged to shift down a few gears manually and explore the power. Plus the gear shifting speed is quite lazy, so that further discourages you from any spirited driving. This car is at its best when you are just cruising.


And cruise I did. I picked up the car from the Bentley factory in Crewe and immediately set off for Leicester, which is around a two-hour drive away. My first 10 minutes in the car can only be described at tense. First of all this is a large car, just over 17-feet long. I also live in Canada so getting used to right-hand drive does take a few minutes.

I had the sat nav (a rather ancient version of which is found here) set for my destination and it’s fine that it knew how exactly to get there, but since it worked out the shortest route it took me through some of the narrowest roads I had ever seen. I must have been the slowest car headed out of town, but surprisingly no one honked their horn at me so either the British are very friendly or they respected the Azure that much. By the way, if you are wondering, the word Azure stems from a Persian word for 'precious stone'.

Once on the motorway, I could relax and enjoy what this car is all about - effortless wafting. I relaxed by playing tunes on its excellent stereo system and also by turning those wonderful massaging seats on. On the nearly deserted M6 toll-road, I got passed by a hard charging M3 and an E55, so taking the hint I shifted into the ‘S’ setting on the gearbox, pressed the ‘sport’ button on the dash, and mashed my foot into the carpet.

Oh My Lord, this car picks up speed in a manner that you just don't expect from a 3-tonne vehicle. Just be careful where you open it up, because the brakes on this car are certainly not the best they can be (it surely would benefit from the Brooklands coupe’s carbon ceramic brakes), so you do need some decent space to haul it down. Surprisingly, despite having suspension that gives you the plushest of rides it does keep its composure surprisingly well in the corners.

This is where its cruciform of lightweight carbon fibre cross-braces comes in to provide not only a nearly scuttle free ride, but also help with cornering. Best way to drive it fast through tight turns is swinging the tail out just a tad, so you can have a neutral slide. If you take this big beast by the scruff of the neck, it does handle quite well. However, the steering is not the most informative, nor is it the most precise. On the highway I noticed it lacked a solid on-centre feel, but you can get used to that.


The interior is very comfortable indeed. Even with the roof down on the motorway, it is comfortable cruising at 70 mph with just the side windows up. Sure there are better convertibles that have less cabin turbulence at speed, but the Azure is not bad at all. Front or back, you will not complain about space either, this is a proper four-seater. Plus all the fine leather and perfectly varnished wood (of which you can choose from a selection of seven veneers) puts the car a cut above the rest.

Personally for me, I would get the biggest joy out of seeing this car parked on my driveway. It is such an impressive, imposing vehicle, you cannot help but feel good about having the keys in your pocket. So while it may not be the last word in technology or speed, it is a sensational machine that you can be proud to own.


Would I buy one? Well it probably won't be the first car I'd buy from my multi-million pound lottery win, but when I do, I will ask Bentley to fit mine with the carbon-ceramic brakes and upgrade the engine’s power to the Brooklands 530bhp. And this is the best part of buying a Bentley, they will actually do such upgrades for you to make your car truly unique. For an eye-watering price, naturally.

Author: Oli S