As the youngest of three brothers, I'm used to hand-me-downs. Hand-me down toys, hand-me-down clothes, and yes, even hand-me-down cars. Perhaps this explains when a vehicle arrives in the Autoblog Garage with over 8,000 journalist-driven miles on its odometer (as most do), I don't mind. Though the scars of past judgments are often plain to see, we're happy enough to be reviewing these vehicles at all.
Last Wednesday I stepped off a plane at Newark Liberty International Airport and into a 2009 Bentley Brooklands. My mission was to drive it some 550 miles to Cleveland, OH where it would be picked up and driven back to Bentley's North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI. When I got in, the odometer read 285 miles... total. I realized then that this was no hand-me-down review vehicle. Having been parked in Bentley's display at the 2008 New York Auto Show for the past three weeks, this Brooklands was taking its maiden voyage on U.S. soil with me at the helm.
Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
One of only 550 that will ever be built and one of just two in the United States right now (the other is parked at Manhattan Motorcars in New York City), the Brooklands I drove is the most expensive and rare vehicle in Bentley's lineup. It has a base price of $340,990, though this one was optioned up to $391,465 with items like 20-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels; an interior comprised entirely of Burnt Oak leather hides, Burr Walnut wood veneers and chromed stainless steel; and the world's largest carbon ceramic disc brakes. And so, standing outside of Newark's airport feeling all kinds of unworthy, I hopped in the virgin Brooklands and set off on my trek across New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The first thing you need to know about the Bentley Brooklands is that it's not what you expect for nearly $400,000. There is no keyless entry or remote start, no redundant controls for the stereo on the steering wheel, and the car will not park itself. Whiz-bang electronic gadgets are conspicuously absent in the Brooklands. It does have a navigation screen that pops up on top of the dash, but it requires a remote to interface with that was removed for the car's stint at the New York Auto Show. There's also no satellite radio, no iPod jack and the radio antenna extends like a fishing pole from the driver's side rear fender. I realized that instead of occupying my time with the myriad of in-car entertainment options offered in lesser vehicles, my driving companions would be the few felled trees, couple of cow hides and tons of aluminum and steel that comprise the Brooklands.
Starting this vehicle requires inserting the jack knife-style key in the ignition, turning it and hitting the "ENGINE START" button on the center console. What lay before you is more leather and wood than in a dozen Benzes and BMWs. No fewer than seven analog gauges are starting back at you, two large front and center for the speedo and tach, while five that include the outside temperature, fuel gauge, oil pressure, oil temperature and an analog clock sit atop the center console. The vents are taken from Bentley's elite parts bin with classy organ pulls, and the pedals are solid, drilled aluminum. The seats are deeply bolstered and actually quite firm, though the level of infinite adjustability offered ensures a fit exists for every body type. The front seats also feature a massage function, which came in handy during my seven-hour drive. Passengers in the two rear seats get limo-like head and legroom thanks to the long wheelbase and wide track, as well as a full complement of electronic adjustments for their own thrones. Bar none, there is no coupe in the world that more comfortably accommodates four people than the Brooklands.
Not long after my trip began, I pulled off at a scenic overlook in New Jersey to shoot pictures of the car and inspect its design. Being New Jersey, the only scenic thing at this rest stop was the Brooklands. This car shares styling cues with the more expensive and pedigreed Arnage and Azure rather than the Continental GT, Flying Spur and GTC. In fact, from straight ahead the Brooklands could easily be mistaken for an Arnage. It's not until you view the coupe in profile that you see the design's unique and expressive elements.
There's virtually no front overhang on the car, while rear overhang is prodigious. This classic British design theme sets the body back on its heels, and at speed makes the Brooklands look as if its sheetmetal is about to slide off. The slightly flared fenders flow into a hard line that connects the front and rear wheels and contrasts nicely with the gently curving character line above, while the 'Le Mans' wing vents behind the front wheels just hint at the coupe's capabilities.
Chrome brightwork is kept to a minimum on the exterior and includes the door handle hardware, window molding, exhaust tips, Bentley badges, collapsible 'Flying B' hood ornament, some scattered trim and a purely aesthetic strip on either side of the car below the doors. This restraint allows the Porcelain color of the paint to represent the car's richness rather than square footage of its reflective surface. The aforementioned five-spoke wheels are seriously sporty and replace the standard 16-spoke "Disc" wheels that would have hidden those giant carbon ceramic rotors and eight-piston, "Bentley"-emblazoned calipers.
Overall, however, the Brooklands' design is best described as understated opulence. Strangers who approached me on my trip knew that it was something very special, but didn't necessarily know it was a Brooklands or even a Bentley for that matter. One man in a Dodge Caravan followed me for 15 miles into a rest stop where we talked about how much cooler the Brooklands is than his Eldorado. Every tollbooth worker between New Jersey and Ohio instantly recognized how grand it was and remarked on it. One asked me, "How much that cost, $80,000?" When I told him the actual price was five times that, he told me to hold on and called over his boothmates. They then jokingly remarked I should pay more than what's on the ticket since I can obviously afford it. And that sums up the Brooklands' styling quite nicely: It just looks expensive.
So where does the Brooklands justify its tax bracket-busting price? The mechanicals. Under the long hood lies the famous hand-built V8 engine from Crewe. The fundamental architecture of the Brooklands's 6.75L twin-turbo V8 dates all the way back to 1959. It grew to its current displacement in 1969, and the first turbo was added in 1982. Twin turbos arrived in 2002, while a reprofiled camshaft and new low-inertia turbos were added last year. In the Arnage this engine produces 500 horsepower and 737 pound-feet of torque. With some additional tweaks it produces 550 horsepower and 774 pound-feet of torque in the Brooklands, which Bentley claims is the most torque produced by any V8 engine in the world. And there's no pilfering from the parts bin of parent group VW/Audi here. The motor's lineage is pure to the brand and cannot be questioned.
The supporting cast of mechanicals includes a six-speed automatic with manual shift and a Sport mode (sorry, no paddle shifters here); an independent front and rear double-wishbone suspension with computer-controlled, electro-hydraulic dampers, and that braking system. The carbon/silicon carbide cross drilled brake discs measure 16.5 inches up front and 14 inches in the rear. They are the largest of their kind in the world and barely fit inside the wheels. While they cost more than today's average car, they're very lightweight, completely fade free and the rotors will last the life of the car.
The Brooklands' true worth is the sum of these collective parts. Add them up and you get a rear-wheel-drive performance coupe that completely defies its 5,800 lbs. curb weight and length of 17 feet 9 inches. For comparison's sake, the 2008 Chevy Tahoe weighs about 300 lbs. less and is 11 inches shorter, but the Brooklands doesn't feel like an overweight SUV on the road. Caning this car is like getting a piggy back ride from LaDanian Tomlinson during a run up the middle. When accelerating it feels like an angry running back on fourth and one, but it can also swerve, turn or juke like a coupe half its size and weight. Slip the shifter into D and the Brooklands behaves like the confident coupe it is, but choose S or slide the stick into the +/- gate and throttle response and shift times quicken noticeably. And you would think stopping a vehicle with this much girth would be like trying to rein in a brahma bull with a lasso made of yarn, but those record-breaking brakes are more than up to the task.
Most of my time was spent driving in a straight line on I-80, and as a touring car the Brooklands is an ideal place to click off a couple hundred miles. Its weight actually works to its advantage here, as a body that can't be disturbed almost completely masks road irregularities. New Jersey has no potholes as far as I can tell, because I didn't feel any in this car.
Being that the Brooklands and I spent most of our time together on the highway, its fuel consumption wasn't as bad as the advertised 12 mpg city. We achieved about 15 mpg together, which is still a far cry from 20 mpg on the highway claimed by Bentley. My right foot is entirely to blame for the discrepancy. Filling the 25-gallon fuel tank with 20 gallons of 93-octane premium gas also took a $75 chunk out of my wallet.
If you have the funds to buy a Brooklands, the rising cost of fuel is not on your list of concerns. What you should be concerned with is satisfying a desire to own an exclusive coupe that's backed by a brand's proud history of building uncompromising cars. Few vehicles can do this, the Brooklands can.
I knew my short time with the Brooklands was winding down when I arrived home around 7:00 PM and learned that Bentley would be picking it up at 10:00AM the next morning. I hit the head, kissed the fiancé and hopped back in the car to log a few more miles before time ran out. After giving rides to friends and family members who now think this whole "blogging thing" might not be a joke, I retired the Brooklands in my driveway and made peace with our parting. After running up the odometer over 500 miles in one day, I was spent. It was time to let the next journalist in line have his turn. Hope he doesn't mind a hand-me-down.
Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
Airfare for this review was provided by Bentley.