The Bentley brand is to luxury cars what Everest is to mountains. Those with wallets deep enough to meet the six-figure price tags of the company's vehicles are treated to towering levels of refinement and prestige. Bentley coupes and sedans are mostly hand-assembled in Great Britain at the manufacturer's state-of-the-art Crewe factory. This fusion of old-world craftsmanship with new-world technology is what the Bentley marque is all about.
Founded by Walter Owen Bentley, Bentley Motors was born in England in 1919. Two years later, the first model debuted, the rapid "3-litre" Bentley. Larger cars followed, and racing success at Le Mans earned the Bentley motorcars status among British sports car enthusiasts. Financial woes (brought on in part by the Wall Street Crash of 1929) triggered the brand's sale to Rolls-Royce in 1931. The first new Bentley after this event was the "3 1/2-litre," introduced in 1933 and based on a Rolls chassis that never saw production.
In subsequent decades, Bentley slowly slid into anonymity with vehicles that, at times, were little more than rebadged Rolls-Royces. The company's fortunes finally took an upturn in the 1980s. A new company policy dictated a more distinctive brand image, and it yielded the Mulsanne Turbo sedan, named after the famous corner on the Le Mans circuit. Most other Bentley models of this time, however, such as the Continental coupe and convertible, were still Rolls-Royces with different grilles.
The '90s brought more distinctive models into the fold, such as the redesigned Continental coupe, new Azure convertible and the new Arnage sedan, the latter replacing the dated Mulsanne. In 1998 BMW began supplying engines to both the Bentley and Rolls-Royce brands. Later that year this relationship created a conflict when Volkswagen acquired both marques, but the two German automakers reached an agreement that saw VW handing over control of Rolls to BMW in 2003, while keeping Bentley and the Crewe factory.
During the 2000s, that VW ownership allowed Bentley to further expand its model range and improve overall quality. The Continental coupe was again redesigned and quickly became a sales success, spawning a convertible version. Soon a four-door version of the Continental, the Flying Spur, debuted, followed in 2011 by the Mulsanne flagship sedan.
As one would expect, modern Bentley coupes and sedans are powered by a series of surprisingly muscular engines. The most potent models are motivated by a turbocharged 12-cylinder engine that generates more than 600 horsepower, though a new V8 promises similar acceleration but with much better fuel economy. No matter the engine, Bentley's traditional qualities remain, with all models benefiting from a cabin exquisitely finished in a variety of leather and wood trim.
There are high-dollar ultraluxury cruisers, and then there are Bentleys. Whether it's the Arnage sedan or the Brooklands coupe, these cars make an impressive statement and are sumptuous enough to make even the most jaded tycoon purr with delight.