In 2002, the BMW lump was dumped, and lag-slashing twin Garrett T3s replaced the single T4 turbo on the venerable V8. The Red Label became the R, the hotter, firmer 450bhp T was introduced and further structural reinforcement increased rigidity while ESP helped tame the torque. Further power and sophistication came in late 2006 but, as with each of our trio, £30,000 limits us to early 2006 cars and older.
Which brings us to the 2003 Arnage R we’ve borrowed from Paul Heron at Keystone Cars, a family-run treasure trove of mainly noughties-era sports and prestige metal on the edge of the New Forest. Once a £150,000-plus motor, it’s up for £29,995, and that price includes an impressive service history, extendable six-month warranty and just 34,500 miles.
Embarking the 5.4m-long Arnage, I inhale a hit of Bentley plushness. The steering wheel whirs upwards to let me in, as if moved by an unseen valet. Extravagant amounts of walnut and leather will be themes for the day, and the Arnage’s cabin swims in both. Chromed HVAC organ stops and parchment-backed dials in the middle of the dashboard are let down by the niggling plastic of BMW-sourced buttons below, but this is still high luxury, and to have it for £30k feels like getting a haircut at Alfred Dunhill through Groupon.
You sit high on a squashy armchair, peering over the bulging bonnet from which a soft rumble emanates. The old General Motors four-speed ’box is in keeping with the engine’s surfeit of torque, shifting lazily and gently, its attentiveness slightly raised in Sport mode, when the adaptive dampers stiffen, too. That’s relative, though. The Arnage still rolls generously by modern standards, which makes it all the more shocking when you open the taps and, after a moment of lag, all notions of gentility are quashed by mighty, unrelenting acceleration. Between 2000rpm and 4500rpm, there’s an irresistible onward surge, the Arnage seemingly straining at the leash despite never emitting more than a distant but robust growl.
There’s a bit of niggle to the ride on anything but a perfect surface, yet the plump seats mean it’s heard more than felt, with only lateral ridges causing any real upset. Wind noise is apparent but acceptable. Light steering offers little feedback but conducts the nose with surprising responsiveness, although wet conditions prompt hesitation through corners as the rear, with no limitedslip differential, sometimes struggles for traction. The brakes remain reassuringly effective, though.
Despite its helping of Teutonic tautness, the Arnage still feels very much an English Bentley: big, soft and stately, but with a shocking turn of pace from a charming brute of an engine. Our pair of Continentals grew from the £1 billion VW had invested by 2003: the prolific GT launched that year, the Flying Spur in 2005. Each has VW Phaetonsourced underpinnings and a twinturbo 6.0-litre W12 distributing its 552bhp and 479lb ft via a six-speed ZF auto transmission and Torsen four-wheel drive that nominally splits the torque equally but can send it all to either axle. Both hit 60mph in about five seconds and bother 200mph.