Our Cars: 1988 Bentley Turbo R
11 March 2016: Bentley meets the family
In 1982 we began to witness a shift in how Rolls-Royce Motor Cars wanted Bentley to be perceived with the launch of the Mulsanne Turbo. It produced around 50 per cent more power than a Mulsanne or Silver Spirit, and perhaps the pivotal moment that defined the start of the delineation of both brands arrived in 1985 with the launch of the Turbo R.
And 30 years after the first Turbo R was launched, we decided to pit mine against the modern equivalent on the roads of the Brecon Beacons. Obviously, the more modern car would be the victor when it comes to measuring dynamics over the conventional benchmarks.
But perhaps a more pertinent comparison would be whether the Bentley flagship of today under almost 20 years of Volkswagen ownership, has anything in common with its ancestor, perhaps the first truly high-performance Bentley since the 1950s.
The Mulsanne Speed – while not the quickest Bentley saloon – certainly matches the Turbo R’s position as the top model in the Bentley range. Larger and heavier than the all-wheel drive Flying Spur, it comes with a bespoke V8 engine designed for the Mulsanne in 2010, replacing the earlier Crewe-built V8 that had been powering Rolls-Royces and Bentley’s in some form or other since 1958. At six-and-three-quarter litres, it has the same displacement as the Turbo R, although with two turbos.
Setting both cars alongside each other, most observers would suggest an aesthetic victory for the Turbo R. It has a more modern look than the T Series it replaced, and lacks the curves that were a hangover from the days when most Rolls-Royces and Bentleys were sent to coachbuilders for bodies.
The Mulsanne Speed on the other hand looks like it’s trying too hard to ape those lines from the 1950s and 1960s, in the way mock-Tudor architecture does for that bygone era. However, from some angles, it’s possible to trace the lineage of the modern Bentley back to the Turbo R.
The Mulsanne Speed, with its eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox was showing 25mpg on the trip computer. I know from experience that the Turbo R is capable of 20mpg in these conditions when driven gently, with 2200rpm at 70mph on top (third) gear.
One thing they both have in common is a red line at a remarkably low 4500rpm. Many diesel cars now have higher rev limits. But a major part of the appeal of these leviathans is the relaxed way in which they deliver their substantial punch.
But while the Speed has maximum torque from 1750rpm, the turbo in the older car doesn’t really spool up until around 3000rpm. It means the Turbo R needs to be worked a bit harder to get the best response.
The Bentleys headed up the Afan Valley along the A4017 as the road rose into the hillside alongside the river. A tight hairpin gave the Mulsanne’s stability control a work-out, before catapulting the 2.6-tonne saloon along the serpentine road as it stretched relentlessly toward the clouds. The Turbo R had no such luxury – a sensitive right foot and a relatively fresh set of Avon Turbospeed rubber to help disperse the surface water.
After losing height toward Treorchy, we headed through the town to pick up the A4061 toward Rhigos and Hirwaun. With a few more open hairpins, space allowed the roads to be tackled with a little more gusto, although, unsurprisingly, the younger Bentley maintained the upper hand for responses. But that’s not really what we’re here to find out.
Of course, the Mulsanne of today is still built by highly skilled craftspeople at the Crewe factory, and the investment in the site as a result of Volkswagen Group ownership has been invaluable in maintaining Bentley’s status as one of the best known luxury brands in the world.
And it does capture the ethos of some of the best-remembered Bentley models of the previous 90 years. Would I buy one? As things stand, maybe I’ll wait a couple of decades until these models depreciate to within my budget . . .