2007 Bentley Arnage T

For discerning customers who take comfort in the classics, the Arnage is still ensconced atop the Bentley lineup, costing almost half again as much as the arriviste, $176,285 Continental Flying Spur. Whereas the newer sedan's unusual (and Volkswagen developed) W-12 engine hangs out ahead of the front axle and drives all four wheels, the Arnage retains its conventionally located V-8--which traces its lineage back to 1959--and rear-wheel drive.

For all the charms of that classic powertrain, its four-speed automatic transmission was merely old-fashioned--and not in an endearing way. For 2007, Bentley adds a new six-speed automatic by ZF with a manu-matic function. With the transmission's shorter first gear and two additional ratios overall, impetuous calls to the engine room are greeted with an enthusiastic, "Very good, sir!" The massive V-8 is still a low-revving torque monster, but now you're much less likely to catch the two turbochargers napping. Furthermore, both versions of the V-8 make an additional 50 hp, bringing the total to 500 for the Arnage T and 450 for the Arnage R.

On California's Skyline Boulevard, through the hills north of Santa Cruz, we discovered a second significant upgrade to the '07 car. A sport button on the console stiffens the dampers, a relatively simple act that in corners makes the car feel as if it's shed one of its three tons. With it engaged, the Arnage sluiced through one tight corner after another with grace and agility that absolutely belied its size. And the stability control program is now more indulgent of the fun. The Arnage might be a classic choice among ultrasedans, but there's nothing staid about the way it drives.

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