We are of course talking about the automotive world. And what brand was the first one to appear in your mind when thinking about exquisite? Probably Rolls-Royce. You see, this is the problem: it wasn’t Bentley.
I’m not shaking in expectation of the moment when I get to touch the fresh Continental GT V8, because it's a Bentley, and Bentleys fail to give you a reason to make you choose them over Rolls-Royce or any other precious or heavy metal brand. Bentley has a problem!
The new V8 engine, with its variable displacement that will allow spring to bring us green grass and its torque curve that stands as a reason for building a perfect stretch of road through the vast lands of grass I mentioned above, sound great on paper. And it will probably also be excellent in the real world.
But an engine alone can’t solve Bentley’s issue: the lack of a true identity and therefore the absence of spirit in its cars.
When I look at a Bentley I see a person (I’m not referring to the owner here) that has struggled to build a perfect life: the prestige is there, the muscular body is there and the popularity is also on the list, but somehow it’s all hollow, made up instead of built on real values, so I wouldn't want one.
This is because Volkswagen is using the British brand's racing pedigree as some sort of a philosophy, but this is a trick that's way too old. Throughout its rich history, the only times when Bentley was successful were when it created or brought back its racing heritage, but we are now so far from the company's racing days, that it’s all as fake as a third-world replica of a Continental GT.
Sure, not too long ago, the British carmaker managed to set a new ice speed record, but that doesn’t prove as much as the company wants us to believe, because it was a feat achieved in isolation - it’s not like all the big names in the auto industry went through the effort to be the fastest one on ice and Bentley won, so it’s far from what the company was doing when it was a top Le Mans player.
Thus, we end up with a range of cars that falsely display a “gentlemen driver” attitude. For instance, the flagship Mulsanne is described by the company as being “a powerful and elegant driver’s car”. Last time I checked, opulent saloons like the Mulsanne were not supposed to be a chauffeur’s car, but one built for the master in the back.
And when we move to the performance-oriented part of Bentley’s line-up, the Continental line, we find a heavy chassis that needs compromises in order to be sporty. Compromises that dent the luxury armor such a vehicle needs to be true.
This just doesn't work. Not for someone who seeks true value when buying a car. I’m not suggesting Bentley should try to focus solely on luxury and therefore become some sort of a Rolls Royce copy, like it was in a hefty part of the time when it was own by the latter. But the problem is that Bentley has set itself the goal to bring soul, driver involvement, into the super-luxury segment. And this is impossible, at least with the current resources allocated by VW. The world needs a brand like Bentley, which can show that luxury isn’t a synonym of isolation at the top, but VW is doing it wrong.
Instead of focusing on how to make Bentleys better, the Germans used a hefty part of their resources in a totally different, and wrong, direction: to develop the Phaeton - the Continental and the Phaeton share the same platform. That was a commercial failure, because nobody wants to spend premium money on a VW badge and the company should have foreseen this and taken advantage of the fact that it has multiple brands in its stable by allowing each one to do what it does best, not diluting their character mixing them in a cash milking attempt.
Right now, there are a lot of footballers, playboys and new Chinese money who buy Bentleys, hence the booming sales, but what happens when the brand runs out of magic as it strays further and further away from offering real value? Bentley is mostly relying on the cool factor now, and placing all its eggs in this basket is a very risky business.
If Bentley keeps making more and more steps further down the mimicking GT values it will end up like SEAT: a "sporty" carmaker with "sporty" cars that don't sell because they don't keep their promises.
Bentley should back its dynamic ambitions by sustained, concentrated efforts that could turn its cars into the marketing claims it uses. Want an example? Make the Continental GT lighter so it can be a true athlete in the hands of the driver, but do this without turning it into a harsh machine.
Mercedes killed Maybach through its stingy attitude and VW is doing the same with Bentley, but on the long term. Why is it so hard to get it right like, for example, BMW is doing with Rolls-Royce?