Bentley Turbo R (Mk1, 1985-1997) icon review
We drive the original fun-focused luxury saloon
“Let’s have some fun.” Those were the words of then-Bentley chairman David Plastow to chief engineer John Hollings in the late seventies. His idea: to make the first-ever turbocharged production Bentley.
Long before the ubiquity of forced induction, turbochargers meant big power. They meant, as per Plastow’s own words, fun. And Bentley needed a bit of the latter – sales weren’t looking so healthy, and the brand needed an injection of excitement.
Bentley had only one engine to play with back then, the 6.75-litre V8 which had been kicking around since 1959, and would stay with the company for several more decades. While Bentley and sister firm Rolls-Royce would only ever say that their cars produced ‘enough’ power, it was making around 200bhp at the end of the seventies, so wasn’t what you’d call ‘overstressed’. It was seen as the ideal recipient of a big snail under the bonnet.
The result was the Mulsanne Turbo, whose turbocharger afforded a whopping 50 per cent increase in power to give a new figure of 296bhp. Or in other words, a similar output to the Porsche 911 Turbo of the day, and quite a bit more than a Ferrari 308. It was also more than enough to make the Mulsanne stand out from the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit upon which it was based.
What is often considered the true return to form for Bentley didn’t arrive until 1985, however: the Turbo R. The ‘R’ stood for ‘road holding’, because this is a car that would be created to improve handling, rather than just increase speed. Firmer damping, stiffer anti-roll bars and a Panhard bar for the rear subframe were among the measures to deliver this increased focus, with the Mulsanne Turbo used as a starting point.
But how does all of that come together after all these years? To find out, we find ourselves holding the keys to a 1992 Brooklands Green example belonging to Bentley’s vast heritage fleet. From the outside, the Turbo R doesn’t exactly scream ‘performance’, but it has plenty of presence. Silver and red ‘Turbo R’ badges adorn the front wings and the bootlid.
Inside, the Turbo R doesn’t disappoint, with deep-pile carpets and a big slab of walnut stretching across the dashboard, nicely contrasting the Magnolia leather trim. Being a later Turbo R, it comes with what are referred to as ‘slimline’ seats, although they still seem like vast chairs which one sinks into rather than sits on.
Chromed switchgear litters the cabin, glinting in the sunlight. We’re big fans of the ‘organ stop’ vent controls, which Bentley uses in its cars to this day. Another neat touch is the armrest which moves back and forth with the driver’s seat, and the way the Bentley ‘B’ on the logos dotted about the dashboard are coloured red is subtle, but effective in something as luxurious as this.
The control for the electric mirrors is amusingly large, and using it initiates a surprisingly loud whirring sound from the motors. The electric windows, meanwhile, take an age to raise or lower. Not that surprising, perhaps.
Once that big V8 is fired up, it causes the Turbo R’s body to gently rock itself from side to side on idle. A column-mounted shifter engages drive, and we’re slowly wafting away on the open road, immediately enjoying one of the improvements made to the Turbo R part-way through its life: Active Ride Control.
Present from 1990 onwards, the system alters the flow of damper hydraulics via a valve, whose actuation is determined by electrical signals from the throttle, brakes and an accelerometer. There are no damping modes to fiddle with as on a modern adaptive suspension set-up – the system always works away in the background here.
It means that the low-speed ride is smooth, on the whole, with the Turbo R only feeling out of sorts over particularly broken road surfaces. And yet, put your foot down, and the Bentley’s Flying B-topped nose doesn’t pitch up quite as dramatically as you might expect, nor does the car dive too badly under braking. As for corners, fancy (for 1992) dampers or not, tighter bends do still need to be taken with reasonable care.
Body roll is served up in abundance, and when the car is pushed in a series of bends, the Turbo R is quick to remind you that it tips the scales at a portly 2.5 tonnes. It offers slow steering via a gigantic, thin-rimmed steering wheel, which feels like it’s sitting on your lap the entire time.
Given the weight, the Turbo R’s near 300bhp doesn’t result in the most dramatic acceleration. It’s more of a pleasing surge as the turbocharger, made by Garrett AiResearch, slowly spools up. Further helping this feeling of relaxed performance, the 6.75-litre V8 is far from a revvy thing, with a redline at just 4,000rpm.
Partly as a consequence of that low ceiling, it’s not a hugely vocal engine, even with the windows wound down. Instead, you get a gentle ‘woofle’ as the revs rise. This Turbo R being a later car, it benefits from a four-speed automatic gearbox in place of the earlier three-speed unit, which shifts in a smooth but utterly unhurried fashion.
Back when the Turbo R was new, it was the shot in the arm Bentley sorely needed. There was a nine-month waiting list, and over its production life, the brand built more than 4,000 in Crewe. The car paved the way for a fabulous succession of fast and sporty yet comfortable saloons: the Arnage, the Mulsanne, the Continental Flying Spur and the current Flying Spur. It wasn’t even that long ago that the 6.75-litre V8 was still involved, soldiering on until the Mulsanne was discontinued in 2020.
In the current line-up, the Flying Spur is outsold by the Bentayga SUV. But no matter – we all know it’s the former that continues the legacy of the magnificent Turbo R.
Interested in buying one?
While a Turbo R is never going to be a cheap car to run, buying wisely, finding a good specialist and being prepared to sort some jobs yourself means one of these cars won’t necessarily be a disastrous money pit.
Going cheaper could cost you more in the long run so it’s worth spending more to get a really good one which has been well-cared for. Later fuel-injected cars are seen to be more reliable. Head gasket failures are reasonably common and very expensive to fix, so keep a close eye on the temperature gauge during your test drive, and check the history file to see if it’s had a fresh one fitted.
Turbo Rs from 1990 onwards have the Active Ride Control system, which is pricey to sort when it goes wrong. Replacement tyres will clobber your wallet pretty hard, and, of course, the Turbo R has a big appetite for petrol.
|Model:||Bentley Turbo R|
|Price now:||From £10,000|
|Powertrain:||6.75-litre V8 turbo petrol|
|Transmission:||Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive|