On her Golden Jubilee in June, Queen Elizabeth II was driven about in a brand-new Bentley limousine—though Rolls had carried the royal warrant for nearly 50 years. The change symbolized a major milestone in the world of superluxury automobiles. In January, Bentley and Rolls, now jointly owned, will go their separate ways, Bentley to Volkswagen and Rolls to BMW. For their 2003 models, the biggest revamps in decades, both will upgrade to German engineering and technology while retaining their fine British leather and woodwork. The BMW-engineered Rolls will be in U.S. driveways by June (details are shrouded in mystery 'til January 1, but the price will likely be in the ballpark of the new Mercedes Maybach's $300,000 starting tag). The Bentley Continental GT ($150,000) arrives next November. Here's how the two cars stack up:
Created in the 1920s, when dashing drivers called Bentley Boys raced trains across Europe, the Bentley has in recent years become known as the poor rich man's Rolls in which you, not the chauffeur, do the driving. Now it's the darling of hoopsters and rappers as well as British queens.
Belgian designer Dirk van Braeckel, who reconceived the traditional Bentley box into this year's sleeker Arnage T Black Label sedan, produced a shape for the GT inspired by a crouching lion, with powerful haunches and aggressive "muzzle."
A 6-liter, twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine with more than 500 hp (a Bentley-engineered version of the engine in VW's upcoming Phaeton) will push the "Baby Bentley" from zero to 60 in under five seconds and to a top speed of about 180 mph.
Laser-cut matrix grille like a knight's chain mail: Olde England goes high tech.
In 1907 the Silver Ghost was called "the best car in the world." Ever since then, though the engineering has languished in recent years, the Rolls has been a symbol of ultimate luxury, the benchmark to which other things aspire, as in "the Rolls-Royce of electric toothbrushes."
No official photos until January, but from this sneak peek it's clear that the box has been softened into a curving but assertive line; BMW-style short front and rear overhangs are planned. The hides of a virtual herd of cattle (18 of them, Rolls claims) go into interior appointments.
With a light aluminum space-frame built in Germany and a powerful naturally aspirated (i.e., nonturbocharged) V-12 that's unique to the Rolls but based on the one in BMW's top-of-the-line 7 series, the car should be the fastest Rolls-Royce ever.
One not seen for decades: center-opening doors—traditionally called "suicide doors," now more reassuringly renamed "coach doors"—for elegant exits.