ⓘ Bentley Azure
The Bentley Azure is a large, four seater convertible grand tourer manufactured by British automobile manufacturer Bentley Motors. The model debuted in 1995 on the Bentley Continental R platform and was produced until 2003. After a three-year break a completely new version powered by a significantly updated engine and based on the newer Arnage platform debuted in 2006.
1. First generation 1995–2003
The Azure debuted in March 1995 at the Geneva Motor Show on the platform of the Continental R model, which had been originally launched in 1991. Production only crept to a start, with a mere nine examples finished in the first year – in 1996, after full production had started, no less than 251 cars were finished. Pininfarina assisted in the two-year process of turning the Continental R into a full four-seater convertible, and also built the shell and soft-top at their factory in Italy, largely from parts sourced in the UK. Final assembly was then carried out at Crewe. A roll-bar was never considered, which necessitated extensive reinforcing of the chassis. At 210 in 5.340 mm in length and 2.608 kg 5.750 lb in weight, the Azure often surprised onlookers with its size and bulk, intended to both convey a sense of "presence" and allow for comfortable seating of four adult passengers.
Power came from the companys stalwart 6.75-litre V8, featuring a single, intercooled Garrett turbocharger and rated in the region of 365 PS 268 kW; 360 hp – Rolls-Royce and Bentley did not yet give official power numbers at the time of the Azures introduction. By the time production began in earnest, a new engine management system from Zytek meant a slight power increase to 390 PS 287 kW; 385 hp at 4.000 rpm and 750 N⋅m 553 lb⋅ft of torque at 2.000 rpm; power was routed to the rear wheels via a modified, General Motors sourced, four-speed 4L80-E automatic transmission. With a 0-100 km/h 62 mph acceleration time of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 241 km/h 150 mph, the Azure was very fast for a car of its size, weight and poor aerodynamic profile.
Owing to the limited space and workforce at Bentleys Crewe factory, the Azures electrically powered convertible top made from thick fabric was designed and manufactured by Pininfarina, which significantly added to the vehicles cost. New in 1995, the Azure was priced at GB£215.167 – GB£22.590 more than the Continental R on which it was based.
From 1999 until the end of production, the Azure was also available in "Mulliner" trim, which added special bespoke trim and additional equipment and allowed the buyer the option for further customisation during the build-process; pricing varied by car, as equipment could be significantly different from one to the next depending on customer requests.
*stated by Pininfarina production records
**From 2 varying documents, newer data used
2. Second generation 2006–2009
Volkswagen purchased Bentley from Vickers in 1998 when the Azure had been in production for three years. Volkswagen executives decided to keep the then-current Azure in production until 2003, then introduce its successor at a later date. Production of the new Azure began for the 2006 model year.
Now based on the Arnage platform, power came from the then-current variant of the Bentley twin-turbocharged V8 rated at 456 PS 335 kW; 450 hp and 875 N⋅m 645 lb⋅ft of torque. The Arnage was designed for the BMW 4.4-litre engine. However due the takeover battle in 1998 between BMW and Volkswagen Group for ownership of Rolls Royce and Bentley Motors, BMW had threatened to stop supply of their engines if Volkswagen Group won. While the threat was later withdrawn in conjunction with BMW acquiring the right to manufacture Rolls-Royce automobiles at a new location, it was clear that Volkswagen could not accept the business and reputation risks associated with having their rival as a long-term business partner. Furthermore, customers were uncertain about engine and part availability. Volkswagen was thus forced to significantly re-work the "original" 6.75-liter Rolls-Royce/Bentley V8 in 2001, including a switch from the old single-turbo system to a modern twin-turbocharger setup, reducing turbo-lag and increasing horsepower output. A new, 6-speed ZF 6HP-26 automatic transmission fed power to the rear wheels.
Bentley claims a 0 to 97 km/h acceleration time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 270 km/h 168 mph, slightly faster than the previous model and still very good for a vehicle of this size and weight.
The United States Department of Energy lists Bentley Azure as the least fuel-efficient car in its class with only 9 miles per US gallon 26 L/100 km; 11 mpg ‑imp in the city and 15 miles per US gallon 16 L/100 km; 18 mpg ‑imp on the highway.
2.1. Second generation 2006–2009 Azure T 2009
The "T" is a higher performance version of the Azure. Styling changes include 8.5J x 20-inch five-spoke, two-piece alloy wheels with 255/40 ZR20 Pirelli P Zero tyres, Le Mans lower front wing air vents, dark-tinted upper and lower grilles, jewel fuel filler cap made from billet aluminium and wing mirror mountings finished in body colour. The exterior styling was inspired by the Bentley Mark VI.
Audio system includes large display audio head unit with Secure Digital SD memory card slot, iPod/USB/3.5 mm AUX interface; with optional Naim for Bentley 10-speaker, 1.100W audio system. Electronic Stability Programme, Tire Pressure Monitoring System are now standard equipment.
The twin-turbocharged engine was now rated 507 PS 373 kW; 500 hp and 1.000 N⋅m 738 lb⋅ft torque. It has a 0–97 km/h acceleration time of 5.1 seconds 0–100 km/h acceleration time of 5.5 seconds, 0–160 km/h acceleration time of 12.0 seconds and a top speed of 288 km/h 179 mph.
The Azure T was unveiled at the 2008 LA Auto Show.
2.2. Second generation 2006–2009 Successor
The Azure had no immediate successor. However, at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, Bentley unveiled a concept car built on the Mulsanne platform that followed the same formula as the two generations of thr Azure that proceeded it. Bentley did not use the Azure name again with the concept, simply calling it the Grand Convertible.
The production version of the Grand Convertible was unveiled at the 2017 Dubai Motor Show. The production version was also based on the Mulsanne platform but is 99 mm 3.9 in shorter due to the elimination of rear doors. The production version retained the wooden deck as shown on the concept car and the deck is described to be the biggest piece of wood ever applied to a production car. Mulliner, Bentleys internal coachbuilder, was tasked with the production of the Grand Convertible which was limited to 19 units only.