Very seldom does real life present the perfect buildup to driving a rare and terrifically expensive car, but in the case of the Bentley Batur, the prologue was impeccable. Getting up to Crewe meant spending four hours with the M5 CS, BMW’s love letter to the concept of unbridled V8 combustion; once there, Bentley suggested a quick spin in its immaculate, last-ever-one Continental R Final Series. A thuggish, missile-grade four-seater to start, followed by nearly 18 feet of nobility.
You don’t need four hours to appreciate what BMW has done with the CS, and I got less than 40 minutes to drink in the Conti - but between them, they said much about twenty years of relentless luxury performance car advancement. The CS is a technological tour de force. Supercar fast, sensational to sit in and jam-packed with glowering, Germanic charisma. The Final Series, meanwhile, fits into your expectations like Lord Grantham fits into the drawing room at Downton Abbey. Imperturbable, wonderfully mechanical and just a little bit caddish, it turned every ditchwater dull Cheshire field into a Capability Brown landscape. I started humming World in Motion. And braking about half a mile from the apex of every corner.
Of course, the subtext of all this unintentional scene-setting was irresistible: back in the day, the Conti R - especially in its limited-to-11-examples Final Series format - was one of the most expensive cars in the world. It cost the best part of £200k when £200k really meant something. The heaven-sent Six and Three-Quarter V8 developed 420hp when 420hp really meant something. The torque output provoked incredulity. Even prior to its takeover-ordained divorce with Rolls-Royce, the model was intended to reestablish Bentley’s reputation as an inimitable purveyor of performance. By 2003, it provided the bedrock for VW to build a 21st-century legacy on.
There will be more examples of the Batur. None will leave the factory for less than two million quid. Not bad for a model that shares its underpinnings and W12 engine and architectural hard points and much of the interior with the humble (comparatively speaking) Continental GT. Its look, of course, is completely bespoke; a nod to the Bentleys that will follow, suggestive (allegedly) of the ‘50s-era R Type of the past and plainly testament to Mulliner's prowess as a coachbuilder. And its prowess in convincing must-have-it-all buyers that an additional level of exclusivity and scarcity is worth the premium.
Ostensibly, PH had been invited along to objectively test the car as it would any other - but that pretence is quickly dispensed with. We’re getting 30 minutes if we’re lucky and we’ll need a chaperone to satisfy the insurance requirements (officially, that is - in actuality, it’s almost certainly a factory requirement based on the journalistic tendency for ditch-finding). Moreover, the car in question is one of just two prototypes; indicative of the final product, but not wholly representative with a kill switch located in the cupholder. So anyone claiming to ‘review’ the Batur is playing pretty fast and loose with the description. But that’s fine: like most things attached to a seven-figure price tag that do not contain a seven-figure list of ingredients, the Batur is more about allusive vibe than irrefutable substance.
To truly understand what it’s all about you’d probably need to walk in the footsteps of the superfan buyers who answered Bentley’s call. You’d need to have sat through a personalisation process that takes the red carpet Mulliner usually rolls out and extends it by a country mile. Probably you’d need to have visited the factory at Crewe, and seen your car coming together. To have spoken to the people building it. To have seen and touched and sampled and caressed. To have agonised over every stitch. Only then, after you’d spent not just time or money, but actual creative juice on making a Batur that speaks to and about you, could you hope to sit back, cheeks puffed out, and talk credibly about what the car is really like. Because that’s the privilege you’re paying for.
Without the experience, without the full run of the Mulliner dream factory and the emotional investment that comes with it, we can only hope to scratch the surface. And in half an hour we can only really talk about what the Batur isn’t. Fundamentally, unsurprisingly, it is not a revolutionary - or even evolutionary - departure from the underlying Continental GT. Mechanically speaking, its most significant point of difference is under the bonnet, where Bentley has pulled its final party popper in the direction of the engine. As you might have heard, an uprated turbocharger and improved intercooler have resulted in 750hp and 738lb ft of torque - the most it has coaxed from a W12 since its forerunner was endowed with 710hp for the run-out Supersports version of the last GT.
Much like that model, the tinkering results in a 0-62mph time of 3.4 seconds - too slight an improvement over the 3.6 seconds that a standard, 659hp GT Speed musters to call it dramatically quicker on the public highway. Not that the Batur isn’t dramatically quick - it is. But you’d need to get it on an empty runway to really appreciate the additional savagery that Bentley has unlocked. Halfway to its 209mph top speed is probably where you’d find it pulling out a credible lead over the heavier (thanks to carbon fibre bodywork), lowlier Speed. Otherwise, the Batur’s W12 is much the same husky, mass-defying powerhouse that it ever was. Boy, we will miss it when it’s finally gone.
Much the same goes for the car around it. If the Batur’s exterior is (mostly) about where Bentley is going, the chassis is all about where it's been this past decade. Which is to say in a very good place. The car is fractionally wider at the rear track, and any adjustments made to the suspension are likely fractional, too - Bentley has boasted about a heightened level of dynamism, but, again, you’d need a whole lot longer to ferret out any real superiority. Endowed with the full suite of electronic gizmos - active anti-roll, torque-vectoring diff, rear-wheel steer - the Batur deploys them to familiar effect. Like the M5 CS, it is a moveable feast of clever components, but the level of integrity - and knowing, heavyweight intent - that Bentley coaxes from them is all of its own. The spirit of the Conti R is still in there somewhere.
Most importantly, even on unique 22-inch wheels and in a prototype, the Batur retains the rolling refinement and dead-eyed poise we’ve come to expect. At some point in the development process, its maker must’ve pondered a more robust interpretation of the GT’s established strengths, but to do so would’ve been to risk the coupe’s core identity - and why do that when every single one of its buyers can access a hypercar of their choosing? No, we’d wager that the compromise between muscle car brio and super-plush GT is well-struck. As is the interior, which retains the basic look and feel of the GT, but - thanks to the myriad opportunities presented by trim choice, 3D printing and the removal of the rear seats - has umpteen very detailed points of difference. Genuine gold vent controls, anyone?
Accordingly, the subjective outcome of this near-endless choice is dependent on the taste of the individual doing all the choosing, so it’s plausible that the Batur production run encompasses both the sensational good and the scandalously bad. But there’s no escaping the exterior. You’ll either like that or you won’t. Suffice it to say that it probably looks better in the flesh than it does on the page - although there’s always the sneaking suspicion that the design team’s ambition has broken like a wave on the cliff face of the model’s existing hardware. Even in standout Purple Sector paint and satin grey rims it’s hard not to notice the GT’s silhouette underneath. And draw comparisons.
This is probably less of a problem in isolation than it is when parked next to a box-fresh GT Speed Le Mans Collection car, resplendent in Verdant paint and Blackline Specification. Itself a limited edition model - there will be just 48 - it is an inescapable reminder that Bentley rather nailed the GT’s styling when it started with a clean sheet of paper. Just as it has a habit of nailing the interior when it makes all the trim choices itself. The Le Mans coupe costs £329,061 and drives with the same powerfully built intensity despite its output deficiency. No, it will not be fawned over and photographed at every set of lights like the Batur, nor provide an empty canvas for its buyer’s imagination or sit immobile in a collection somewhere so that it might relentlessly accrue value with every passing day. Which is probably why, in the dying light of a grey day, I liked it so much more.
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