The Air Up There

The following article was published in Elements Magazine in 2006. 

Two Exclusive Drop-Tops 

Believe it or not, the two cars profiled here are related, yet they are as different as day and night. Bentley and Lamborghini are both owned by Volkswagen and you can buy these babies at the same dealership on Long Island. Yet, that’s where the similarity ends and the distinctiveness begins.

BENTLEY AZURE

A proper and "real" Bentley--the British designed and built Azure.

Traditionally Speaking

There are some designs that are classic, and they are hardly meddled with: the Levis 501 jean; the Rolex Oyster wristwatch; and the Mont Blanc fountain pen, to name a few. Add to the list the Azure, the top-of-the-line convertible produced by Bentley in one variant or another since 1995. (The Azure took some time off in 2002 and has re-emerged this year, much like your neighbor after a visit to a Park Avenue plastic surgeon, with more vim and vigor than ever.)

This brawny Bentley’s lines are not “space-age” nor does it feature a bevy of aerodynamic add-ons and spoilers. In fact, Azure shares its face with the Arnage range of super sedans and is unmistakably “Bentley.” No complicated folding hard top on this baby, either: an electrically-operated, three-layer fabric roof (with a heated glass window) disappears under a leather-trimmed tonneau cover in about a half-minute.

The Azure is veddy British, which means it’s mechanically “traditional.” Propelling this hand-built car is a twin-turbocharged, 6.75-liter V-8 engine making 450 horsepower. This range-topper sits regally on 19-inch wheels and relies on a four-speed automatic transmission to get that power to the pavement. While the Azure may be one of the only flag-bearers for “tradition” in these modern times, it doesn’t eschew high-tech. The first use of carbon fiber in a Bentley appears on the Azure in the form of chassis braces to aid structural rigidity, yet you’ll have to crawl under the vehicle to see it. This contributes to the new Azure being about 300 percent more stiff than previous incarnations of the model.

Few cars can approach this level of decadence.

Inside, Bentley’s best is befitting of the breed. There’s a choice of premium wood veneers; a selection of luxuriously lush leathers in 21 colors; a dual-zone and split-level climate control system that features a dehumidifier; and of course, wool rugs that you’ll want to go barefoot on. In the end, that’s what tradition is about: it’s more than sight, it’s sound; it’s more than mere touch, it’s “feel.” For those who yearn for the days when ladies and gentlemen still drove in motorcars, this Bentley’s for you.

LAMBORGHINI GALLARDO SPYDER

A Lambo fit for Rambo--the brutish Gallardo Spyder.

La Dolce Rapidamente

Compared to Ferrari, Italy’s Lamborghini has a reputation of being a younger, crazier, louder, and flashier brand. While Ferraris have dominated racing circuits for more than a half-century, Lamborghini focused on being a more “style-oriented” brand. With Lambo’s latest offering, the Gallardo Spyder, little has changed and its style is at the “red line.”

Topless, at speed.

The Gallardo series is Lamborghini’s newest line of bahn-burners, and the Spyder has all the features that made the Gallardo the choice of hip-hoppers and pro athletes. There’s a 5-liter V-10 engine hurling 520 horsepower, a six-speed paddle-shifted transmission (a $10,000 option over the manual gearbox, but an alternative that most buyers will choose, according to the factory), and most surprisingly, four-wheel-drive. Putting power to the road with only two wheels would make the Gallardo a devilish handful; all four wheels providing traction harnesses and directs those 520 ponies in a safer manner. Massive Brembo brakes and 19-inch tires further attempt to control this bullish steed.

It's no Bentley inside, but at least it's faster.

The Gallardo Spyder’s fabric roof is raised or lowered via the touch of a button, but the absence of a lid doesn’t impact structural rigidity, due to extra bracing. When the roof’s down, the V-10’s song is the only thing the two passengers hear, as whispers and gasps of pedestrians are drowned-out. Those lucky two are treated to buttery-soft Italian leather seating, door surfaces, and well, pretty much leather everything. The fact that VW, Lambo’s parent, is a master at interior ergonomics is not lost on the Gallardo: this is no 1970s-era rattletrap with unmarked toggle switches. In fact, VW’s famed Audi Multi-Media interface makes operating the Spyder’s myriad electronic bells and whistles a breeze. Speaking of breezes, a rear window that doubles as a wind protector makes the cockpit a rather pleasant place at speed.

Delivering better reliability than Lambos of yesteryear, with an appearance that makes even Ferrari drivers take notice, there are many reasons to blow the kids’ college fund on a Gallardo Spyder. Besides, wind in the hair, a V-10’s wail, and racecar handling are more fun than getting some silly degree.

Bentley Azure

  • Base Price: $329,000 (estimated).
  • Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds; top speed of 168 mph.
  • Propulsion: V-8 twin-turbo, 450 horsepower; four-speed automatic transmission.

Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

  • Base Price: $225,000 (estimated).
  • Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds; top speed of 196 mph.
  • Propulsion: V-10, 520 horsepower; six-speed semi-auto transmission.
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