Augustine gave up the wine, women and wanton frolicking of his youth to devote himself to spiritual pursuits. A 16th-century monastery stands here today in his honor, staffed by monks who are members of the Order of Augustinian Recollects (La Orden de Agustinos Recoletos, in Spanish).
What better place to renounce horsepower for the sake of horsepower, to embrace what adherents to that consumptive theology consider heresy — the doctrine of responsible horsepower?
But that is what Bentley — now owned by Volkswagen of Germany — did here. And it did it before the world, announcing its partial change of heart to several groups of international automotive journalists.
“Partial?” Yes. Giving up the pleasures derived from satisfying one’s appetite for sex and power is difficult. Consider Saint Augustine’s famous prayer: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
Similarly, Bentley officials strove mightily here to explain that their company’s belated turn toward environmental grace does not mean it is jettisoning “Bentley’s DNA.” They could’ve put their message this way: “We’re not going to sin as often or as egregiously as we’ve sinned in the past on our new road to redemption. But we’re still going to have fun getting there.”
Long test drives here and in neighboring jurisdictions in northern Spain amply demonstrated their point.
The new Bentley GT, scheduled for commercial release in the spring as a 2013 model, comes with a smaller engine — a 4.1-liter V-8, vs. the previous 6.1-liter W-12 to which Bentley aficionados have grown accustomed. But it still produces a humongous 500 horsepower at 6,000 rotations per minute and enough torque to twist you into oblivion — 487 foot-pounds delivered over a range of 1,700 to 5,000 rotations per minute.
The car launches from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and does so with a tailpipe burble and growl loud enough to irritate the most pious of sleeping saints.
Bentley officials are hoping that the new engine’s 40 percent improvement in fuel economy (moving from 19 to 26.6 miles per gallon on the highway) and a concomitant reduction in tailpipe pollutants will please new customers as well as placate government regulators who are pushing for less-consumptive, lower-polluting cars and trucks worldwide. But the company is hedging its bets.
Sex sells much better than copies of “The Confessions of Saint Augustine,” and there are lots of wealthy sinners still out there with the desire and money to buy a genuine Audi/Volkswagen-sponsored W-12, starting at $189,000. Bentley wants that cash and, for the time being, will keep the W-12 among its offerings.