The Chrysler 300 SRT-8 meets the Bentley Arnage R for no really good reason Daniel Pund I know a woman whose purse is fake. Well it's not fake, exactly. It is a purse. And it works. It works just dandy. Its supple blackness yields easily to her probing hand. She can fit everything she needs inside her purse - actually quite a lot more than she needs, really. It has "Gucci, Made in Italy" pressed into the side of what, I must assume, is not actual animal hide. A white tag inside her purse reads "Made in China." She purchased it for something like $20 in Florence, Italy, from an alley-dwelling gypsy. She is not embarrassed by her purse. In fact, she proudly shows her prize to her girlfriends, who coo and want to know where they can get one like hers. The point of all this escapes me, as now I've become badly distracted. Anyway, we tested a brand-spankin'-new Chrysler 300 SRT-8 and a Bentley Arnage R in Southern California recently and learned that crime pays. This is not to imply that Chrysler has stolen anything from the stately Bentley sedan to create its wildly successful 300C - certainly not for the new 425-hp hot-rodded SRT-8 version. In most ways these two cars couldn't be any more different. The Chrysler is a $39,995 car that makes a statement. The Bentley Arnage R is a $220,000 statement that happens to be a car. Also, the Chrysler is faster. The appeal of the Bentley is that it's aspirational - car-company parlance for something you cannot afford. It is first and foremost a signifier of absurd, basketball-player wealth - and that its driver may waste as damn much money as he sees fit. The Bentley is not, in any sense, necessary. This is why you must have it. There's an air of frivolity to the weighty Bentley. The appeal of the Chrysler is that it kicks ass. In England, a Bentley is a tool for maintaining a caste system - a constant reminder that you are not landed gentry. No, you are a methadonehazed, mud-eating labourer and you don't speak with an effeminate-enough accent to so much as look at it. Ah, but here in the United States things are very different. Any upstanding citizen can attain the sick wealth needed to buy a Bentley with hard work, some pluck, and, perhaps, a dash of moxie. Still, both are rear-drive, square-shouldered heavyweights powered by 6.0-plus-liter pushrod American V-8 engines making 400 or more horsepower. And both look silly wearing anything smaller than 19-inch wheels. The Bentley is a derby-wearing dandy that makes us feel like a fancy-boy driving it. And the Chrysler, with its chopped top, is a quintessentially American rod that Mercury should have built, but didn't. Yet they both cut the same image rolling down the road, trailing a strong whiff of hip-hop, and a touch of "fuck you." This is due largely to the fact that both the Bentley and the 300C (either the standard one or the hi-po SRT-8) are built to a different scale than your average Camry. They are 1:12-scale bruisers in a 1:18 world. This is to say that they are both old cars. Compare a 1955 Chevy to a 2004 Chevy Malibu. The Malibu, in addition to being terminally uncool, looks lower, skinnier, tinnier, less substantial, less...well, just less. And it's not just Chevy. Virtually all modern sedans look more lithe, light, and thin than their predecessors. With their visual brawn, upright proportions, high seating position, and substandard handling, sport utility vehicles are far more like old sedans than new sedans are. Chrysler has consciously produced a car that is retro in proportion, if not necessarily in style. It's the reason why there's a palpable excitement about the 300C and why folks in Kansas buy Malibus if, and only if, the price is right. For good and ill, Bentley never stopped building cars that now look retro in proportion and size. Despite appearances, the 300 SRT-8 drives nothing at all like an old car. Make no mistake; it is a muscle car of serious credentials (zero to 60 mph in five seconds flat!). But it is a thoroughly modern car in both feel and response. By "modern" we, of course, mean "German." Staple moves of old muscle sedans - the directional stability of a derailed freight train and steering with the immediacy of a rudder - are banished from this performance version of the 300C. The 300 SRT-8 rides on the same dual-control-arm front and sophisticated multilink rear suspension (a hand-me-down Mercedes-Benz setup from Chrysler's German overlords) as the standard 300C but with a half-inch lower ride height, stiffer springs and dampers, and thicker anti-roll bars. This 4200-pound German-American exhibits less body movement than your average opium addict. It doesn't roll. It doesn't squat. It doesn't dive. And it comes with 20-inch wheels straight from the factory, mounted with soft rubber for huge grip, excellent steering response, and premature balding. Though tweaked for 2005 with new headlights and a retuned suspension, the Bentley Arnage R feels the way Bentleys have for many years (and probably as Bentleys did before we were born), which is to say spectacular and disappointing all at once. With 616 pound-feet of torque from the 6.8-liter turbo V-8 and mass roughly equivalent to that of a Chevy Suburban, forward progress feels inevitable, effortless, and constant. Its heft and monstrous motive force plus its light, English luxury- car steering that's a little unresponsive for the first few degrees of steering-wheel angle combine to give the Arnage R what Bentley calls "waftability." This doesn't actually mean anything at all. That Bentley can get an almost 6000- pound Arnage to sprint to 60 mph from a standstill in less than six seconds is a Herculean achievement. And the R is the slower of the two available Arnage models. The T version adds 50 hp and chops a couple tenths of a second off that zero-to-60 time. Even the slightly bouffant R, a large box of chrome and wood veneer, moves out with such haste that you'd think Bentley invented torque - then kept most of the world's supply for itself. It just comes a-whooshing out, all turbo hiss, combustion moan, and the occasional SBD. The Chrysler isn't nearly as restrained or as quietly flatulent as the Bentley. It rips, loud and proud, from its 3.5-inch tailpipes. Hop into the Chrysler after a round in the Bentley and you won't believe how goddamn good it sounds. A trill performed loudly on the world's largest cello. Weighing about a ton less than the Bentley and endowed with immediate throttle response, the Chrysler more than makes up for its 196 poundfeet deficit in torque. Chrysler bored out its standard 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 to 6.1 liters for this application. A larger-diameter intake pulls in more air and rams it through high-flow heads with bigger valves (pushed by a higher lift cam) into the eight combustion chambers with a higher compression ratio, and, finally, out through tubular headers and down larger diameter exhaust pipes. A strengthened differential and halfshafts deal with the extra power, and the rear end uses different gearing to produce better acceleration. Chrysler didn't even bother to try to copy the jewelry box that is the Arnage interior. The craftsmanship is stunning. Bits of chrome set into glassy burl veneer glint throughout the cabin. You'll want to sit bare-assed on the leather. It's something like the cabin of a bespoke yacht. Unfortunately, it is also something like a British car. Meaning the window switches work opposite intuition, the mirrors are way too small for a vessel this size, the driver's compartment is surprisingly cramped, and the power-seat adjustment controls are hidden in a hole in the console. We took both cars on the obligatory mountain road. Here, the Bentley does amazingly well. Not good. But amazingly well. It's well balanced. Its steering is accurate. But it weighs almost 6000 pounds and won't ever let you forget it. It's something like achieving congress with a pig. It gets the job done, but it ain't exactly what you fantasized about. The pig doesn't like it much either. Besides, how can we be expected to drive aggressively while my heels are nestled in fluffy floormats? On the same road, the SRT-8 kicks ass. What did we learn from this little folly? Precious little, as usual. Perhaps that most cars with quarter-million-dollar price tags can't possibly justify them in practical terms - unless of course you have a quarter-million dollars to blow on a car. Or perhaps that, done correctly, a $40,000 car can be as desirable to a car-freak as a cost-no-object ride. Or that we'd take the Chrysler over the Bentley for even money. Just joking. The truth is that the main difference between these two cars is the ease with which the driver will attract a trophy wife. But then she's only going to want you to buy her real purses.