The big Bentley roars back
Scotland. The last “big Bentley” to be designed entirely by the manufacturer was the 8 Litre, a stately limousine that first appeared in 1930. From that point on, the company, which suffered during the Great Depression, was controlled by rival Rolls-Royce. Of course, there was a car named the Bentley Mulsanne, produced from 1980-92, but it was based wholly on the Rolls-Royce Silver Spur/Silver Spirit, so it doesn’t really count. Eighty years is a long time to wait for a successor, but for the craftspeople who hand-build the all-new 2010 Mulsanne, it’s been worth the wait.
In essence, the Mulsanne replaces the Arnage as the flagship of the Bentley line, but there are few similarities between the two cars. The new big Bentley is longer, has a greater wheelbase and is both wider and taller than the Arnage. In fact, the Mulsanne is so massive, attention must be paid when driving along narrow roads or negotiating tight spaces. (During the drive event, two American journalists suffered the indignity of blowing both left-side tires after misjudging the width of the car and running off onto the shoulder of the road.)
The exterior design is, to these eyes, a fantastic example of modern coachwork. The bold face of the car features a mammoth stainless steel grille and classic round headlamps and outboard lamps that echo the design of the Bentley S-Type of the 1950s. The profile of the large saloon is, similarly, completely unique and incredibly stylish all at once. A retractable flying-B mascot for the radiator is optional, but for the presence it adds to the Mulsanne, it really should be considered a necessity.
(The options list for the Mulsanne is as long as your arm; anything you could possibly dream up, the fine people at Bentley have already thought of…or are prepared to custom-build upon request.)
While the entire line of Bentleys provides a very comfortable interior environment, this new addition definitely raises the stakes. The cabin is filled with more wood, leather and stainless steel than in any other Bentley. Unique touches include the ring of wood that surrounds the entire compartment, another unbroken panel encircling the dashboard and hand-finished stainless door sill tread plates.
The veneered picnic tables for rear-seat passengers, another option, make the chauffeur-driven Mulsanne a near-perfect workspace for the busy executive on the go. In terms of usability, the only concern is the thought of spilling a drink on the leather seats or scuffing the wood inlays with a cuff link. But everything in this Bentley has such heft to it (apart from the remote control for the entertainment system) that damage seems unlikely.
The Mulsanne offers room for four or five very fortunate adults, deep-pile carpeting, pure wool floor mats, individual climate controls for all seating positions, and seats that move forward and back, recline, (optionally) massage you and (optionally) warm or cool your jets. All of this adds up to a cabin that is the very definition of ultra-luxury.
When it comes to technology, the Mulsanne answers the call with a 60GB hard disc to drive a satellite navigation system and other auxiliary features, as well as an 8-inch multimedia screen that resides behind an immaculate, power-operated wood veneer door. Just below the screen, also hidden away, is a leather-lined drawer to store and connect your iPod, USB or other storage device. It’s about time someone designed an elegant way to hide ugly navigation screens and networks of cords—and it’s a little surprising that Bentley was the car builder to do it.
One final note on the interior amenities: For those who might easily be bored by the car’s whisper-quiet ride—it’s truly astounding and remarkably soothing— the optional Naim audio system cranks out 2,200 watts, and features eight dedicated digital signal processing modes and 20 custom-made speakers. When cranked up to 11, this system has the power to make your ears bleed. (No lie.)
In terms of its development, the Mulsanne was engineered to provide effortless performance. Mission accomplished. Although the engine type—a twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V8—is familiar to the Bentley line, it’s been completely revised and now produces 377 kW and a very healthy 1020 Nm of torque at 1750 rpm.
While the Mulsanne cannot match Bentley’s speedier models in terms of sheer pace, it’s no slouch either. The manufacturer estimates that the run to 62 mph (100km/h) from a standing start should take 5.2 seconds and the top speed should roll in at a lofty 184 mph (.296km/h) While the test drive through the glorious Scottish Highlands didn’t provide the opportunity to verify these figures—inclement weather and slow-moving traffic proved insurmountable—it did provide ample evidence that the car has significant reserves of power.
In the Bentley, the sometimes-fraught activity of overtaking on curvy two-lane stretches became ridiculously easy. There was no need to even hold lower gears through the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters—a first for the ultra-luxury segment—because the Mulsanne pulled easily in any of its eight forward speeds with the lightest tap of the accelerator pedal. Only the slightest hint of turbo lag was present, but immediately afterwards you could feel the car simply hunker down and push forward, its rear-wheel drive layout providing a sensation that actually verged on the sporting.
The new V8 is not only a very refined piece of engineering, it’s also fairly sophisticated. In order to meet more stringent emissions regulations and boost fuel efficiency, the Mulsanne features variable displacement with the valves to four of the cylinders shutting down when the engine is not stressed. This feature, combined with cam phasing, gives the engine a 15% improvement in fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions. The car scores 16.7 mpg (14L/100km) under the combined EU cycle rating.
The Mulsanne boasts an all-new chassis that is both lighter and stiffer than those of its immediate predecessor. The chassis is augmented by another first for the manufacturer: a new drive dynamics system with four settings ranging from sporty to more soothing. The car also features standard 20-inch wheels, a new double-wishbone suspension system and an air suspension system with continuous damping.
The chassis is augmented by another first for the manufacturer: a new drive dynamics system with four settings ranging from sporting to more soothing. These elements combine to create a ride that is composed without being remotely boat-like. While this Bentley could hardly be called a sport saloon, it definitely falls into the “surprisingly competent” category.
The 2010 Bentley Mulsanne has no small amount of “wow” factor, as one might expect for a car that retails for US$313,500. But this saloon is even impressive when that lofty figure is taken into account. From the unapologetic front grille on back, this is a shining example of what’s possible when corners aren’t cut and compromise never makes it out of the boardroom.
The Mulsanne is also, in many ways, a real throwback to the good old days of car manufacturing. Everything is hand-built in the company’s sole factory in Crewe, England, apart from a few suspension pieces borrowed from corporate parent Volkswagen. And, right now, there are 3,500 factory employees who should be proud at having engineered the return of the big Bentley.