The ultimate in Bentley's stable goes for a run in the Middle East.
There are few cars that make the journey the highlight rather than the destination, but the Bentley Mulsanne Speed is one such rarity.
To properly experience a Mulsanne Speed, one must have purpose. For us that was the exploration of the two great cities in the United Arab Emirates: Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The distance between the two competing cities is about 146km and Google Maps gives a very conservative two-hour travel time guideline. In reality, with speed limits of about 120km/h (with what felt like a thousand speed cameras along the way), the journey really isn’t longer than 90 minutes — even when exercising the 20km/h tolerance on the myriad speed cameras.
Unlike Australia, where exotics and ultra-luxury cars are quintessentially unique, the UAE is home to tens of thousands. Even so, with more Lamborghinis and Ferraris than we’ve seen even in Monaco, the Mulsanne Speed, particularly in this gorgeous Marlin blue — which Bentley says was inspired by the shade of deep ocean waters — certainly stood out.
For first timers to the UAE, the experience of driving is rather different to pretty much anywhere else in the world we’ve been. There is that manic ‘make your own way’ nature found in Paris and most of Italy while the highway consists of those that wish to do 300km/h in the left lane and others that seem to think 70km/h is perfectly reasonable in the lane over. This of course, creates a rather challenging environment.
Add to this a car that measures 5575mm long and 2208mm wide (2685kg kerb weight) and you only just start to get an idea of the challenge.
The locals don’t mess around. Often we would found ourselves being tailgated in the left lane at well past the speed limit by a Lamborghini Aventador or at one stage a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Usually the word ‘tailgating’ in Australia means someone sitting pretty close to your rear bumper and agitating to get past, in the UAE, it means someone less than 10cm away from rear-ending or running you off the road.
Not that we would ever hug the fast lane unnecessarily, but the delta between what the speed limit is and the local’s idea of what the speed limit is, makes for an entertaining highway drive.
Thankfully, the Bentley Mulsanne Speed comes prepared for basically anything. With an insanely powerful 6.75L twin-turbocharged V8 engine, the British ultra-luxury sedan puts out 395kW of power and 1100Nm of torque — that’s more than the Bugatti Veyron.
It will hit a top speed of 305km/h — worth noting if you’re a UAE resident — and will move its incredible mass from a standstill to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds. It has a 95L fuel tank and loves to drink – not worth noting if you’re an UAE resident - with official figures of 14.6L/100km, but about 20L/100km in reality.
Ultimately and despite its speedy name, the Mulsanne is meant to represent the flagship of the brand and unlike other Bentley models such as the Continental, the Mulsanne Speed is best experienced from the back seat.
Be it the perfectly crafted fold out tables that stick to a laptop or the dozens of massage functions one can enjoy while working (or sleeping), the Mulsanne would make an ideal choice for the ultra-busy entrepreneur that values time and luxury as a unbreakable formula, over all else.
In the extreme comfort and unbelievably quite interior of the Mulsanne Speed, we traversed the roads of Abu Dhabi to visit both the Emirates Palace and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, two amazing architectural masterpieces that highlight the cultural projections and substance of the UAE.
Wherever the Bentley stopped, it immediately became a hot spot for people wishing to take ‘selfies’ with it. At one stage we had to force our way through a busload of tourists just to get back in to the Mulsanne.
From there we travelled northeast along the E11 to hit Dubai, which is best described as a mixture of Hong Kong, Silicon Valley and Las Vegas on steroids (without the pollution, tackiness and gambling-focus of those respective cities).
On the highway the Mulsanne Speed is a force to be reckoned with. Once it gets going, its ability to effortlessly maintain high-speed or further increase speed (thanks to its enormous torque) is a delight. Although it’s rear-wheel drive only, we never felt any loss of grip thanks to the 265/40/R21 tyres.
Its weight does come at the compromise of stopping power however, and despite 400mm front and 370mm rear ventilated brakes, it can at times require far more distance to stop than one would initially expect.
Dubai is one giant strip, with traffic. Lots of traffic. You can sit at an intersection waiting to turn left for over 45 minutes, which we did at one stage. Thankfully, the 2,200 Watt Naim audio system (14-speaker) of the Mulsanne makes traffic enjoyable, while rear seat passengers can watch TV or other media via wireless headphones if they so wish.
The actual interior of the Mulsanne is hard to fault. The level of craftsmanship is extreme, everything from the air vents, which felt so heavy and well constructed that we were convinced they were formed out of a single piece of metal, to the leather and the general use of wood, composite metals and other materials is only really comparable to a Rolls-Royce. Even then, the Bentley posed a better blend of luxury with modern values than its BMW-owned rival.
Highlights of the Speed’s interior over the standard Mulsanne include diamond quilted hide door panels and seats as well as indented hide headlining with Bentley emblems on all seats, a ‘coined’ finish to interior door handles, knurling to the sports gear lever and “organ stop” ventilation controls.
Our biggest gripe with the Mulsanne Speed was the infotainment system, which the British manufacturer has taken straight from parent company Volkswagen’s parts catalogue. But unlike, say, the latest version of MMI that Audi uses, the Mulsanne’s felt slower, harder to use and overly complicated for performing basic tasks.
Once we ventured inside Dubai, we engaged the Sport mode, which modifies the air suspension and steering system for a more dynamically capable experience. This is best noticed venturing onto a tight off ramp of Dubai’s main highway as the Mulsanne Speed forgoes body roll in favour of a more planted approach. The steering gets much heavier too, though we found that rather annoying, so we customised the suspension to sport and the steering to comfort for the best of both worlds.
Essentially, one would expect Sport mode to only be used when the owners are driving themselves, because the standard comfort suspension mode absorbs basically every pothole we found, so much so we went looking for more to prove a point.
Despite its enormous size, we managed to fit the Mulsanne Speed in the smallest of underground car parks both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The turning circle (12.9m) is reasonable for a car its size and any driver worth their salt should have no problems maneuvering the beast.
Though you will most likely want a very competent driver to make the most use out of your Mulsanne Speed, driving it yourself is a very rewarding experience, which is perhaps the best way to differentiate it to a Rolls-Royce, as is the $733,387 price tag.
Parked out the front of the Armani Hotel at the Burj Khalifa, the Mulsanne Speed felt right at home. While it still possesses some of the DNA that makes it the Bentley of old, for us, it was a great combination of classic luxury values, mixed with technological knowhow and all-but unrivalled class.