Two and a half tons. Bentley’s new flagship was never going to be a featherweight. But we like our Bentleys to be big, brutal, fast and, above all, British. Say hello to the most controversial face in motoring this year: the Bentley Mulsanne.
Parent company Volkswagen wanted the Mulsanne to share many of its components with Audi to save costsand thankfully the boys at Crewe were having none of it (although Audi’s brilliant new sat-nav has made its way into the Mulsanne’s dashboard, which is no bad thing). They rightly argued that it had to retain the very essence of what makes Bentley’s flagship motors so incredibly special. Which meant designing and developing the first completely bespoke Bentley since the beautiful and incredibly fast (for its day) 8-Litre in 1930.
All Bentleys for the past 80 years have shared either the Rolls-Royce or VW parts bin to some extent so this is a big deal for the company. The mighty V8 engine is entirely new, despite being based on a design that’s more than half a century old. The result is more power than ever before, a smoother delivery, and 15 percent less fuel pouring into its cylinders.
Inside it’s a glorious combination of new technology and old-world English style, turning the Mulsanne (named after the famous straight at La Sarthe) into the fastest gentleman’s club on wheels. Outside, well, you can make up your own mind. The Mulsanne replaces the antiquated Arnage, a car that originally started out as a Rolls-Royce and had gravitas by the truckload. And what Bentley has done with the front end of the Mulsanne has the party faithful frothing at the mouth. You either love it or loathe it, but to be honest that face looks better executed in the metal than in any photograph. The biggest problem could be the main headlamps, which are about the same diameter as a trash can lid.
We’ve become used to many designs that at first seemed too much to take in, quips Brian Gush (his real name), Bentley’s chief engineer and head of powertrain. The Rolls-Royce Phantom, for instance. People couldn’t get a handle on it when it was first unveiled but now it’s viewed as an iconic design. Time will tell but the really important thing is how this Bentley drives.
Did we mention this new Bentley weighs 2.6 tons? That’s a lot of metal to shift and this is where things get slightly surreal. For Bentley has turned this behemoth into a mighty driving machine that goes like a teenage boy on a promise. While many Mulsanne owners will no doubt be sat in the back while Parker takes care of steering duties, they’ll be missing out on an extraordinary experience behind the wheel.
It has an eight-speed automatic transmission that, if you want a bit of fun, can be controlled by shift paddles that are now (at last) mounted on the back of the steering wheel, preventing the age old problem of turning on the indicators when you actually wanted third gear. Floor the throttle and the Mulsanne thrusts forward at an alarming rate of knots in almost total silence. And defying the laws of physics is all in a day’s work for this car as it takes even the sharpest corners with only the merest hint of body roll. Amazing. It actually seems to shrink around you the faster you drive it, which is high praise indeed for the work Bentley’s designers and engineers have put into this.
And just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, at cruising speed the engine is able to shut down four of its eight cylinders to improve fuel economysomething you might be glad of after shelling out $300k to own the car instead of that nice beachfront apartment the wife had her eye on. That it pulls off this trick without any perceptible difference in driving feel is incredible and it makes you wonder why more manufacturers haven’t woken up to the potential it offers for reducing carbon quotas. With this one feat alone Bentley has managed to improve fuel consumption by 15 percent.
It’s an incredible car, the Mulsanne. For the fortunate few that are sufficiently well-heeled to own one, it will be something to treasure and, above all, drive at every opportunity. For the rest of us, well, it’s just comforting to know that a quintessential English company like Bentley has been allowed to retain its defining characteristics by the mighty Volkswagen. Sehr gut, ja? Absolutely.
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
6.75-liter V8, four overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, twin turbochargers
Fully independent, adjustable continuous damping front and rear
Six-piston calipers, 15.7-inch ventilated rotors (f), four-piston calipers, 14.6-inch ventilated rotors (r), ABS, electronic park brake
Peak Power: 505 hp @ 4200 rpm
Peak Torque: 752 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec.
Top Speed: 184 mph