Bentley Mulsanne saloon (2010 – ) first UK drive
Thursday 06 May 2010
The release of a new big saloon is a huge milestone for Bentley. The V8 range-topping machine defines the brand and demonstrates the company’s commitment to hand crafted, super luxury in a flagship large car. The Mulsanne is the replacement for the much loved Arnage, and while it might only take around 10 percent of the annual output, it represents a significantly larger proportion of the brand image.
First impressions have been mixed. Many questioned the Mulsanne’s styling when it was first revealed. I wasn’t one of them though, for what it’s worth, I reckon the Mulsanne blends just the right amount of subtle muscularity that’s long been a Bentley characteristic, with some real flair.
The exterior takes Bentley’s past and mixes in some future design elements – and the same is true of the interior. Traditional, with a blend of modernity, the Mulsanne is still a car that many cows have sacrificed their finest hides for. The dashboard is a true work of art, and the entire cabin is ringed by stunning, mirror finished, veneered wood. Combine that with soft leather everywhere else, just enough chrome and some piano black switches, and the Mulsanne feels like it’s worth every penny of the £220,000 asking price.
The controls all operate with solidity, the push-pull chrome ventilation knobs are a tactile treat and refreshingly old school, though behind the tradition is modern equipment to ensure that the Mulsanne works in this century. There’s a satnav system secreted away behind a wooden panel, featuring a 60 Gb hard drive and Bluetooth telecommunication. Bentley has even added a drawer within which you can drop your iPod, MP3 player or phone and connect it directly to the infotainment system.
Full gallery: the Bentley Mulsanne
Tradition runs strong with the Mulsanne, as the twin-turbocharged V8 is still bored out to a familiar 6.75-litres. Despite the tradition, this is no mere carry over from the Arnage. It’s been seriously re-worked to include cam phasing and variable displacement – which shuts down cylinders when they’re not needed to improve performance and economy. With 505bhp and a mighty 752lb/ft of torque it’s clear that Bentley has achieved its performance ambitions, while 16.7mpg and 393g/km on the combined cycle doesn’t sound brilliant, in context it’s actually quite impressive.
Given the Mulsanne’s bulk the 505bhp output might look a touch modest, but the enormous amount of torque makes up for that. The peak output of 752lb.ft is available from only 1,750rpm, so the Mulsanne delivers its performance with a mighty low down surge rather than high revving histrionics. As it should be, Bentley’s big saloon is about easy, accessible performance. Push the accelerator into the deep carpet and the Mulsanne will reach 62mph in just 5.3 seconds and keep going until it hits 184mph.
Coping with all that brute force is an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which offers a choice of Drive, Sport or manual override via wheel-mounted paddles. We’d avoid the latter, as with eight cogs and a low-revving V8 – it redlines at 4,500rpm – your digits will be busy on the small paddle-shifters. It’s best to leave it alone and let the gears slip into place almost imperceptibly whether you’re in Sport or Drive. The engine retains a dignified silence unless it’s asked to perform, only then will the V8’s voice be heard, though it’s never more than a quiet but purposeful background roar.
The fact that the Mulsanne is quick is no real surprise, but what does make you raise an eyebrow is its ability to use the power. Drive Dynamics Control means the Mulsanne driver has the choice of four different chassis settings. They’re linked to the steering too – Sport adds more weight and firmer damping, a Bentley ‘B’ setting is the best considered choice by the chassis people at Crewe, Comfort brings light steering and a super soft ride, while Custom allows the driver to tailor the chassis and steering to their own requirements.
Comfort does exactly as it says, as the pillow soft ride means the Mulsanne glides over even the most shocking of surfaces. Its limitations are revealed when the road becomes more challenging though, the Sport setting firms up body control and adds weight to the steering. Arguably, Sport adds too much meat to the wheel. It’s fine on long sweeping roads, but requires muscle to heave the Mulsanne into tighter bends. The best bet is to opt for Custom and mix lighter steering with the more direct chassis – doing so allows the Bentley to be hustled with alarming ease.
Which is really what it’s all about. It may be a big saloon but Bentley knows its customers like to drive rather than be driven. It also claims that the Mulsanne will join at least seven other cars in the owner’s garage. It shouldn’t need to, as Bentley’s big saloon does the work of all of them. At £220,000 – that’s just a starting point before you hit the personalisation options – the Mulsanne might look expensive, but consider it as a means for the super rich to downsize and it’s actually something of a bargain.
Model tested: Bentley Mulsanne
On the road price: £220,000
Price range: £220,000
Date tested: May 2010
Road tester: Kyle Fortune