Wheels - The Sound and the Fury
The Bentley Mulsanne packs power behind the stereo — and the behind the wheel
The Bentley Mulsanne
If there’s one feature that sums up the new Bentley Mulsanne, it’s the car’s stereo volume control. Even though it’s been calibrated to give maximum power (all 2,200 watts of it) when the rotary switch hits the stop at 50, by the time you get to even half that number your ears are begging for mercy. That’s because the stereo, like the rest of the car, has been engineered to deliver well beyond even the most demanding driver’s desires.
Not that the Mulsanne broadcasts this fact (other than to the driver and occupants of the car). The design and layout — although echoing elements of the Bentley 8.0-liter from 1930 — are classic Bentley from stem to stern. It’s only when you slide behind the wheel that the performance communication really starts.
But even here, it’s not immediately obvious what’s in store until you’ve pressed the large starter button and ignited the fire in the belly of the new 6.75-liter V8 engine. Stretch a hand out in any direction and it’ll land on one of the traditional trappings of Bentleydom: a finely tanned swathe of leather; a cold chromed steel, organ stop-style air vent control; or a beautifully matched and polished chunk of real tree. There’s nothing to tell you this is anything other than more-of-the-same from Crewe.
Hit the button, however, and all illusions that this is anything other than an all-new replacement for the aging Arnage fly straight out of the subtly tinted windows and into the whisper-quiet slipstream. Even at walking speed, the car feels lighter, more precise, and generally wieldier than any of the current Bentleys. The fact that the Mulsanne only drives its rear wheels while all the other Bentleys pipe power to all four corners goes some way in explaining the purity of the steering feel.
This new Mulsanne has received the undivided attention of Bentley’s finest engineers and craftsmen, all of who have been itching to show the world what they can do. It’s been around 80 years since the company produced an all-new car of its own, the past decades being filled with models that were Rolls-Royce derived; and the Crewe crew haven’t held back in any department.
So, yes, the steering is crisper, because it doesn’t have to deal with the corrupting forces of power transmission and because the engineers have refined the assistance system to make it this way. The result, as it should be in a driver-oriented Bentley, is that you immediately feel engaged with the car and ready to explore all of its prodigious performance — performance that can take you as fast and as far as your heart and mind desire.
If it’s speed you want, the Mulsanne has got plenty of that to offer. Unlike many other cars, there is no limiter on this Bentley’s top speed, which allows it to vault all the way up to 184 mph in a manner you’d more reasonably expect of a Maserati or Mercedes-Benz AMG. There’s no lag, just one solid, relentless shove in the back until life and license dictate you slow down.
If fuel economy becomes important, the Mulsanne is equipped to offer that, too. When the car realizes that it can deliver the required performance on fewer than eight cylinders, it shuts down half the engine. Despite seeing consumption figures in the middle single digits when passing slower traffic on the shores of Loch Ness, a couple of times in steady cruising, the numbers jumped to a scarcely believable 40 mpg. That’s impressive for any car, never mind one that weighs almost 3 tons.
Likewise, the handling of the Mulsanne is far sportier than you would/could imagine for a car of this size. Showing its ingrained racing heritage, it doesn’t just manage its size well; its weight distribution has been honed to lower the center of gravity, weight up the rear-drive axle, and make the car shrink around you the faster you go. Spend more than a few minutes behind the wheel and you’ll be driving this land yacht like a sports car half its size.
And drive it you should, because unlike a Rolls-Royce Phantom (and, to a lesser extent, the new, smaller Ghost), the Bentley Mulsanne has been designed and built to focus on the driver. It can still act as a luxurious limousine when required. But to only use it like that would be missing the point. It’s much better to get behind the wheel, feel the finely weighted controls in your hands, and enjoy the special blend of luxury and performance that makes a Bentley such a unique proposition.
Just be as careful with the volume control as you are with the throttle and you’ll be fine.