25 May 2013
The Mulsanne is the first all-new bespoke Bentley in 80 years and is an important model for a company that took a bit of a beating during the recession (sales fell from 10,014 to 4,700 between 2007 and 2009). A £220,000 luxury limousine with a sporting twist that is in keeping with Bentley’s Le Mans-winning heritage, the Mulsanne is the company’s new flagship model, replacing the Arnage. Its looks are little controversial, with many critics finding its external styling a little too idiosyncratic for their tastes, but there’s no doubting its performance.
Bentley has built a totally revised and re-engineered version of the 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V8 Bentleys have used since the 1950s. The basic block might be the same size, but the components (lightweight pistons, etc) are all new, forged from the latest materials. The new powerplant also uses the latest engine technology in an attempt to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Cam phasing and variable displacement combine to allow the Mulsanne’s engine management system to adjust the engine idle quality and torque delivery, and also close the valves of four of the eight cylinders for maximum fuel economy when cruising. But despite being more efficient, the Mulsanne’s V8 engine still produces a staggering 505bhp and 752lb-ft of torque (only the Bugatti Veyron produces more of the latter). Peak torque is available from just 1,750rpm, so there’s an enormous wave of pulling power on tap, which thrusts the car forward unfeasibly quickly for such a big car: 0-60mph is racked up in just 5.1 seconds, the kind of speed that most sports cars would be proud of. Acceleration is extremely rapid, especially when you provoke that whomping, burbling V8 by flooring the throttle. When you back off and let the Mulsanne cruise along, though, it’s almost whisper-quiet, with just a hint of wind noise. The engine is mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission that changes quickly and smoothly, but also allows manual cog-swapping via a pair of steering wheel-mounted paddleshifts. It’s a great ‘box, but eight gears definitely overegg the transmission pudding. It’s also a bit irritating that you can’t stay in the manual mode, as it switches back into auto too quickly: when enjoying the involvement of a drive on a twisty road, you find yourself going down through the ‘box three or four gears each time you approach a bend, which rather detracts from the driving experience.
The Mulsanne is, by any standards, a big car: its vital statistics – 5.57m long, 1.92m wide and a weight of 2,585kg – give an idea of how just large it is. But despite its size and bulk, this new Bentley handles superbly. The steering is excellent: sharp and accurate, it allows the car to change direction in a manner that belies its size. And when you do change direction, especially at speed, body roll is incredibly well contained, with no hint of the kind of wallow you’d expect from a car that weighs as much as the Mulsanne does. There’s also plenty of grip and its rear-wheel drive makes a significant contribution to the entertainingly sporty feel of the car. Of course, it could never be described as agile, but the engineering expertise that goes into building the car overcomes the natural disadvantages of its dimensions. The handling characteristics also do nothing to detract from the quality of the ride, with the usual Bentley standards intact. An adaptive suspension system with four settings – Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Custom – alters the degree of floatiness, but even in its most dynamic mode, it still manages to soak up the broken and uneven surfaces with ease. Turn the dial to Comfort and the Mulsanne’s occupants are treated to an experience that is almost ethereal in its waftiness: at low speed in urban environments, there’s no hint of any unsettling influence and the suspension remains compliant and cosseting.
The Mulsanne is largely hand-built by a team of craftsmen and women, with each car taking 480 hours to construct. The degree of attention that is involved in building the car is a good indication as to the exemplary quality of every aspect of it. So for example, some of the panels are shaped using a process called superforming, which involves heating the panel into the shape it’s meant to take, which is retained as it cools; the roof is hand-braised on to the body and then buffed to such a degree that it’s impossible to see the join; the leather for the seats is cut and stitched by hand; and the wood veneers are mirror matched to ensure continuity. All in all, the Mulsanne is built to a standard that is only really matched by Rolls-Royce (its biggest rival) in the car industry. The levels of privacy that Bentley owners maintain mean that there is no real data on reliability, but we imagine that the level of service one receives for a £220,000 car is such that any problem (if one ever arises) would no doubt be fixed very quickly.
You don’t crash test a Bentley: deliberately impaling a handcrafted car on concrete posts is tantamount to automotive heresy, so we don’t know for sure how the Mulsanne will react in the event of an accident. However, most vehicles crashing into this two-and-a-half-tonne behemoth would probably come off second-best. Safety comes in the form of a steel monocoque that has energy-absorbing crumple zones at the front and rear; 10 airbags (driver and passenger, plus head and thorax ‘bags in the front and rear); three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners for all five seats; Isofix child seat anchors; tyre pressure monitor; electronic Stability Control (ESC) with ABS anti-lock brakes, traction control, hydraulic brake assist, electronic brake prefill and automatic hill-hold control; twin-booster braking system with ventilated discs and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD); park distance control all round; adaptive cruise control; and LED lights front and rear. Security measures – very important for a car that costs as much as the Mulsanne – includes keyless entry system, vehicle immobiliser and interior volumetric alarm system.
The Mulsanne, for all its sporty qualities, is, in the final analysis, a limousine, so it has all the space you’d expect to find in the front and back. The seats are some of the most comfortable we’ve ever had the privilege to sit in and adjust electrically in every direction you can imagine. You can also add the option of having ventilation and a massage function for even more comfort. The driving position is superb, with good visibility all around and side-view cameras to help see along corners despite that long bonnet. You can stretch out fully in the back, there’s plenty of headroom and there’s enough room for three adults on the rear bench. Rear-seat passengers can also control the infotainment system with a remote control that has its own cubby. And talking of the infotainment system, the Mulsanne might be traditional to the eye, but it also has all the latest technological developments. So there’s an 8-inch screen that emerges from behind its own veneered panel that displays all the functions, including satellite navigation, DAB radio, telephone system with Bluetooth wireless connectivity, 60GB hard drive, 6CD changer, plus all the necessary connectivity for iPod and MP3 players inside a dedicated leather-lined drawer in the dash that slowly opens at the touch of a button. The optional sound system is also mind-blowingly good: a superb state-of-the-art 14-speaker audio system by Naim, it pumps out an incredible 2,200 watts through 20 speakers.
The Mulsanne, even in its most basic form, costs £220,000, a sum that can only be afforded by the very richest members of society. Add a few optional extras and the price soon rises beyond £250,000. But you don’t buy a Mulsanne if your bank balance is going to take a significant hit, so it would be unfair to mark it down in this category. After all, if you have that kind of money to spend on a car, it constitutes good value. In terms of running costs, it’s pretty much a question of if you have to ask, you can’t afford them. Fuel economy of 16.7mpg on the combined cycle is around what one would expect (although the Rolls-Royce Ghost’s 20.8mpg betters it) and CO2 emissions of 393g/km mean that it’s positioned in Band M for vehicle excise duty, which will cost £950 in the first year and £435 in subsequent years. Residual values should be decent, but the Mulsanne won’t be as good an investment as a Picasso lithograph. The previous Arnage retained around 44% of its value after three years and 60,000 miles, which is a good indicator of how the new model will fare.
Submitted: 06/05/2010 13:33:31
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