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Bentley Mulsanne review (2010 onwards)
Bentley has crafted a very special car in the new Mulsanne. A supreme performer, it has character en masse and an interior to savour. Bentley boys and girls should be proud...
We like: interior design and quality, oh-so special feel, dominant engine, lithe handling, fittingly firm-gliding ride
We don't like: rear not as decadent as a Rolls-Royce, awkward boot space
Bentley proudly proclaims the Mulsanne is its first all-new large car since the 1930s' 8-Litre. That was the last to be overseen by WO Bentley; his life's work. The Mulsanne is similarly epic, the clean-sheet design which thousands at Crewe have been quietly crafting. "Creating this is an honour," said the car's project manager.
It's a big and imposing car, 5.5 metres in length. You can fit a Smart in between the wheels, with space to spare. It's very elegant too, more understated than a Rolls-Royce. Discretion means the chrome is subtle, contours delicate, nose pronounced but not prominent.
Our favourite aspect is the rear haunches, with organic bulges from the rear arches that look coupé-esque. It's such a complicated shape to create, it's only made possible by craftsmen hand-beating the panels. 124 colours are offered to show it off; there's a bespoke paint colour option, too...
It takes nine weeks to build a Mulsanne, and from £220,000 to buy one. Interestingly, Bentley has positioned it right between rivals Ghost and Phantom from Rolls-Royce, and is billing it as the imperiously home-grown alternative to Goodwood's newfound hi-tech sophistication. Have the efforts of 2,000 people in Crewe been worth it? We found out.
Bentley considered, but eschewed, an all-new engine. Not for it an enforced share with VW Group sister company Audi, either. Instead, the famed 6.75-litre V8 twin-turbo has been rejuvenated. Exhaust gases meet the same standards as a Toyota Prius; in time, it will use green E85 Bioethanol fuel, too.
It's a mighty engine that's all about torque. The most extraordinary stat is the Euro-speak maximum: 1,020Nm, virtually from idle. This, and the redline set at 4,600rpm, tells you all about the character here. It's one of power, dominance, total rule. Bring out the big guns? Instantly, at the merest tweak of the throttle.
The twin-turbos' elimination of lag helps here (you'll rarely know they're there), as does the clever eight-speed auto's intelligent yet imperceptible shifts. The pistolgrip shifter has a sport mode, and there are paddleshifters if you must: it's more natural to let pulling power pull you past others, though.
It sounds the business - refined, yes, but with just enough bassy V8 woofle to make it sound like a machine, rather than a device. Deep and purposeful, in contrast to a Rolls-Royce's silent sophistication. Totally beguiling, it oozes Bentley Boy brilliance. 184mph and 0-60mph in 5.1secs for a 2.5-tonne car aint bad, either...
Ride and handling
The moment you pull away, you can tell the Mulsanne is air-sprung. It has that characteristic gliding, floating feel to the ride that instantly sets it a cut above cheaper models - helped here by the considerable weight damping out virtually any disturbance. It floats along like, ahem, a magic carpet.
Bentley has also very successfully tuned out low-speed pitter-patter, despite the huge 20-inch wheels. It can firmly thump, admittedly, but mostly it simply glides, crushing any roughness with its might. So, you fear, this makes it beastly through the corners, too? Not so; here is the bizarre contrast of modern cars.
Bentley has given the Mulsanne sharp steering, quick responses and planted agility far beyond its size. Electronic suspension has several modes, of which we preferred the Sport setting. This cut roll and added off-centre weight to the delicate steering. You can customise these settings yourself, mind, should you want it yet sportier.
It's a big car but you can do smaller-car-like things in it; Bentley has used the stiffer platform to good effect, eliminating the imprecise wallow of the Arnage without destroying ride. Again, compared to the Rolls-Royce, it's much more of a driver's car - just be prepared for the surprise of onlookers with what you're doing with it.
The Mulsanne has probably the most wonderful interior of any saloon in production. Bold claim, but such is the design, detail and craftsmanship diligence that is evident the moment you step on deep-pile carpets and into high-set, soft-leather seats. Soft, yet supportive: a contradiction the rest of the interior matches.
See, Bentley customers like technology, but don't like to see it. So latest-gen (VW-derived) sat nav and other gadgetry are there - but hidden behind leather-finished electric covers. While there's climate control, it uses glass-style buttons that hark back to 1920s Bentleys. Adjust stereo volume remotely - using a controller bezelled like a cigar lighter. It's wonderful.
Every metal-look component is real metal. The wood is real wood - even the wood onto which it's mounted. At the insistence of the Bentley top man, a 'ring of wood' circles the cabin, and if you like the pattern on the left, look right: there it is, perfectly mirrored. Probably no car beats this.
It's not perfect. While the rear cabin is roomy, it's not palatial like a Rolls-Royce Ghost, and a bar below the front seats can snag inquisitive feet. The boot is short, too. But that's it. When you have an interior this finely crafted, by people of the highest skill, it's best to simply just stand back in genuine admiration.
Economy and safety
OK, Bentley, it's more economical. But you try telling that to the eco-conscious, who will have kittens at the quoted 16.7mpg average. CO2 emissions are also 393g/km, or 4 Ford Fiesta Econetics' worth. At least it has tecchy cylinder cut-off to reduce the V8's demand for fuel - and fear not here: you'll never detect it.
As it's massive, modern and also boasts the full might of VW Group's safety engineering department, the Mulsanne is therefore a very safe. Cars of this price don't get Euro NCAP crash-tested, but they do still use the latest anti-skid ESP controls, plus structures engineered to fully protect their powerful occupants.
The MSN Cars verdict
Bentley admits it was daunted by the challenge of recreating the 8-Litre. But, WO Bentley, you can rest easy. Your modern-day people have done a sterling job, blending cutting edge dynamics and engine performance with the sort of interior character and quality that would make you proud.
The Mulsanne is special enough to justify the expense. Buying it gets you a piece of craftsmanship that's discreetly beguiling to look at and distinctive to drive. It's the analogue, living alternative to Rolls-Royce's technical brilliance. We deeply admire both. Let the heart rule, though, and the Bentley gets our vote...
|Need to know|
|Petrol engine||6.75-litre V8 twin turbo, 8-speed auto|
|Top speed (mph)||184|
|Ratings out of five|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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