Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
Bentley Mulsanne review (2011 onwards) track test
Model: Bentley Mulsanne
Bodystyle: four-door luxury saloon
Engine: 6.75-litre V8 twin-turbo
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Date of test: September 2012
What is it?
The Mulsanne arrived in 2010 to replace the ageing Arnage as the pinnacle of the Bentley model range: an ultra-luxury limousine which simultaneously exudes a certain British class along with a very firm statement of great material well-being. You don't have to be a 'somebody' to drive a Mulsanne - but it definitely helps to carry it off if you are.
The Mulsanne starts at £225,900, but most owners add at least £30,000 worth of extras from the vast option list.
Where does it fit?
The Mulsanne fits neatly price-wise between the £170,250 Ghost and £276,275 Phantom limousines, both from arch rival and former partner Rolls-Royce; that company is now run by BMW, while Bentley is owned by Volkswagen. And they more or less have this space to themselves, now that the ill-fated Maybach from Mercedes-Benz has disappeared from the price lists.
Is it for you?
If you want to hoon around racing tracks like we did, well frankly not. There was definitely something marvellously counter-intuitive about throwing this vast 5.6m long car about. And going sideways in a car that weighs 2.6 tons (without humans or fuel) is something every person should do at least once.
But in truth no Mulsannes will do this in real life. No the Mulsanne is a car that makes a statement, and a surprisingly subtle one. A Rolls-Royce always stands for something timeless in the automotive world, and in the shape of the Phantom the statement is loud and plutocractic. The Mulsanne's image is a different one.
What does it do well?
Waft effortlessly. Our two-hour journey to and from the circuit gave us a chance to feel the car from both driver and passenger seat. Its engine is one of the few parts of the car that is little changed from the Arnage; it is the same big-block V8 complete with push-rods and two-valves-per-cylinder.
Only two enormous turbos remind us this is 2012, not 1959 when this engine first saw the light-of-day. It delivers 505hp - but the key number to know if the torque: 752lb ft available from just 1,750rpm. On the motorway, a squeeze of the throttle will surge the vast machine forward and off to a top speed of 184mph.
It purrs along in serene silence, the lazy V8 barely cracking 2,000rpm at 80mph. The main noise comes from the wind as this rather large slab of metal moves through the air, and as the vast tyres roll along. The redline comes along at a dieselesque 4,500rpm.
Stability is effortless too, and the car has an uncanny ability to persuade other cars to get out of its way.
Tom at the wheel of the Mulsanne at the Anglesey Circuit
What doesn't it do well?
Go around racing car circuits. While as I said above there is something devilishly fun about it, this is not the car's natural home. The steering even in sporty mode is not accurate enough to invite over-spirited driving, and something this large is never going to enjoy changing direction over-rapidly.
The car will not unstick itself unless very provoked with traction control on, and with it off you become uncannily aware that opposite lock on a quarter-of-a-million's worth of someone else's car may not be big or clever. The eight-speed ZF slushbox is also not geared up for such driving either.
The brakes are huge and reassuring - but anchor hard before a corner and you can feel the vast bulk loading up on the car, giving the car continuing momentum that is not helpful when trying to head the car in a different direction.
It is cosseting and comfortable, and the air suspension can be set between delivering comfort and sportiness. However, the comfort level is not as soft as I would have liked, while the sport setting hardly turned the car into a Porsche 911, despite the promises of a 0-60 time of just 5.1 seconds.
As ever, we must remind ourselves that this is a car designed if required to spend its days barrelling down an autobahn at 150mph+, and a suspension designed purely for comfort will never be able to do that. A Rolls-Royce's 'magic carpet' remains the gold standard for ride in this class.
What's it like to live with?
The sumptuous quality of the car is evident. The wood is immaculate and polished; everything that looks metal is metal; you get the feeling the craftsmen who hand-build the car in small numbers in Crewe (see photo gallery) would rather die than fit plastic metal to this car. The plastic itself when it does occasionally appear manages not to feel like plastic.
The thick carpets cosset, as do the huge, thick leather seats. There can be few better places to return to after a night at the opera. The fact the car shares many parts with lesser corporate brethren is better hidden than in cars like the Ghost.
While a tour of the Bentley production line after our test revealed many a Mulsanne-bound part stamped with VW AG or four-rings-in-a-row, these are all safely hidden away. The most obvious Audi-derived part is the sat-nav, but this is a top-of-the line item pinched from the new-generation A8 and delivers outstanding high-definition graphics and excellent usability.
One surprising aspect is the size of the boot; at 443 litres, it is 21% smaller than that of a Mercedes S-Class, and (hilariously) 8% smaller than that of an Audi A4. The vast 96-litre fuel tank together with a battery of electronics behind the rear seats explain this - but is a factor that could cause an owner practical problems. The good news for Bentley is that Rolls-Royce face similar challenges; the boot of the Phantom is only 460-litres.
How green is it?
The best that can be said on this front is that any Mulsanne you buy is not likely to need to be replaced on this earth for a very long time. Combined mpg is 16.7, while CO2 of 393 g/km is unlikely to win this car many friends at your average climate change conference.
Press on and you may not see double-figures, while taking it easy at 70mph we did manage to crack 20mpg.
Would we buy it?
I was not taken with the look of the new car when it was first unveiled at the Pebble Beach auto show in August 2009; those vast headlights, the surprisingly anonymous rear. The design has since grown on me a lot since and while no thing of beauty, it is undeniably handsome and oozes class.
For me the Bentley name has always been raffish and flexible, and wears positive sporty credentials. Most car people associate it with a certain playful bounderish-ness , and as such while I don't think I could ever drive a Phantom regularly, I think I could a Mulsanne.
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