Bentley Mulsanne – Comfortably Fun
If you’re looking for sublime comfort with a racing heart, you could do no better than Bentley’s Mulsanne.
Just outside of Le Mans, France, the Circuit de la Sarthe hosts one of the most iconic races in all of motorsport: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Just under 8.5 miles long, the course originally gained fame for the extreme speeds achieved on its fantastically long straight, which the French call the Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, the English call “the Mulsanne,” and Bentley Motors calls “inspiration.”
Naming “the grandest of grand tourers,” as the company has it, after one of the fastest stretches of racetrack in the world could seem peculiar, until you drive a Mulsanne. The flagship of the Bentley fleet is as stately as any demanding royal could want, but it’s the almost incredulous sense of power waiting under the accelerator that separates this executive carriage from the rest. Even in the company’s large luxury saloon, it’s obvious: Bentley started in racing, and racing remains in Bentley.
The first iteration of the Mulsanne appeared in 1980, surprising crowds at the Geneva Motor Show with a 0-60 time of 7 seconds and a top speed of 135mph, which, at the time, made it the fastest Bentley ever built.
The current Mulsanne does better, saving nearly two seconds to 60 and topping out at a serious 184mph. The performance (all the more incredible considering the vehicle’s curb weight of nearly 6,000lbs) comes via a 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that was re-engineered recently to be lighter and more efficient than ever. Around town or cruising comfortably near 60mph, half the cylinders are deactivated and the Mulsanne runs as a four. The changeover is imperceptible, and it’s only one of the innovations that help the 505hp beast achieve 11mpg around town and 18mpg on the highway—not bad, all things considered.
Power gets to the 20-inch rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox with electronic shift interface (including the now-expected paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel) and the whole show is brought to a halt by a twin-booster braking system controlling 400mm discs in the front and 370mm discs in the back.
When you want to go, you go fast. And when you want to stop, you stop quickly. But as dramatically as the going and stopping are, all of it feels rather well composed, and that’s where the Mulsanne goes from being just a car to being a motoring experience—perhaps even more so from the back seats.
At just over 18 feet long and roughly seven feet wide, the Bentley makes a statement with its sheer size alone, but it’s the sublime design that gives the Mulsanne its presence, and what a presence it is. The aggressive front with its wide stance, formidable grill and “Flying B” hood ornament; the confident lines rising to shape the rear of the car; the strong wheels and miles of bodywork… The Mulsanne looks both expensive and comfortable, but its track heritage is there as well in a more subtle take on the “ready to pounce” crouch presented by the company’s GT3 racer. Open the doors, though, and it’s not racing that comes to mind. The words are sumptuous, plush, serene. Pure luxury in acres of hand-stitched leather. The rear seats, where many Mulsanne owners will likely spend some time, are grand. The same electronic adjustments available in the front seats and a massage function facilitate comfort while two video monitors (linked to a DVD and SD card media system) and his-and-hers wireless headphones ensure everyone stays happy with the on-board entertainment. There are fold-down tray tables for wine or work, and a remote control for those who want to direct front-seat media as well. Privacy shades raise and lower electronically, just like the windows, for when you get tired of people staring in at you—and you will.
The view from the front is as nice and as comfortable, with Bentley’s multi-featured infotainment system handling navigation (rather well, we believe) in addition to managing the excellent NAIM media center. NAIM engineers spend time with each Bentley model and customize the equipment selection and placement to best optimize the interior space for premium audio. The results are stunning. As for the navigation and media center, the screen is bright and clear, and input (via the touch-screen or via analog controls, as you like) is simple. We especially liked zooming in and out of the map with a simple turn of a dial. The system also manages climate controls, the hands-free phone, vehicle information and more.
Air vents are still opened and closed with Bentley’s iconic “organ pulls,” and they operate as smoothly as the ultra-smooth finish of the wood dash would suggest. Incidentally, the wood used in Bentleys, which are all hand-assembled, is grown in the company’s own forests and managed to ensure clean grain and optimum quality. You won’t find any thick knots cutting across your door trim or dash.
As nice as the rear seats are, it’s worth a vacation behind the steering wheel because at the end of the day the Mulsanne is a Bentley, and Bentleys like to be driven. Pressing down on the milled accelerator (neatly styled with a nod to the company’s past), the 7,500lb-ft of torque practically surges through you, and the car insistently launches forward. It’s a bit of magic from the Bentley engineers, but as quick as the car is (0-60 in 5.1 seconds) it never feels abrupt.
Power delivery is smooth through the seamless range of gears, and high speeds are achieved seemingly effortlessly. That’s not to say the experience isn’t thrilling. If you push the car, it will surpass you; you’ll get pressed back in your seat (rather than “thrown”) in tremendous style, but with no loss of control. In turns it’s as well behaved and as able as you are. Several driving modes, easily selectable via a rotary dial on the console, tailor the suspension and performance for the kind of experience you’re after, as plush or as firm as you like. In all modes, the Mulsanne is capable beyond what one might think for a car of this size, performing exquisitely at speed or around town, easily negotiating curves in the road or gliding over potholes with nary a shudder. Steering is precise but not twitchy, as is appropriate for a tourer, and visibility is good, which is important for something that takes up this much lane real estate.
In a major metropolitan area, navigating through a sea of bicycle messengers, double-parked cars and small, twisting streets with no parking, the back seats are preferable. But if you’re planning a trip through the country or simply have a decently long commute, one could hardly do better than to take the Mulsanne. No matter where you arrive, you’ll make a grand entrance.
Find out more about the Bentley Mulsanne and more at bentleymotors.com