► Update for the most Bentley of Bentleys
► £252k Speed’s V8 now good for 530bhp and 811lb ft, more torque than any other production saloon
► Three-car range also includes ‘basic’ Consummate (£229,360) and Extended Wheelbase (£275,000)
Now that the Bentayga furore has blown over, helped on its way by a gale of praise for the car’s startling dynamic prowess, the Crewe carmaker has seen fit to turn its attentions to Mulsanne, the flagship that serves as both the luxury bookend to the range (the race-inspired GT3-R sits at the other) and the purest expression of Bentley’s DNA. With more power, more refinement and the seventh-generation Rolls Phantom officially retired, is the Mulsanne now the finest exponent of British automotive luxury?
Are you sure this is new?
The engine, transmission, floorpan and much of the body (everything aft of the windscreen) are retained. Under the bonnet engine management software meddling has yielded additional power and torque. The sheet metal up front is fresh, and there’s a new infotainment system lurking within a familiar dash. But the big push has been on refinement, with numerous technologies to further hush and isolate the sanctuary that is the Mulsanne’s hidebound inner sanctum.
New lower control arms at the rear facilitate the use of the 20% bigger springs, for more cushiness for the same body control. Uprated suspension bushes combat vibration, as do active engine mounts. The latter serve not to grasp the engine more tightly in corners, for increased torsional stiffness, but to cancel unwanted vibration, particularly when the V8’s idling or running as a four with cylinder deactivation.
Elsewhere an innovation in tyre design, with a foam layer that helps reduce noisy deformation as the tyre moves against the road, moves the Mulsanne another 4dB closer to silence. The upshot of all this is a 25dB noise reduction overall, and the kind of serenity at speed Bentley is confident you won’t find anywhere else.
Naturally you’ve swerved a nap in the back of the Extended Wheelbase for a drive in the fast one?
Nap first, then a drive in the Speed. The Extended Wheelbase enjoys another 250mm of rear accommodation. Reach between the seats for a cool glass of Krug from the fridge. From the centre console summon an exquisitely engineered, angle-adjustable table, its fluid movement controlled by a complex array of springs and dampers. Lie back and an airline-style footrest will move to support your tired legs. Blinds ensure absolute privacy for your head-hunting/liver-wrecking/takeover-brokering activities in the back, while screens (also available on the Consummate and Speed) rise from the back of the front seats on demand, to be viewed in situ or plucked from their mounts and used as tablets, running Android software.
Bentley talk of the productivity such lavish amenities can help facilitate but truth is you’ll be asleep. Noise and vibration are not so much suppressed as annihilated. Up front, at sane speeds, it’s the same story: silence bar the faint hum of turbulence from the wing mirrors and the deep, pleasing voice of the 6¾-litre engine when you call on it.
And to drive? When you’re ready…
Invigorating, soothing, fabulous – the Mulsanne is all of these things. The Speed is all of them clicked up to 11.
Sink into the vast, buttery soft seat (multiple foam strata ensure a just-so union of luxurious initial give and enduring support), grasp the small but perfectly formed wheel and release the brake. Progress feels effortless but you can hear the V8 working hard just to move away – an early indication that every one of those 2685kg are along for the ride.
That said mashing the throttle into the carpet will wake the traction control (rear-wheel drive here remember, not the Bentayga or Continental’s all-wheel drive) and see you to 62mph in less than five seconds. The shifts from the eight-speed ZF ’box are exquisitely smooth and the roar of the engine under load nicely judged, being impressive and encouraging without growing intrusive. The air suspension rides with an imperious calm, though switching through the drive modes from Comfort to Sport helps quell the sense of complete detachment. This is still a car you drive quickly on blind trust, reciting the physics to yourself as a comfort blanket as you plunge into another fast turn.
Bentley are adamant driver involvement is the single big differentiator from its Goodwood-based sparring partner, and the truth is the Mulsanne is enjoyable to drive, provided you’ve sufficient space.
At speed on derestricted autobahn it’s sensational, bludgeoning aside hundreds of cubic metres of onrushing German atmosphere to cruise at 110mph in the kind of calm most cars afford at 70mph. By 150mph the violent physics going on outside finally penetrate the Mulsanne’s isolation chamber, but what price being able to close in on 190mph with few concessions to comfort and refinement? On flowing rural roads the Mulsanne Speed is similarly enjoyable, the whole plot admirably resisting roll as you thread that flying B on the nose between wake-battered verges via the not-as-woolly-as-you’d-think steering. The optional ceramic brakes are impressive too, offering repeated fade-free stops from speed and consistent, communicative feel at the pedal. The spell’s only broken when the road narrows, oncoming traffic looms and kerbs feel like they’re jumping for your wheel rims. In such instances all the leather in the world can’t calm your nerves.
Much clever tech for my £250k?
Much that you’d expect – adaptive cruise, 20-speaker Naim audio, 4G WiFi and a touchscreen infotainment system backed up by a 60Gb hard drive – together with some nice Bentley-appropriate touches, like the adaptive LED headlights that alter their beam based on GPS and speed for a more focused, long-range beam when you’re spearing down the motorway to a broader spread in urban areas.
Bentley have mused on the meaning of luxury in our tech-obsessed world and decided that, as BMW did with the 7-series, it means choice: technology when you want it that becomes invisible when you don’t. So those rear-seat screens disappear when you’re not in the mood, for a calming ambience, and in a similar vein the Bentley’s traditional instrumentation is a welcome deviation from full-width, high-resolution efforts now prevalent in the premium mainstream, but the main control panel falls short of stately elegance, being busy and cluttered, and it’d be nice if all evidence of the car’s 21st century sophistication could disappear on demand, leaving you free to reflect on the timeless appeal of a fast, handsome and very Bentley Bentley.