– Appears expensive
– Cabin trimmed like a sofa
– Very powerful engine
– As expensive as it appears
– Drives like a sofa
– Very thirsty engine
We drove the Bentley Arnage in its final years back in 2008, a car that was a by-product of the VW-BMW takeover battle a decade earlier. Positively massive on the outside, not particularly large on the inside, and fitted with an engine that could be traced to the 1950s, it was a dinosaur that held immense charm. But then again, it was still a dinosaur, so VW-owned Bentley set to work on a modern replacement, the Mulsanne.
The Mulsanne is still a big car, retaining certain Bentley styling cues such as the grille and the tail lamps, but also creating new ones, such as the awkward headlight combo and the flared rear fenders. It looks as long as a limo, and that’s why you’ll never look right driving it as you would be as a rear-seat passenger.
The cabin retains even further Bentley styling cues. Beyond the stitched leather on each and every inch of interior that isn’t covered in thick real wood, there are the push-pull vent switches for the metal a/c vents, the big “B” on the metal shift-knob and the countless mirror-finished trim bits. Even the coin-holder is padded with leather!
As for space? Yes, there is space. And lots of it. The seats are all mildly bolstered and cushy. And the back ones can lean and massage too. However, the rear isn’t designed to carry a third passenger in the middle comfortably, while the boot space is ridiculously cut short by what we assume is a nuclear generator behind the rear seatback, although still wide enough for the ubiquitous golf-bags. You do get enough cup-holders, door pockets and even tray-tables on the front seatbacks.
The flagship Bentley finally gets the tech it deserves, with a complicated dial-controlled multimedia computer, navigation, power-everything ventilated seats, somewhat-average four-zone auto a/c, excellent CD/MP3 stereo with iPod tray, working Bluetooth with extra handset, rear camera with sensors, cruise control, HID headlights, multiple airbags, keyless start, power boot lid and even lit vanity mirrors for rear passengers. About the only things missing were a sunroof, adaptive cruise and maybe a butler, but we believe all those are likely available as options.
We figured Bentley had ditched the Arnage’s amazing-yet-crude 6.75-litre turbo V8 forever, so we did a double-take when we saw the specs sheet and realised the Mulsanne is still powered by that ancient push-rod monster, albeit with heavy mods to make it emissions-compliant and more fuel-efficient, with features like cylinder deactivation and variable cam phasing. Backed up by an 8-speed automatic, power is now bumped up to 505 hp at 4200 rpm, with an earth-shattering 1020 Nm of torque at 1750 rpm.
And yet, the Bentley’s rear tyres didn’t scorch the earth like the Arnage used to. In fact, even after turning off the traction control for our hot July 0-100 kph test, it didn’t go into random burnouts like the Arnage, instead putting the power down very cleanly for a time of 5.6 seconds, quicker than cars like the Chevy Camaro SS and the Porsche Cayman R. The 2585-kilo Mulsanne offers less drama, but is still quicker than the old Bentley. Fuel consumption remains high at 19.9 litres/100 km, or about the same as a Toyota Land Cruiser V8, and that’s after we started taking it easy on the throttle.
The Mulsanne remains an effortless cruiser, and can likely reach its claimed 296 kph top speed without the occupants realising it. It is deathly-silent up to 100 kph, but on faster highways, wind noise starts to make itself heard in whispers. The car also rides very smoothly, but occasionally the ultra-low profile tyres send a damped jitter through, a consequence of today’s preference for huge wheels in the name of style. Leaving the electronically-adaptive suspension in “comfort” mode makes the ride very floaty, just like in a 1980s Bentley, but “sport” mode is there to firm things up a bit if passengers start feeling nauseous, although we preferred the nostalgic “comfort” setting because that’s how a big limo needs to be.
But while it wobbles around corners like the Titanic in its softest mode, the “sport” mode tightens up the suspension just enough to make it as nimble as, say, a Toyota Camry. The lifeless steering firms up a bit, and the gear-changes aren’t as lazy as before. Grip is immense from the 265/40 tyres wrapping the 21-inch alloys, so it hangs on to curves even while it leans excessively, so it is still capable of evading terrorist-kidnappers without falling over. The brakes are, let’s say, fairly adequate. And the understeer is kept under control by the electronic nannies.
Interestingly, the Mulsanne isn’t particularly hard to drive if you’re used to driving big 4x4s. The length is there, but with the help of the rear camera, it is fairly easy to slip into spaces, and it isn’t as wide as a fullsize truck, so the doors can still be opened after parking. The fact that it is designed for Europe’s cramped roads means it can handle our parking lots too. The only minor issue is that it sticks out of most spaces by a foot.
The uber-expensive Bentley Mulsanne plays in a league far beyond what most people can dream of affording. For the price of one car, you could buy a villa. But only “poor” people buy houses. The kind of person who buys a Mulsanne owns half the town already, and isn’t going to care what anyone else thinks of their car, as long as it appears as expensive as it is. And he isn’t going to do his own driving either.
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