Bentley Mulsanne - Driven

Here's something a little different... Bentley courageously launched their new, big sedan a few years ago. Where does it fit in the marketplace? Obviously a rung higher than the Flying Spur from their own stable, and above anything BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus or Jaguar has to offer. Also above a Maserati Quattroporte, Aston Martin Rapide or Porsche Panamera. It fits somewhere in between a Rolls-Royce Ghost and the same company's Phantom. So the Mulsanne almost has a niche of its own.

The car I drove was loaded with option - probably quite typically for any Mulsanne which is likely to be delivered in Australia - which adds a squillion dollars to the 'base' price. Most of this was with Mulliner interior upgrades. Chrome inlays with little Bentley badges in the wood door cappings - a nice touch, but $5300 worth? Contrasting coloured stitching (everywhere) for about the cost of a new motorised scooter. There are 25 shades of leather colours o choose from. Hard for mere mortals to justify a swag of these kinds of options, but for the buyers of cars at this stratospheric level, it's an important part of the buying process. And it's unlikely there will ever be two Mulsannes delivered in Australia which are the same.

It's a big car, as well it should be. From the moment you touch the doorhandle it's very clear this is a car made to a ridiculously high standard of quality. As you'd want for your $850,000-odd. And it's very, very nice. Everything fits exactly, is crafted beautifully and feels exquisite. It's an experience being in one. Lots of leather, wood and chrome make a gorgeous cabin.

Start the car and it purrs as it awakens. The engine, believe it or not, is still based on the old 6750cc V8 which powered the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Silver Spirit and beyond - and of course, the equivalent Bentleys. In fact the engine dates back to the early 1960s when first seen in the Silver Cloud 3 and Bentley S3, in 6250cc capacity. While it was dropped briefly, the engine has come back, with turbocharged assistance and many upgrades boasting a record for longevity in production. To help with fuel economy (if you care), the engine can drop 4 cylinders when cruising.

The car wafts along the road in a way Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars excel - even though there's precious little shared between Volkswagen Group's Bentley company and BMW-owned Rolls-Royce. It's interesting though, as both companies recognize that their (shared) heritage is an important part of what their products are today, so for example, both use the same kind of metal dashboard air vents with adjacent stopper knobs. No other companies use anything like it.

But back to the driving experience... It's very quiet, and while the engine is not silent, the feeling of luxuriousness is amplified by the quietness. All the power assisted controls operate with gliding precision and silence. On start-up, a polished wood panel disappears into the dashboard to reveal the SatNav and control screen. There's a clue that the Mulsanne shares some technology with other cars in the Volkswagen Group here - some of the screen graphics are the same as Skoda and Volkswagen cars.

The car offers options of driving style and in Sport mode feels oddly harsh in the suspension and heavy in the steering. It's probably fine on an Autobahn at 250km/h, but I found the Comfort setting much more in keeping with my expectations. Performance is more than adequate in any setting, and the size of the car feels like it's diminishing as you become used to the car. Immense power and torque give the big Bentley sports car like performance figures.

Probably the most divisive aspect of the car is its styling. Several people who looked at the Mulsanne while it was in my care described it as looking like a Chrysler 300 with an ugly face. I think it's a much more balanced and well detailed design than the Chrysler, but I see what people mean about the 'gangster' look, especially with the high window sill line and low-set roof styling. The nose, particularly the headlights, I just can't get to grips with. Since my drive an updated version has diminished the startled frog look at the front.

It's a sumptuous car to drive or ride in and the feeling of being special riding in one will probably never go away. The Mulsanne is incredibly well built with impeccable attention to detail in the finish. And it drives beautifully for a big car. But somehow I found it a little characterless. Aside from the cartoon character nose, the sleek shape doesn't make enough of a statement for my $850K.


 Bentley Mulsanne

 Engine: 6.7-litre V8 turbo
 Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rwd
Power: 377kW
Torque: 1020Nm!
Performance: 0-100km/h 5.1 seconds
Price: $850,000 as tested, at time of review
Text & top photo - Paul Blank (copyright)