The New Bentley Mulsanne

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Hans Ulrich Obrist

Motoring

The New Bentley Mulsanne

Words By Nick Scott

Three-tonnes, 400 building hours, 2.5 miles of cabling, almost £15,000 worth of infotainment system, 480 individual pieces of top-quality leather, 811 pound-feet of torque… The numbers, when it comes to the latest iteration of Bentley’s flagship über-sedan, are overwhelming to put it mildly. So it’s fair to say, in an issue of Essence Lifestyle based on the spirit of innovation - the sheer, unconquerable human impetus to pioneer – it would be remiss not to pay our dues to what is surely the most desirable saloon car money can buy.

And so, we travelled to Bavaria to test the three new versions of the vehicle – Signature, Speed and Extended Wheelbase – on the twisty mountain roads which score the Alpine border of Austria and Germany (venturing onto the throttle-opening ribbons of autobahn at every opportunity as well, naturally). Stepping out of the Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa Retreat, about an hour’s drive from Innsbruck, and walking, awestruck, around the fleet of gleaming vehicles assembled on its sun-kissed courtyard, it’s immediately obvious that the Mulsanne has been given more than a few nips and tucks: Bentley evidently wanted this vehicle to be its most forceful statement of uncompromised elegance to date.

Hence, the front end has been redesigned entirely, a wider grille and new wider, lower air vents creating a far more imposingly handsome effect. The sweeping character lines remain similar to before, but vintage-looking wheels complement the car’s profile considerably more elegantly than those on the outgoing model did. Also adding to a more classic aesthetic, the taillights now are now curved into a seductive “B” shape, while the rear bumper has become slightly more rounded. Overall, the design tweaks sit at the vanguard of Bentley’s new character: still a symbol of timeless elegance, but with a grittier edge; more in keeping with design values that appeal to a younger demographic as well as the silver-haired elder statesmen with whom Bentley was, in recent decades, mainly associated.

While most of the upgrades having been made to the exterior, the 2017 Mulsanne’s plush, handcrafted interior is teeming with old-world opulence (deep-pile carpets, polished stainless steel fittings) but with a modern twist (stunningly elegant analogue gauges and tachometer, glass switchgear, church-organ dash switches). Choosing wisely between the 13 different veneers on offer will enhance your interior’s sophistication immeasurably, but the dominating material inside, of course, is leather: passengers leaving the Mulsanne almost seem to do so shrouded in a redolent haze from the diamond-quilted hide that encases the car’s interior (it takes the wily artisans in Crewe 150 hours just to stitch all the top-grade cowhides contained in a single interior together).

Not that you’ll want to leave the vehicle much. Comfort, ride quality and handling have all been improved markedly by a reinforced rear sub-frame, hydraulic suspension bushings and a better air suspension system. Surely the most impressive new addition to the car’s technical repertoire, though, concerns Bentley’s astonishing efforts with noise abatement technology. So successful have they been in ditching the decibels associated with wind and so on with previous models, perfectionists in the R& D department began to notice that the sound of the tyres rolling on the road had become vastly more prominent. And so, they’ve now created a special sound-deadening foam which is bonded to the inside, cutting tyre noise by half.

The 2017 Mulsanne’s plush, handcrafted interior is teeming with old-world opulence but with a modern twist.

This creates the counter-intuitive impression of three tons of mass tearing through the zephyrs all but silently – until, that is, you put your foot down and that 6.75-liter pushrod V8 engine’s baritone purr evolves into a sonorous roar. Which brings us neatly onto performance. The Mulsanne is named after one corner of the Le Mans circuit where Bentley has won six 24 Hours victories, and the moniker is more apt than now than ever: think 0-to-60-mph in 5.1 seconds (4.8 in the case of the Speed edition), and a top speed of around 184/190mph.

Like all luxury marques, in response to demand in markets with a chauffeuring culture such as India and China, Bentley has put greater emphasis on back-seat comfort of late – hence the long wheelbase version which, with its pop up entertainment tablets, extending leg-rests and an optional fridge with crystal champagne flutes, calls to mind the back of a luxury private jet – but such is the performance and handling, most buyers will want to do the driving themselves.

What with the abundance of state-of-the-art safety features, a rear-seat entertainment system that wouldn’t be out of place on Air Force One and an unprecedented blend of refinement and grunt, this is vastly more than an updated version of a luxury car: the new Mulsanne, rather, is the expression of an ethos; a rallying statement from a marque on a mission – to put its proverbial pedal to the metal, and send automotive excellence hurtling rapidly and effortlessly into ever more exciting pastures.

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