IN a world where people are increasingly cynical and difficult to impress it’s reassuring to know that there are still some sure-fire ways to astonish and delight.
Take the Bentley Mulsanne Speed for instance. Okay, it’s glaringly obvious that something with a value of more than a quarter of a million pounds would have many folk chomping at the bit to take a closer look – but I never expected to see a motor car instil such great joy.
Maybe I fell into the trap of believing that the Bentley Mulsanne Speed is just another luxury motor whose extravagance would divide opinion among the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Perhaps I imagined it was simply an over-the-top exercise in trying to please life’s perfectionists.
However, it turns out there is nothing simple about the Bentley Mulsanne Speed at all – either physically or in the emotions it triggers. Whether this justifies the eye-watering price, I don’t know; but what I can say is that the world would be somehow “lesser” without it. It is both magnificent and profound in its ability to please people from all walks of life – including those who really have no interest in cars at all.
But first, here are some figures that will please the car-lovers among you: A 6.75-litre, V8 twin-turbo engine that produces 530 bhp and a huge 811 lb-ft of torque at just 1,750rpm. The Mulsanne Speed will rocket to 60mph in just 4.8 seconds, despite having a kerb weight of over 2.5 tonnes. Top speed is 190mph.
Not-so-pleasing figures are a combined economy of 17.4mpg and a CO2 figure of 365 g/km. But hey, what did you expect? It’s not bad considering the silky-smooth 6.75-litre lump has been around since 1959 – with some updates, obviously.
Then there are those things that will please and astonish anyone – car-lover or not. The luxurious, quilted leather interior is a given, as are the superb seats (both front and rear) that can heat, cool and massage. But there’s something very special about the way the rear TV screens glide silently out of the rear of the front seats, or the fact that the wheels are directionally designed so that they look exactly the same no matter which side of the car you view. Think about it.
It’s incredible attention to detail like this that takes the Mulsanne Speed from a luxury motor car to a joyous experience for those lucky enough to own or spend time with one, and although there are many, many reasons why the Bentley will bring a smile to your face, the most memorable for me was its overall calming quietness that, along with the car’s sense of occasion, lifted the simplest of journeys to new heights for both driver and passengers.
That calmness is in no small part down to the specially developed Dunlop tyres that are engineered to be whisper-quiet even at motorway speeds. They work too. In fact, the Mulsanne Speed is by far the quietest car I’ve ever driven. Even at 70mph it is astonishingly tranquil. Blindfolded, you would probably estimate your speed at around 20mph.
The greatest compliment regarding the Bentley’s serenity came from my 78-year-old mother-in-law who was overjoyed to not have her hearing-aids swamped by background noise. She declared the Bentley a godsend as, for the first time ever whilst travelling, she could hold a conversation just as easily as she could in her own home, sat in her own armchair with no extraneous sounds to have to “filter” out.
Indeed, The Mulsanne Speed was so peaceful that I had no problem hearing the ‘clink’ of glasses as she enjoyed a glass of bubbly with my wife in the rear. The Refrigerated Bottle Cooler with Frosted Glass and 3 bespoke crystal Champagne Flutes come as a £8,310 option.
Which brings me to the question of whether you really can improve on perfection. Bentley obviously think you can as my car came with over £62,000 worth of gilding on the lily – raising the list price to a staggering £317,820.
I won’t get into all the options but the two “biggies” were the dual-tone paintwork (£12,120) and the Entertainment Specification (£15,790) which included a 2200 watt “Naim for Bentley” Audio System with Bentley Theatre sound. Did it sound good? Yes. Did it sound THAT good? Actually, yes. Like nothing I’ve heard before in a car.
It’s a big sound for a very big car. The Mulsanne Speed is over 5.5 metres long (over 18ft) so finding a parking space is a little awkward at the local supermarket. Best to keep it for special occasions only then.
Of course, the Mulsanne Speed will attract attention not just because it is so imposing but simply because it’s a Bentley and everyone – it would appear – loves a Bentley. Especially Mr and Mrs Bentley who we had inadvertently parked next to on a visit to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Their daughter, who was visiting from her home in Japan, happens to work for Lexus and was quick to relate many of the perks and upgrades she enjoys whilst travelling in her job simply because her surname is Bentley and an assumption is made. So, what’s in a name? An awful lot it would appear.
But with that reverence comes a huge responsibility to maintain a hard-earned reputation and it would seem Bentley Motors are doing a fine job. The dozen-or-so people that gathered at Chatsworth to ask about the car kept me busy for a good 40 minutes and they were all suitably impressed – sometimes staggered – by the quality and ambiance of the Bentley. They absolutely loved it.
But it was their reaction when I invited them to sit in the car that was the most telling. You’d think I’d offered to pay off their mortgage. Goodness knows how they would have reacted if I’d offered to take them for a spin. It all felt rather empowering even though I didn’t own the car and had made that perfectly clear.
What also became clear was the knowledge of Bentley Motors that this cross-section of the British public already had.
“The leather is all hand-stitched isn’t it?”
“It takes around 400 hours to build one, doesn’t it?”
“I believe you can specify your own interior materials if you wish” . . . and so on.
It would appear a Bentley is almost as much a part of the British psyche as a Spitfire. I’m talking Supermarine here, of course, not Triumph . . .
On the open road you soon forget the vastness of the car but you’re aware of its bulk. That is to say it doesn’t feel unwieldly, just solid and steady. Bentley are adamant that the Mulsanne Speed is a driver’s car and not just a car to be chauffeured around in and the competence of the chassis supports this. The steering has enough feedback to let you know what the front wheels are doing while the grip levels around sharper bends leaves you pleasantly surprised.
Yes, it’s at home on a wide, open road but I had to take a detour over a 4-mile stretch of twisty, undulating B-road that I was a little worried about. I needn’t have been though as the Mulsanne Speed felt immediately lithe around a particularly tight chicane and it ate up the rest of the road easily. Okay, it’s no Alfa Romeo Giulia but point the front end and the rest follows as easily as if it was an every-day family saloon.
The 8-speed auto gearbox had to work a little harder on the steep uphills – which simply meant you could actually hear the engine for a moment – but there is so much torque you can imagine the car coping well with just half the number of gears.
I didn’t feel compelled to push the Bentley’s sportiness to any kind of limit. It just didn’t feel right. Like asking a first-date to come in for a coffee at the end of the night. Unseemly, awkward. Better to just enjoy the moment, show respect and look forward to what the future may bring.
Yes, I know it’s just a car and I’m paid to test all aspects of it – but it was enough to be in her company for just a few days and witness people’s reactions to her and the way she lights up a car park. For such a fast car it certainly endows you with patience.
My own mother (a non-driver who has little interest in motoring) declared the day out to Chatsworth House was one of the best days of her life, and that was because the Bentley Mulsanne Speed made it so. It’s not just a motor car, it’s a piece of engineering genius that has the inherent ability to say “Come in, let me lift your spirits – and we’ll see where it takes us.” Utterly brilliant.
AT A GLANCE:
Bentley Mulsanne Speed
OTR Price: £255,800
Engine: 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Power: 530 bhp
Transmission: 8-speed Automatic
0-60 mph: 4.8 secs
Top Speed: 190 mph
Combined Economy: 17.4 mpg
C02: 365 g/km