Published: 18:05, 22 August 2017
Welcome to the facelifted Bentley Mulsanne Speed.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that not a lot has changed and, to a degree, you would be right.
It remains unmistakeably a Bentley but its traditional looks have been carefully, liberally, sprinkled with tasteful contemporary touches, such as the ring of LEDs encircling the headlights and, likewise, the B-shaped rear LEDs.
You still get a myriad of choices when it comes to colours – inside and out – interior finishes or wheel design and that’s before you enter the rarefied atmosphere in which Bentley Mulliner exists, where the only limit on customisation is your imagination.
The Flying B mascot is an option but, should someone want to claim the shiny little ornament for themselves and make a lunge for it, it retracts into the car. You do, however, have to extract it manually, or get the butler to do it for you.
However, despite some things remaining the same, much has changed. The update brings with it a new bumper, bonnet, radiator, front shell, grilles and lights.
The radiator grille pays homage to historic Bentleys, while the headlights have been upgraded to adaptive full LEDs. The rear lights and bumper have also been given a new look.
The Mulsanne is a smidgeon under 5.6m in length with a bonnet that stretches out endlessly before you, the short front overhang and a long rear overhang it looks every centimetre the luxury limousine that it is.
What you won’t see post-facelift – unless you want to tear apart your new car – is the addition of active engine mounts, revised suspension bushes and while there are also bespoke Dunlop tyres designed to reduce road noise. There’s a new stability control system too.
It sits on a steel monocoque chassis and, taking inspiration from the aerospace industry, features lightweight superformed aluminium doors and front wings. However, there are times when only the finest craftmanship will do and, consequently, the complex D-pillars are rendered by coachbuilders.
The Mulsanne is designed to make an impression wherever it goes and whatever company it finds itself it, and that it does, with aplomb. However, it’s when you climb inside that the real drama begins.
Open the door and slide into the armchair that doubles as a driver’s seat, draw in a deep breath and revel in the scent of sumptuous leather, relish the feel of the smooth-as-silk wood veneer. It is only by taking a moment to smell, to touch, to truly feel, that you get an essence of not just the engineering skills that have been brought to bear on this machine, but also the heart and soul.
Cocooned within the driver’s seat, surrounded by fine leather, polished wood, finely crafted stainless steel fittings and sitting behind a large steering wheel, itself framed in the same lustrous veneer, there is a sense of tasteful opulence.
Getting uncomfortable behind the wheel is a much harder task than getting comfortable, thanks to a driver’s seat that adjusts in 12 directions. The view that greets you beyond the windscreen, down the long, long bonnet, with the flying B – if you’ve opted for it – a point of reference that seems to hover somewhere near the horizon.
The controls are beautifully finished and, while there is no Breitling clock, the organ-stop ventilation controls are present and correct. The devil’s in the detail, the saying goes, and in that respect Bentley has few equals. The finish, the choice of materials, and the care that is in evidence throughout the cabin, right down to the smallest dials, is to be admired.
It isn’t often that drive, or be driven, proves to be a tough choice but, in the Mulsanne, it is exactly that. Passengers in the rear are treated to eight-way adjustable seats as standard and, depending on how you adjust those seats, up to 1050mm of legroom and 940mm of headroom.
Last year’s facelift brought with it some significant equipment upgrades, with the addition of an 8in touchscreen infotainment system with sat nav, 60GB hard drive and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
The 19-channel Naim for Bentley audio system with a 2,200 watt amplifier and super tweeters is also available as an option.
Beneath the meticulously crafted metalwork lies a new chassis with double wishbones at the front and a multilink system at the rear. An adaptable air suspension system allows the car to adjust its ride height according to its speed while maintaining good body control and keeping the car level, regardless of load.
The Mulsanne Speed weighs close to three tonnes so it’s probably no surprise to learn that, unlike a great number of other manufacturers, Bentley haven’t been tempted to slot a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol unit under the bonnet.
Thankfully they’ve stuck with their 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V8, outputting 505bhp and 725lbft of torque but now with variable phasing of the cylinder shaft, cylinder deactivation that shuts down half the V8 under light loads and lightweight pistons, conrods and crankshaft.
It is connected to the rear wheels via specialist gearbox manufacturer ZF’s latest eight-speed automatic and it’s a very happy union indeed.
Under most circumstances the silence that greets you when you crank the prodigious V8 into life might be something of a disappointment but these are not most circumstances and, should you require a brief, spine-tingling, reminder of the potential beneath the vast bonnet, simply blip the throttle out of gear.
That does, however, barely prepare you for the Speed’s almost other-worldly ability to deliver monstrous performance yet remain poised and aloof. Press the accelerator hard and it launches itself forwards with a savagery that’s both brutal and restrained.
The V8 only revs to 4,500rpm but its flexibility is never in doubt thanks to a responsive and intelligent gearbox that simply refuses to make a wrong call. Regardless of the speed you’re travelling, no matter the questions you ask, the Mulsanne Speed has the answers and will gladly pin you back in your sumptuous leather seat until you’re satisfied with its response.
What is, perhaps, most astonishing, is the way it can deliver its performance without ruffling feathers. Or hair. The Mulsanne Speed’s air suspension can be called upon to either provide either stately, cosseting llimousine-like progress or, should you feel the desire for something a little more involving, the controlled, keen driving inclination of a sports saloon.
There are four modes to choose from using the car’s Drive Dynamics Control system: Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Custom.
The first of those options delivers the greatest refinement. In Comfort mode the Mulsanne simply glides effortlessly along, wafting passengers to their destination in idyllic isolation, protecting occupants from all those nasty bumps, crevices and broken surfaces that blight the lives of the majority of road users.
Cross-country jaunts are best enjoyed with the car in Bentley mode – settings that have been selected by the engineers at Crewe to bring out the Mulsanne’s very best driving characteristics – thanks to meatier steering and tauter suspension. Incredibly, despite its gargantuan proportions, the Mulsanne makes for a particularly lithe and direct automobile.
The steering offers plenty of feedback and makes it easy to place the car accurately through the corners. The chassis exhibits a level of composure that disguises the car’s two-and-a-half tonne mass, reining in any excessive body movement quickly and a minimum of fuss. The carefully considered settings combine to create a capable and quick B-road hustler.
Should Bentley mode not be enough – and really, it should – Sport tightens everything up another notch but, in doing so, you can often find yourself sacrificing the composed elegance that separates the Mulsanne from its more wallet-friendly peers if you attempt to push it ever-closer to its limits.
As you approach those limits you’ll find the suspension becomes audibly more intrusive and the steering a little less accommodating, requiring a greater number of adjustments in order to track the arc of the corner accurately but, resist the urge to wring every last ounce of performance from its mechanicals and the Mulsanne will reward with a drive of outstanding finesse, impeccable manners and a not inconsiderate dollop of fun.
The Mulsanne Speed is not, perhaps, quite the car that you imagine it to be. It’s impossible to fault the imperious build, the classy materials or the rare sense of occasion that greets you every time you climb aboard but, while its capabilities as a refined, ultra-luxurious limousine are beyond reproach, this is a car that is simply begging to be driven.
Yes, you can enjoy being driven around but you’ll love driving yourself.
Bentley Mulsanne Speed
As tested: £302,870
Engine: 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Max power: 537PS @ 4,000rpm
Max torque: 1,100Nm
Max speed: 190mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 4.9sec
Extra urban: 28mpg
Emissions (CO2): 342g/km
For more information visit www.bentleymotors.com
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