Following its update in 2016 (revealed at the Geneva motor show), Bentley’s imperious Mulsanne limo continues to lead the field of the gloriously luxurious limos.
Styling changes are relatively subtle – there’s a set of LED headlights and B-signature tail lights, plus a new colour combination and trim improvement here and there – but under the skin several changes keep the Mulsanne at the top of its game.
Three trim lines are offered: Mulsanne, Mulsanne Speed and Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase. The Speed is differentiated from the other two by a dark tint finish to the exterior chrome work, exclusive 21-inch Speed alloy wheels, dark tinted front and rear lights, rifled sports exhaust and Speed badging along the flanks. All very discrete but with a hint of menace when you spot it all. But with the company now offering a luxury SUV in the shape of its Bentayga, does the concept of a traditional luxury sedan still have merit?
Engine, performance and 0-100km/h time
It seems odd that Bentley hasn’t installed its range-topping W12 in its most opulent model, but the heritage and character of the “six-and-three-quarter” litre V8 makes it the only choice for the latest Mulsanne.
Not that you’re missing out: in its latest iteration the twin-turbocharged, 6752cc unit develops 375kW at a lazy 4000rpm and a thundering 1020Nm of torque from only 1750rpm. Strong torque is a Bentley characteristic throughout the manufacturer’s lineup, but such is the low-down thrust of the 6¾ that you’d need to be in a real hurry to bother exploring beyond 2500rpm or so. 0-100km/h takes 5.1 seconds (which looks only mildly impressive until you factor in a 2685kg kerb weight) and top speed is 296km/h.
Of course, that’s for the standard, or as Bentley prefers, “consummate” model. In Speed specification, power and torque increase to 395kW and 1100Nm respectively, 100km/h is dismissed in 4.8sec and top speed climbs to 305km/h.
The engine is a curious mix of the high-tech and anachronistic, owing to its lineage. It features just a single camshaft, with sixteen pushrod-operated valves and port fuel injection, yet also boasts cylinder deactivation to make a small dent in its 15L/100km combined thirst.
Opt for the Mulsanne Speed (for those who prefer to drive rather than be driven, according to Bentley) and that tremendous V8 produces 392kW and 1100Nm of torque and drops the 0-100km/h time to 4.8sec, which for a car of this weight has to be admired, no matter your feelings on such things. It will top 190mph.
As Bentley’s most luxurious model, much of the latest Mulsanne’s development has focused on increasing refinement, and the firm’s engineering teams have gone to extraordinary lengths to facilitate this.
The tyres, for example (265/40 ZR20 Dunlops as standard, 265/40 R21s on the Speed) feature a foam-filled layer to absorb road noise. The result? A 50 percent reduction in road noise.
Active engine mounts work similar wonders for drivetrain noises. They work on a similar principle to that of noise-cancelling headphones, using sensors to detect vibration which is then cancelled-out with an opposite, out-of-phase signal. This cuts intrusive engine bay sounds by up to 15dB.
And if any further evidence were needed that Bentley doesn’t just reskin Volkswagens, one only needs inspect the fold-out centre console tables in the back of the Extended Wheelbase car: Built from 671 individual parts, each is mounted on sprung dampers that look sophisticated enough to suspend a small motorcycle’s swing-arm, and each supports 40kg of force on its outer edge. You’ll not find that in your Golf…
To deliver a separation between the regular Mulsanne (can a hand-crafted Bentley be considered regular?) and the Speed the car’s dynamic driving modes have been reconfigured, providing the latter with a slightly stiffer, quicker-responding chassis that sacrifices the slightest level of comfort for a noticeable level of agility.
What’s it like to drive?
Not unlike operating one of those exquisitely-fashioned speedboats from the likes of Riva, I’d imagine. That’s not to say the Mulsanne handles like a sea-bound vessel, though it goes without saying that at over 2.6 tons and nearly 5.6 metres in length you won’t be out-manoeuvering hot hatchbacks.
But there is a speedboat-style sense of lazy but almost endless thrust when pushing down the throttle pedal. Despite Bentley’s efforts to minimise drivetrain noise you do get a distinctive (but distant) woofle from the exhausts, interrupted occasionally by a silken change from the 8-speed ZF automatic. The woofle becomes a polite growl as you head towards the 4500rpm limiter.
By which time you’ll also be travelling rather quickly. Bentley wisely included sections of derestricted Autobahn on the route for the Mulsanne’s launch: 160km/h is reached with almost no effort and barely a whisper of noise. 241km/h is easily achieved and it’s only traffic that eventually calls time on heading for that 305km/h top end – at 280km/h, engine and road noise are still effectively absent and only wind noise around the mirrors disturbs the peace to any great degree. Conversation is still possible at the kind of volume you might use to someone sitting across the drawing-room table.
It’s really quite remarkable. As are the brakes, which are capable of stopping the 2.6-ton Mulsanne from huge speeds, and in the Speed – with optional carbon-ceramics – it’ll do so repeatedly, with a reassuring feel from the pedal. And as you’d expect, the ride quality is magnificent – you have to concentrate quite hard to discern any area in which it could be improved.
Steering that feels slightly slow-geared (and muffles any and every sense of feedback) and that ever-present weight hold it back as a driver’s car, but as a driving experience unlike that of virtually any other car, it has huge appeal.
When it comes to the Speed, the mild power and torque gains aren’t all that obvious, but there’s a more eager response to throttle inputs and a more vocal backing track from the V8. Although, if you open the throttles to their stop the Mulsanne Speed will take off with the athleticism of a hot hatch, which is pretty hilarious to experience. More so when there’s a hot hatch alongside you at some traffic lights.
The mild chassis tweaks tighten the Speed’s body control over the Mulsanne, and where the latter will pitch and roll the former remains a little more tense and upright when you approach a curve with a little more enthusiasm than perhaps your driver would. evo Staff