WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: You really have to get your mind into a different frame of reference before you place it in a Bentley Mulsanne. A Bentley Continental GT Speed, sure, that's easy to grasp -- it's fast, it's fun, it's a wildly performance-oriented luxury hot rod. The Mulsanne… well, it's fast, I got a 0-to-60 time of 4.9 seconds, which is remarkable, considering the thing weighs more than your house. But it also costsmore than your house, and you're pretty likely to destroy the south wall of your lovely abode if there's not enough space between it and the driveway when you're trying to park it. This thing has a bigger footprint than Godzilla and a bigger carbon footprint than many small countries just entering the industrial age. I got 11.9 mpg and most of the time I wasn't driving like a maniac -- most of the time I was in stop-and-crawl L.A. traffic.
Yes, the Mulsanne is unique in many ways. It sits on its own new platform, for instance. It doesn't share anything with the Arnage it replaced in 2009 and it isn't another derivation of the Volkswagen Phaeton with all-wheel drive and a big W12. Depending on how you frame your argument, you could say this is Bentley's first new platform in 80 years. The Mulsanne is rear-drive and powered by a Bentley 6.75-liter twin-turbo V8.
But it's huge. The car is 18 feet, 3 inches long and 7 feet, 3 inches wide. It weighs 5,976 pounds.
In many ways the car doesn't make sense, until you consider the Chinese market. The upper end of the Chinese and other Asian markets is big on chauffeur-driven tuna boats like the Mulsanne, and many other incongruous sedans. In those markets it makes sense. A convertible version that's coming in a couple years will help spread out the engineering investment.
And the engineering for the most part is impressive. How you can get anything this big and this heavy to accelerate and turn at all is noteworthy. The Bentley V8 is smooth and even in the power and torque it delivers. Peak torque of 712 lb-ft (!) is available from 1,750 rpm, so you have reserves of the stuff almost across the tach. For freeway passing maneuvers the 505 peak horsepower are just as willing to slingshot this behemoth past all lesser conveyances with glee. My 4.9-second 0-to-60 was the first launch I tried -- with brake torqueing applied -- and it came up smoothly and without drama. Subsequent launches with and without brake torqueing yielded some axle tramp, with the 265/40 ZR21 Dunlop SP Sportmaxx tires hopping along like big, fat, low-profile rabbits, which was surprising. The air springs and adaptive damping were likewise taken aback by the notion of stop light drag racing, something your Beijing chauffeur is not likely to be doing. In a straight line the Mulsanne just floated -- nay -- wafted over the road. It is perfect for the intended buyer who wants something just like this: big, beautiful and comfortable yet with enough firepower underhood to escape the scene should the employees revolt.
But this is Review Notes, where we get to look at cars not just from the perspective of their intended buyers, but from the lowly depths of our own miserable existences. For me, the Mulsanne is just way too big and heavy. I like sports cars, sports sedans, efficient econoboxes that are fun-to-drive, four wheel-drive things; I understand and own a minivan.
Hence, the Bentley Mulsanne, to me whose driveway was built for a Ford Model T, is too outrageous to contemplate.
A couple of minor things irked me, too.
The shifter is the vaguest lever on an automatic I've ever tried to manipulate when it comes to simply getting it into gear. Try and put it in reverse. Go ahead, try! You'll get park or neutral or drive and then, after much gentle coaxing and delicate precision, you finally get reverse later that same day. Aaargh!
Plus, I crave anonymity when I drive. My ideal ride would be something like a Datsun 510 -- boxy and even bland on the outside yet terrific fun-to-drive on the inside, not to mention efficient. I don't get why people want to try so hard and spend so much money to impress others, at least not with cars. Impress them with good deeds or politeness, but not by crashing your Mulsanne into their field of vision and blotting out the sun as you pass. For a small-car-appreciator like me, the Mulsanne is like driving a semi. It's hard to maneuver without the use of tugs.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: The Bentley Mulsanne weighs a mighty 3 tons. Its engine is a 6.75-liter V8 that produces gobs of torque so vast, it rivals the meanest Ram Tradesman for stump-pulling acceleration -- its twin turbochargers are installed, according to the plaque on our engine, by a man named Bob Bishop. Sure this car costs as much as a house, but look on the bright side: It's also shaped like one, which has to count for something. Isn't that why it's named after a straightaway?
We gawk at the Mulsanne's sybaritic features like apes around the monolith. Its interior is filled with knurled switches and knobs -- some made from metal, some from convincing plastic -- and buttery-soft leather harvested from Scottish cows whose unsullied hides are free of barbed-wire nicks. Dashboard buttons are cut from glass and fit neatly like Rummikub tiles. The seat-piping option costs the same as a crappy Mazda Miata. An Audi-related interface is controlled by a single knob. All four seats massage. In back are veneered wood tables nicer than anything we've ever hauled back from IKEA, a trip to which this Mulsanne's huge trunk could more than fulfill. In our specification, our Mulsanne also possessed a chilled refrigerator in between the rear seats -- a deployable glass door rolls downward at the touch of a button to reveal three chilled, crystal-cut champagne flutes that, if dropped, would instill a shocked silence among the lauded gentry.
Evidence of modernity includes the shift knob that's shaped and sized like a baseball bat and tips forward and backward for gear selection. Thank the German overseers for that trick, because a PRNDL pattern is so antiquated. The Mulsanne has a sport mode, as well -- as did the Arnage -- which is like asking Winston Churchill to play outfielder.
For a car that weighs as much as 1,180 5-pound barbells, it can take an onramp in anger while quietly sounding like it's accelerating from three states away. The 505-hp figure is impressive. You know what's more impressive? 752 lb-ft of torque generated at a barely breathing 1,750 rpm, which defies the uncouth phrase "diesel-like" and manages to alter the Earth's rotation upon 0-60 trials, to which it sprints in just 5.1 seconds. Think about that.
I did. Prior to driving the Mulsanne, the finest example of a flying skyscraper I had driven was the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, of which this Bentley is three times as expensive, hits 60 at the same time, and -- as the above photos show -- can off-road to the same extent as the G63 owners are willing to take it.
The ride is excellent, but the silence is wonderfully calming. Steering is truck-like -- but in technological development parallel to Arnages of old, it's a contemporary, car-like breed of truck. The brakes are well-modulated and more than powerful enough to prevent the Mulsanne from doing structural damage to a school bus or the Queen Mary. One could also trace the route of the Calais-Mediterranée in a day without so much as adjusting a buttock, but once in Ventimiglia the driver wouldn't be able to stop. The size of the Mulsanne may be familiar to long-haul truckers, but it subtly hints that parking a car is something reserved for the proles. Historical precedence also suggests that this has stymied one a many Bentley Boy in the past.
Go on, take up four spaces. Because if there's One True Car Company to keep the dream of the 1940s alive, it is not just Morgan that sits atop the British Empire. It is also Bentley -- whose Mulsanne is as delightfully anachronistic as a Tiesto concert at the Parliament War Rooms, whose three tons (I'm still shocked by that, in case you couldn't tell) contains a rolling masterpiece to a ridiculously outdated notion of opulence. For a devoted handful of Robin Leach impersonators this is the One True Bentley, the proud continuation of the Arnage; for them, the Continental GT was but a lamentable, misguided blip on the path towards building the 6.75-liter engine in perpetuity, and anyway, how could a Bentley Boy drive a car with a German engine?
There needs to be one or two cars available today that do so. The Rolls-Royce Phantom remains one, and the day I'm allowed the keys to that car is the day I perform the most triumphant and flawless burnout on my high school principal's lawn.
The Mulsanne is the other. It is ridiculous, yes, but unlike the Flying Spur it operates on a stronger whiff of traditionalism -- the biggest Bentleys have never succumbed to the whims of the nouveau riche because they have always been over-the-top.
And yet its template will endure, at least for the foreseeable future. Wood will always be seen in high regard, leather will always be stitched from 17 separate hides, honesty in craftsmanship will always be honored above all else. Say what you will about the styling or the gleeful extravagance, but the Bentley Mulsanne holds true to a standard familiar to, say, Orson Welles, who once uttered, "Living in the lap of luxury isn't bad except that you never know when luxury is going to stand up."
When it was time for the Mulsanne to go back to Bentley, I felt the same way.
2013 Bentley Mulsanne
Base Price: $296,000
As-Tested Price: $359,885
Drivetrain: 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V8; RWD, eight-speed automatic
Output: 505 hp @ 4,200 rpm, 752 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
Curb Weight: 5,976 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 11/18/13 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 14.6 mpg
Options: Premiere specification package including ambient lighting, stainless steel accents, flying "B" radiator mascot, veneered iPod drawer and picnic tables, rearview camera, rear ventilated seats with massaging function ($14,425); frosted glass refrigerated bottle cooler with crystal champagne flutes ($10,340); Naim audio system ($7,565); adaptive cruise control ($3,670); seat piping ($2,725)
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