2016 Bentley Mulsanne Driven: the Most Luxurious Saloon in the World
One glance, and you know the Bentley Mulsanne is all about aristocratic tradition, writes Richard Bremner. It’s big, and dignified. It has a radiator grille as expansive as an inglenook fireguard, which glints lavishly. There is the unmissable aura of money here – heaps of it.
If you are fortunate enough to climb inside this most expensive of Bentleys, it only gets more extravagant. Exquisitely stitched hides surface the seats, the ceiling, the door panels and more. The wood is endlessly lustrous, the metalwork beautifully crafted This is a wheeled shrine to the traditional furnisher’s crafts, and it has plenty of indulgent trinketry to complement them.
Did someone say champagne? Behind a translucent lid you’ll find a modest fridge and a pair of crystal flutes, their bases indulgently moulded in the shape of a Mulsanne alloy wheel. But there’s modernity, too.
Settle into an absurdly sumptuous rear seat, and you can summon the 21st century at the touch of a button. It will trigger the release of a 10.2in Android tablet, which will rise from beneath a slender panel in the top of a front seat’s backrest.
There’s a pair of them, in fact. You can detach these distant touchscreens, or control them from detachable touchpads found in slots above that optional refrigerator.
Or, you can work. Beneath a slatted veneer lid lies a pair of painstakingly engineered fold-out tables, the 671 mostly hidden components that make up this mechanism providing a surface rigid enough to bear a 40kg weight at its unsupported end.
But what about the car? The Mulsanne is not a new Bentley. It has been around for six years, and company boss Wolfgang Durheimer candidly admits that this model ‘has been a bit neglected’ by its makers, who have been busy engineering the Bentayga SUV, among other things.
You might think that Bentley continues to remain guilty as charged at first, its flagship saloon appearing much the same as before. But there’s now a new, wider, deeper, more rectilinear grille, a pair of resculpted front wings and fresh headlights to go with it, and a new bonnet and bumpers besides.
To European eyes the Mulsanne probably didn’t need a face still more emphatic, but in America this car has to compete for “I’ve made it” attention with XXXL-scale SUVs and pick-up trucks.
The Mulsanne’s engines are unchanged, having been extensively re-engineered 18 months ago. The Mulsanne Speed’s 537bhp motor, which generates a Victorian pumping station’s-worth of torque at 811lb ft, makes it the most potent production saloon on the planet. In automotive terms the engine itself is almost Victorian-era, the so-called six-and-three-quarter litre V8 having made its debut in 1959.
This engine sports thoroughly modern features such as partial cylinder deactivation to save fuel at a cruise, a noxious emissions count that’s less than a tenth of the original engine’s, twin turbos and throttle response to spill your champagne. For the most part it runs as quietly as an electric motor, but give it some overtaking work and you’ll usher in a silken growl as satisfying as the first sip from your crystal flute.
Quiet has been a small obsession for the engineers updating this car. The Mulsanne’s suspension has been reconfigured, while the insides of its tyres are layered with a remarkably effective roar-stifling layer of foam. The result is remarkable calm; even at an Autobahn-tested 170mph, the only disturbance is the mild gush of wind.
The Mulsanne is about more than wanton luxury, though. It’s hardly a car for assaulting tight turns, but it can certainly get a thrillingly authoritative move on and in faster bends steers with a precision that’s satisfyingly unexpected for a car of such scale.
This, the Bentley’s duck down-soft ride, its opulent finish and pin-drop silence make for an experience as beguiling as you’d hope for (and expect) at this price, and with Rolls-Royce’s Phantom disappearing pending its replacement, the Mulsanne can comfortably claim to be the most luxuriant saloon on sale.
Bentley Mulsanne Speed
Tested: 6752cc V8 petrol engine, twin-turbocharged, eight-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Price/on sale: £252,000/now
Power/torque: 537bhp @ 4,000rpm/811lb ft @ 1,750rpm
Top speed: 190mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.9sec
Fuel economy: 19.3mpg (EU Combined)
CO2 emissions: 342g/km
VED band: M (£1,120 first year, £515 thereafter)
Verdict: With the Rolls-Royce Phantom soon to shuffle off this mortal coil, the Mulsanne takes the title of the most opulent saloon out there. In Speed form, it’s also relentlessly fast and surprisingly good fun to drive