Admit it, we all ponder ways to spend absurd amounts of money in the event a Powerball jackpot ticket proves lucky. Once the exotic travel grows tiresome and the private island gets lonely, the mind meanders toward creative and exciting ways to live large.
Buying a Bentley Mulsanne qualifies, as would a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti or Rolls-Royce. Nice thing about the Mulsanne is its dual nature – good for driving and being driven. But be prepared to sign on the bottom line with unflinching bravado. A well-equipped Mulsanne rolled into the WardsAuto parking deck recently with a $364,375 price tag.
I’m not accustomed to driving cars that stack up nicely to the collective net worth of the three homes I’ve purchased in suburban Detroit since 1990, so let’s put it in context for our automotive readers: You could buy one Mulsanne or TEN fully loaded, beautifully styled all-new Chevrolet Impalas – or 13 base models if you don’t mind cloth seats.
So the question kept coming up from acquaintances as I spent an indulgent weekend in the Mulsanne: Would I buy one if I were Saudi sheikh rich?
Hell yes. I’d own lots of cars, but the Mulsanne would be my reminder that the human hand still can accomplish amazing things. While robots do the heavy lifting (literally) in assembling mainstream vehicles, a Bentley largely remains a showcase for craftsmanship.
Having toured the plant in Crewe, U.K., this past summer, I’ve seen the men in the woodshop who mill solid hardwood timbers into door trim and the woman who spends 2.5 hours pulling tight and stitching the leather pieces on the steering wheel, trying not to jab herself with a painfully large needle in the process.
I’ve seen one of the few robots in the plant spraying 20 coats of lacquer on every piece of wood that will be installed in a Bentley.
That’s what makes the Mulsanne, as well as theand new Flying Spur, so special. Most cars are relatively inexpensive because of the moving assembly line and automation. But when it takes two months to build a car like the Mulsanne – to fabricate and paint the body, to bathe the cabin in finery, to have one guy (Bob Bishop, in the case of our loaner) assemble the 6.75L twin-turbo V-8 – well, it starts to become evident why this particular car is insanely expensive and why only 1,100 are built and sold each year.
From the artistically dramatic fluted metal grille to the superformed aluminum front fenders to the chrome branded gas cap to the soft-white ambient lighting ideally suited for a tuxedo and evening gown in the second row, the Mulsanne is a celebration of the precise.
There is no devil in these details. To the contrary, this car represents the holy trinity of artisan ethic, bespoke quality and unyielding perfection. The man who spends his days hand sanding burled walnut trim in between each coat of lacquer understands the Bentley customer can have any car he wants, so there’s no room for cutting corners or a second-rate job.
My colleague James Amend was smitten with the Mulsanne, as were his young children, who were kept from inside the car with the promise of popsicles on the front porch.
“It’s difficult to find fault with this car, especially its silky, power-laden V-8 and sumptuous leather interior, proving you can, indeed, always get what you want,” Amend writes.
“But who knew the English had such small feet? The pedals are much too cozy for my size nines. And a pair of trunk-mounted city umbrellas as a $195 option? Please. But I do want them. Badly.”
Inside and out, an inspection of the Mulsanne reveals one dazzling detail after another, from the perforated leather headliner and solid walnut fold-out worktables for rear occupants to the spring-loaded 3-point latching mechanism for the bonnet (hood) and the chrome-plated rings on something as innocuous as the overhead grabhandle.
When my fellow editors and I evaluate 40-some mainstream and luxury cars in the annual Ward’s 10 Best Interiors competition, we inevitably find ill-fitting joints where the A-pillar trim meets up with the headliner near the upper corners of the windshield, right near the driver’s eye.
Does the Mulsanne pass the test? Um, it doesn’t even have that joint. Instead, one solid piece of supple black leather covers the entire structural element from the instrument panel up to the roof and back to the B-pillar. Stunningly beautiful.
Not to be forgotten is the ability to receive a massage in four of the five seating positions. Want to recline in the back while being chauffeured to the club? Seat controls in the rear center console are within easy reach.
With so much drooling on about craftsmanship and comfort, it’s easy to forget that the Mulsanne is, in the end, a mode of transportation, built to splash through mud puddles, not a work of art to be adored in a museum.
With 505 hp and 752 lb.-ft. (1,020 Nm) of pushrod power, the twin-turbo V-8 moves the 3-ton car with stately vigor (0-60 mph [97 km/h] in 5.1 seconds) as power reaches the wheels through a buttery8-speed automatic transmission.
The self-leveling air suspension with continuous damping control turns the Mulsanne into a hovercraft, floating over uneven road surfaces while at the same time feeling completely connected to the pavement and handling directional changes with aplomb.
Serious buyers who visit the plant in Crewe to find out how such agility is achieved will be able to watch MAG welding, MIG brazing and the application of 5,800 spot-welds and 669 self-piercing rivets as the steel monocoque and aluminum body take shape.
If fault were to be found in the Mulsanne, which has been in production for three years, it would be in the lack of active-safety features fast becoming common in everyday vehicles.
The aforementioned Impala, for instance, will never be cross-shopped with a Bentley, but it comes with lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection, none of which appears in this Mulsanne.
And the interior is so lavish, so prim and proper with its upright instrument panel and highly polished wood grain, it comes across like a cold, stiff butler. However, that may be exactly what the Bentley customer wants.
Something else the customer must really want: multiple reminders that this is a Bentley.
The bulbous throwback “B,” in some cases flanked by the brand’s trademark wings, graces the wheels, diamond-quilted seatbacks, headphones, umbrellas, gearshift lever, steering wheel, speedometer, tachometer, analog clock and even the chrome-plated removable ash trays.
Oddly enough, the Mulsanne name appears in only one place, on the chrome sillplates at each door.
So allow the Mulsanne a spot on your short list in the event you come into Bill Gates money.
If you don’t wince at $1,365 for the deep-pile Wilton carpet floor mats or the $3,700 gas-guzzler tax or the $7,500 2-tone paint, then this will be the car of your dreams.
|Vehicle type||Four-door, 5-seat luxury sporting limousine|
|Engine||6.75L twin-turbo OHV V-8; aluminum block/heads|
|Power (SAE net)||505 hp @ 4,200 rpm|
|Torque||752 lb.-ft. (1,020 Nm) @ 1,750 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||104 x 99|
|Wheelbase||128.6 ins. (3,266 mm)|
|Overall length||219.5 ins. (5,575 mm)|
|Overall width||75.8 ins. (1,926 mm)|
|Overall height||59.9 ins. (1,521 mm)|
|Curb weight||5,976 lbs. (2,711 kg)|
|Fuel economy||11/18 mpg (21.3-13 L/100 km)|
|Surprisingly nimble for 3 tons||1 Mulsanne = 13 Chevy Impalas|
|Comfort, craftsmanship and stately style||Active-safety features lacking|
|Great tax shelter||$3,700 gas-guzzler tax|