We’ve all been there. You’ve booked to go to the theatre or a restaurant with friends and the day before, they cry off. This time it was down to a rugby tackle from a small child to the side of my friend’s knee. The result was strapping, crutches and a level of pain that rendered him unable to travel from outside the M25 into the city the following evening.
Thankfully, I had the Bentley Mulsanne at my disposal, a car – no, limousine – with so much rear legroom you can sit there with both legs in splints. We arrived at Union Chapel in Islington at 6.20pm, ten minutes before the parking restrictions lifted, waiting outside on the single yellow, toying with the crystal champagne flutes that come as standard.
If we’d realised those glasses were there before we left home I’d have dropped in a bottle of Krug. But then, perhaps it was for the best; we were already parked alongside queuing concert-goers in a Bentley, we didn’t want to antagonise them further.
The closest equivalent to a Mulsanne is probably a Rolls-Royce but Bentley’s version sits on a different plane. It may be a similar price to a Phantom – a quarter of a million gets you in at the lower end – but it’s less overtly ostentatious. A Bentley is more discreet, with a sporting slant and the promise of extreme performance in every model.
So you’ve chosen a Bentley, but why this model, instead of, say, the more affordable Flying Spur? This is still the proper old-school, genuine article, not something that has been conceived, developed and engineered with vast input from Wolfsburg and the – undoubtedly impressive – skills of the Volkswagen Group. The V8 engine of the Mulsanne dates back decades to when the company stood alongside Rolls-Royce. Simply put, it’s your chance to own a piece of history.
That’s not to say the Mulsanne isn’t the height of contemporary luxury. It boasts leather seats with diamond quilting (not real diamonds, sadly, just the shape of the stitching). The interior also has a two-tone colour scheme that’s rather pleasing. And, as a nod to Bentley’s engineering, there’s plenty of craftsmanship in the coining, knurling and drilling present in the handles, levers and pedals.
Soft, clubby and comfortable, it’s such a silent ride that it’s rather too easy to overlook speed cameras. The Mulsanne is simply so quiet that the run through north London later that night resulted in an anxious two-week wait for an anticipated speeding ticket which, thankfully, never arrived.
In this revised Speed version, the massive 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine now has a staggering 637hp, which is close to that of the McLaren 650S, for heaven’s sake. While the Bentley’s 2.7-tonne weight plays against it, it’s still good for 190mph and reaches 60mph in 4.8 seconds. But not along the Holloway Road, obviously.
Not only is the Mulsanne faster than ever, there’s a new Sports mode for the transmission that keeps the engine revs up so the turbochargers are ready to provide instant thrust. Yet, in the spirit of our times, it’s cleaner, too, with lower CO2 and better fuel economy. That means on a good day you’ll be able to cover 400 miles between stops for fuel – more when cruising at a steady speed, which isn’t bad in the rarefied climate of luxury cars.
While the new Bentley certainly looks like a classic car, improvements under the hood mean it now drives like one, too.
Peter Burgess works for motoringresearch.com.
THE FACTS: BENTLEY MULSANNE SPEED
0-62MPH: 4.2 secs
TOP SPEED: 206mph
CO2 G/KM: 338g/km
MPG COMBINED: 19.4 mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ★★★☆☆