I’ve never browsed the internet on an iPad in a car before and certainly not at terrifically high speeds on a test track. But here I find myself, Skyping with the missus from one of the rear seats of a £225,000 rear-wheel drive Bentley Mulsanne.
On this grandest of Grand Tours, I’ve breakfasted at Hartwell House and had afternoon tea at Chatsworth House. Later I will be full to the gills on what can best be described as gourmet good living. After that I might have a snooze in the back seat, which will be very comfortable indeed, once I’ve folded the iPad and keyboard away into the rear tray table of the seat back, reclined rearwards and slipped out of my glove-like GJ Cleverly shoes.
For now I’m at Bruntingthorpe – formally a WWII airfield and US heavy bomber base – which is a test track these days, a place that is also the last resting place of some of the most interesting aircraft ever made including a funny-looking, rainbow-painted Aero Spacelines Super Guppy. Not that I have time to properly observe them, they are a blur of 60 years of aeronautical progress as I hurtle through the corners in the Mulsanne.
Bentley has always been about the driver’s seat and it’s here where I spend the majority of my time. Astonishingly, at 167mph the only sound readily apparent to the ears is wind noise as the 2.5-tonne flagship Bentley heaves itself through the air. At such speeds the engine is almost silent, so most of its wondrous oomph is insulated from the calm opulence of its cabin.
Of course, it’s a powerful, brutal beast. Zero to 62mph is dismissed in just 5.3 seconds. Top speed is an impudent 184mph. On track, the Mulsanne is far more of a racer than expected, especially when cornering. Apparently, defying the laws of physics is just one of its privileges. The Mulsanne rides far flatter than a car this big should. This results in some overconfidence. Early on I travel rather too quickly towards a corner, which in the mental road map of my mind, I have, somewhat alarmingly, geographically misplaced. My co-driver certainly thinks so. Years of experience as a Bentley test driver have seemingly left him unprepared for this event. As the pitch of his voice raises in a maidenly fashion, it becomes clear that mentally he has already left the car via the passenger window.
Thankfully the brakes are so very good. The car stops far more quickly than the landscape, as if I’m driving in front of a projection screen which is yet to be switched off. A second and third lap see my performance improve much to the relief of the gentleman from Bentley beside me.
The Mulsanne has a number of different ride settings. “Comfort”, “Bentley” and “Sport”. I find the ride in Comfort mode to be too soft, and the Bentley mode – a “normal” setting determined by Bentley’s chief engineer – though very comfortable, is still not as robust as Sport which gives the firmest ride. Is it strange to ride everywhere in a Bentley Mulsanne in Sport mode? Unusual perhaps but I’m sure the Bentley Boys would have approved.
The elegant, if muscular, exterior design of the Mulsanne is a shape that you need to gently absorb, a form that becomes more beautiful the more you are acquainted with it. The Mulsanne’s cabin is archetypal in its handcrafted splendour: so much more than simply the sum of its walnut, leather and chrome parts The interior of the Mulsanne is all about the details. There are few places to sit which are as good as this. The “Theatre Specification” and iPad specification in our test Mulsanne amount to an £85,000 option, which, whichever way you spin it, offers possibly the world’s most exclusive access to the internet, after tweeting from the International Space station.
Ninety years or so ago, WO Bentley started out to create “something large, fast, silent and comfortable”, it’s abundantly clear that the Bentley Mulsanne is all that and more. Driving it is a special event in itself, wherever you choose to sit. Though I’d drive myself if I were you.
THE FACTS: BENTLEY MULSANNE
0-62MPH: 5.3 secs
TOP SPEED: 184mph
CO2 G/KM: 393g/km
MPG COMBINED: 16.7mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ***