When this Bentley Mulsanne test car first arrived at my house - barely squeezing onto the driveway - it caused quite a stir. My neighbours gawped at it. The builders working on some new houses just over the road crowded around it. Then a shocked passer by asked me if I’d just bought it. That’s because a car like this is a sign of making it. It’s a sign of success, and letting everyone around you know just how successful that success was. And you know what? After wafting around in one of these cars for a week, it really did make me feel important. Here’s why:
From the sheer size of the thing (it’s five and a half metres long), to that big flat front end with its massive mesh grille, you get the general sense that you’re lording it over all the other motorists when you’re in the Mulsanne. A quick show of hands in the CT office determined that most would actually deem the big Bentley ugly, but I disagree: I’m fond of the way it blends the classic look of Bentleys gone by with a thoroughly modern and aggressive aesthetic. Oh, and the elegant flying ‘B’ adorning the end of the absurdly long bonnet isn’t bad either.
2. The interior is nicer than that found in my house
Yes, at £232,000 the Bentley Mulsanne costs about the same as your average three-bed semi, but then it’s nicer inside than most regular houses. The interior is festooned in some of the finest wood and leather you’ll ever clock eyes on, and the blue carpet of our test car was of an exceptionally deep pile, but it’s the little details which do it for me.
The air vents, for example, are gorgeous chrome hemispherical items, matched with exquisite chrome levers that you push and pull to turn the air flow on and off. Then there’s the brake pedal, which is - curiously - an oval shape and has the letter ‘B’ stamped in the middle. It all comes together to make the interior feel very special indeed.
3. Everything is electric
Sitting in the back of a Bentley Mulsanne gives you an almost overwhelming plethora of options. Perhaps you could close the electric rear and side curtains. Maybe you could fold out one of the electric tray tables. Want to get more comfortable? The electric adjustable seat will see you nicely reclined in seconds, and give you a massage if you fancy it. Oh, and while you’re at it, you may as well enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate your latest business acquisition, assuming you’ve optioned the bottle cooler (and why wouldn’t you?).
In other words, if you want lots of electric bits to make your life more pleasant, you’ll have plenty to play with here.
Buy one of these cars, and you’ll most likely spend most of your time sitting in the back being chauffeured, but if you do ever give Parker/Alfred/Jeeves the day off, you’ll have a bloody good time behind the wheel. With around 2.7 tonnes of car to haul about, I was expecting the Mulsanne to handle like a cruise ship, but I was wrong.
In ‘Sport’ mode the steering is light and quick, grip from the rear is commendable given the 500bhp and 752lb ft of torque the wheels have to deal with, and there’s just enough roll for it to be entertaining without it being a tremendous mess. You can chop through corners without feeling like you’re sitting on a giant blancmange, and while it can’t mask its weight entirely, there’s a perverse pleasure to be had in hurling the car equivalent of a modernised country house. The way the long nose in front of you visibly pitches up and down under heavy acceleration and braking is fantastic to watch.
It’s also quick in a straight line. The 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8 - an engine of Rolls-Royce origin which can be traced all the way back to the late 1950s - revs to just 4500rpm, but with a slick ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox flicking through its ratios swiftly and without fuss, you’re treated to a near-seamless surge of grunt. It’ll do 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds, and tops out at 184mph.
Make no mistake, I am a terrible backseat driver. Fellow CT staffer Darren experienced this first hand on our recent London to Paris Tesla trip when I shouted at him numerous times while he navigated around the notorious Arc de Triomphe roundabout. And yet, in the Bentley, I was happy to give up the driver’s seat.
I did just that by borrowing an improvised chauffeur, and would have happily let him drive me around for hours. Even when my part-time Parker was told to make haste, I continued to enjoy my leather clad cocoon, enjoying acres of legroom and feeling more relaxed than if I were taking a hot bath.
What’s not so good
As much as I love the interior, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of Audi switchgear going on (Bentley is owned by VW, remember), which is for the most part blended well with Crewe’s own bits, but the mass of buttons at the bottom of the centre console is a tad unsightly and a faff to use.
There’s one problem that’s much more serious, especially for a car like this. And that’s the ride. If you’re expecting the Mulsanne to glide over road surfaces like it’s wafting about on a cloud - as a Rolls Royce does - you’ll be disappointed. It’d be absurd to call it firm, but at the same time, it’s just not as cosseting as I was expecting. Yes, the fact that the suspension’s a tad firmer is great for point number 4, but is it really worth sacrificing ride quality for it?
It’s the same dilemma as the Jaguar XJR we drove recently. The sort of people who buy these big limos have multiple cars (the company’s chairman previously said that the average Bentley owner has eight cars), so would probably have something else to use for brisker driving - maybe even the very good Continental GT V8 S, if they’re into brand loyalty.
Then there’s the price. You don’t expect a Bentley to be cheap, but its £224,000 price tag sticks it over £80,000 ahead of a long wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S600, and you have to question if you’re actually getting enough in return for that premium.
All that being said, there’s a certain allure the Mulsanne has that’s hard to resist. It’s opulent, imposing, classy, and with the way it’s set up to drive so surprisingly well is brilliantly daft (in the best possible way). If you ever make it and want a big luxury limo, you could go down the obvious route of a Mercedes S-Class or if you want to make it really clear that you’re loaded, a Rolls-Royce of some description. But buy the Mulsanne, and you’ll show the world that you like to think differently. You’ll show the world that you’re just a little bit eccentric, and secretly, a bit of a hooligan.