As far as luxury marques are concerned, few have a history equal to Bentley, says Frederic Manby.
I WAS doing the regulation 60mph when a cock pheasant flew into the Mulsanne windscreen.
That will be a talking point in the coops. “Hear about Charlie? Only flew into one of them new Bentleys, didn’t he? Nothing common for him. Lucky escape. Just a bit sore round the scapulars.”
The Mulsanne is the ultimate Bentley, a grand touring limousine that takes its name from a small community in Central France, part of the Le Mans 24-Hour race which Bentley has won six times.
It is the first Bentley flagship car to be created solely “in house” at Crewe since the formidable eight-litre model in 1930. Just 100 of those were made.
Mr Bentley had one himself, seen here alongside the latest Mulsanne. It is worth £5m. A historical footnote tells us that Bentley was then going bust and soon to be taken over by Rolls-Royce.
Annual production of the Mulsanne will be about 800. Deliveries start in September.
The standard car costs £220,000 and it is sold out until the middle of 2011. The car I tried was £260,000. The extras included the 21-inch wheels in place of 20s, adaptive cruise control (but no speed limiter), a rear view camera, a six-disc DVD player, a television, metal Bentley winged badges on the door ledges and fascia, a 2,200 watt, 20 speaker Naim audio.
“It is the most powerful in any production car,” explained our riding companion, Ashley Wilkins, programme manager for this and other Bentleys.
He turned up the volume. It got very very loud without distortion, but I am not sure why so much is needed in so small a space.
The Mulsanne seats four in comfort, five at a pinch. Bentley is the luxury brand in the Volkswagen Group. The majority of models use a VW derived 12-cylinder, six –litre engine and various parts shipped across the Channel. Mulsanne is bespoke English.
For the first time in a Bentley the new V8 can run on four cylinders at light throttle loadings up to 50 or 60mph. It saves fuel and reduces emissions and the transition is imperceptible.
Hundreds of millions of pounds, or euros, have been spent changing Crewe to make Mulsanne. The 6.75 litre V8, a Bentley staple for 51 years in various guises, is re-engineered to be lighter, cleaner, better.
The body panels of steel and aluminium were to be pressed in the English Midlands. As it happens, production of most panels has been switched to unspecified overseas countries for quality and other reasons.
AshleyWilkins is tight-lipped about these new origins.
The panels are either handbrazed or riveted by robots, whichever process is most suitable. Aluminium is used for the front wings, bonnet and doors. The boot lid is composite, to allow the navigation aerial to be embedded. The entire car takes some 500 hours, or nine weeks. That is about 20 or 30 times longer than needed for a normal car.
Even a Bentley Continental is completed in 200 hours. More than half the Mulsanne build time is on the interior, which craftsmen and women create using expensive and exquisite wood veneers and leather and metals. It takes two days just to stitch the steering wheel rimwith leather. The roof liner is leather, too, using hides from bulls bred in southern Germany. These beasts are kept longer, get bigger, suit the size needed for the Mulsanne ceiling.
At £220,000 for the basic Mulsanne it should be good, and it is. The outgoing Arnage was £175,000. The Mulsanne is bigger and has cost Bentley/VW a fortune in hopes and investment of time and resources.
But £45,000 more than an already very good Arnage! You could have a Porsche Cayman S for that lump of money.
The revitalised V8 gives useful acceleration. It is deceptively quick, mostly in near-silence though it is not quite the quietest car in the world.
Ashley Wilkins says owners wanted a V8 motor rather than the VW Group 12-cylinder. The V8 has greater torque at low speed. It has two turbochargers but you cannot hear them or any groovy V8 rumble from inside the car.
The company launched the Mulsanne to the world press at Archerfield, once a home to Lord Elgin, south-east of
The region’s roads are good, not too busy, but speckled with grey and yellow speed cameras to reduce the number of bad accidents.
Fair enough. The Mulsanne will “do” more than 180 miles an hour. In town and country it is easy to be going far too
quickly – a consequence of the torque and the power and silence. That’s why it needs a speed limiter.
The speedometer is on the left, the tachometer on the right. That is old fashioned and not intuitive these days.
The tachometer is a waste of space in a display which Bentley wanted to keep simple. It is redlined at 4,500rpm and after you have noticed that the car cruises at 70mph at 1,500rpm in the eighth gear of the German ZF gearbox, I am not sure why else you would look at it.
There are four suspension settings, including one you can custom-set. Even in “comfort” the Mulsanne is remarkably agile. The steering is so positive and yet light.
The Sport setting tightens things up and alters the throttle response. The ride is still very good. In between is a B for Bentley setting, an in-house suggested compromise twixt comfortable and sporting.
The Mulsanne weighs two and a half tons yet corners flat, like a good sports car but with amazing refinement and
comfort. Most owners will drive the Mulsanne themselves.
The car is large but quite easy to judge and place. For other road users it has presence, with its elegant body and imposing mesh grille and halo LED lights. It avoids the brash face of a modern Rolls-Royce. It is car for gentlemen. The R-R is for new-money entrepreneurs.
Which are you?
• This report has appeared in the Yorkshire Post