Enthralling and delightful, yes; but a ‘driver’s car’…?
The Bentley Mulsanne Speed is aimed at people who want to drive, rather than those who want to be driven – which sounds something of an oxymoron when talking about a £250,000 luxury limo car that weighs the best part of three tonnes. But when something combines fantastic opulence with a 530bhp 6.75-litre bi-turbo petrol V8 and a sub-five-second 0-62mph sprint, why should the chauffeur have all the fun?
Bentley Mulsanne Speed
Engine: 6.75-litre, V8, twin-turbocharged, petrol
Gearbox: 8spd automatic
Top speed: 190mph
Economy: 18.8mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 342g/km, 37%
It may not be a traditional example of a ‘driver’s car’, but the Mulsanne Speed is still wonderfully enjoyable from behind the wheel. This model has been sleekly facelifted – which means it’s all new ahead of the A-pillar – but mechanical alterations are limited to such things as new active engine mounts and bushes for the air-suspension, and advanced foam tyre architecture to boost refinement and cut cabin noise by 4 decibels.
One parades the Mulsanne Speed as much as drives it, such is its aura of superiority on the road. In fact, the obscenely fast getaway enabled by its huge torque waves of 811lb ft from 1750rpm is almost at odds with its grace and poise. Such irreverent hints of rock and roll vulgarity provide the real entertainment here.
The sublime refinement really comes into its own once the buzz has worn off. Select Comfort mode on the motorway and things are as near silent, luxurious and relaxed as an upmarket hotel suite.
Looking to tackle some corners with verve? Sport mode is what you need to enjoy a modicum of involvement and handling prowess, and yet… the result could be construed as being a little underwhelming. It depends what you want from a ‘driver’s car’, of course, but under these vigorous conditions the Bentley leans ponderously on its front tyre to the point of rather uncouth understeer. At least the steering itself weights up nicely at speed after a rather meaty start, delivering a fair sense of connection and fluidity.
Surprisingly, ride comfort is where the Mulsanne Speed falters. It isn’t quite good enough from either the back or the front seats, shivering and thudding over recessed drain covers or sharp-edged potholes when in Comfort mode, even if it lopes over high-frequency or long-wave imperfections.
Bentley mode firms things up so that you feel an echo of the surface’s undulations and scars; meanwhile, Sport setting provides very little additional body control yet pushes ride comfort even further away from what you’d expect in a Mulsanne. The Speed still rides majestically, true, but it isn’t quite the same exceptional vintage as the now-out-of-production Phantom.
At least the lavish cabin is everything you’d expect of Bentley, and more. The seats have been redesigned, and are wonderfully soft, supportive and adjustable. The dash – which has a few too many buttons – houses an updated eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with bespoke, classy-looking graphics and very user-friendly controls. It comes with full media connectivity and a 60-gigabyte hard drive, although the Entertainment Specification pack that brings the excellent Naim audio system and two 10.4-inch retracting rear touchscreens with wireless headphones costs an extra £14,890.
Ultimately, and despite its name, the Mulsanne Speed is neither a driver’s car nor quite the class-defining, indulgent limo that the Phantom was. Yet with that out-of-production model not due for replacement until 2018, it’s all Bentley has in this particular marketplace for now – and it remains a most remarkable of automotive creations. From its awe-inspiring burst of speed to its spectacular handcrafted detail, it enthralls as much as any pinnacle sports car.