Bentley's Mulsanne Speed is the custodian of the company's purest bloodline. James Fosdyke reports.
Bentley has always been about building huge GT cars and opulent saloons that just so happened to be enormously fast. The Mulsanne Speed is arguably the epitome of that, serving up almost unparalleled luxury and a 0-62mph time that might scare the odd super car.
Back in the 1930s, Bentley won Le Mans with the legendary 4 1/2 'Blowers'. They were so good that even James Bond had one, but back then they were built a little bit differently to today's Bentleys. By and large, the Bentley chassis would be taken to a coachbuilder such as Mulliners, where an often-bespoke body would be fitted. The eventual result of all this coachbuilding was invariably a host of very fast cars with luxurious bodies sitting atop the racy underpinnings.
Fast-forward 80 years and the art of coachbuilding has all but been forgotten. Bentley now makes the bodies in-house, but they're still as luxurious as ever. The Mulsanne is Bentley's flagship, and as such it's the last word in opulence, but the Mulsanne Speed version is here to turn the leather-lined barge into a sports saloon. Boasting an extra 25PS, adding another £20,000 to the asking price and shaving almost half a second from the 0-62mph time, the big Bentley means business.
Under the long, imperious bonnet of the Mulsanne Speed lies a 6z-litre V8 with two turbochargers, which takes the power output to 537PS and produce a mountainous 1,100Nm. That allows the 2.7-tonne Bentley to hit 62mph in a mere 4.9 seconds before racing on to 190mph. That means the Mulsanne Speed hits 62mph 0.4 seconds ahead of the standard car and is 6mph faster at the top end.
Nought-to-sixty times don't tell the whole story though, and while the Bentley may boast supercar performance figures, the company has worked hard to make sure the Mulsanne Speed doesn't handle like a superyacht when the road stops being straight. Comfort suspension is standard, allowing for a silky-smooth ride, but the Speed also gets a sports setting, which firms the car up and makes it more agile. If you would prefer, you can even set the car up yourself using the 'Custom' mode, which allows you to put the steering, suspension, and engine in your desired settings individually.
At first glance, the Mulsanne Speed looks like any other Mulsanne, although how many Mulsannes do you see every day? Those in the know, however, will spot the dark tint to the grille, wheels and the light fittings, as well as the discreet 'Speed' badging and rifled exhaust.
The cabin is classic British luxury, with a slightly cluttered but very cosy look complimenting the diamond-stitched seats and the aluminium switchgear. Practicality isn't likely to be at the forefront of any Bentley owner's mind, but given that one of the pillars of luxury is space, a good Bentley is pretty roomy in the back, and this one is no exception.
A 3,266mm wheelbase allows for plenty of cabin space, and the 443-litre boot should be plenty for a few designer suitcases. This being a luxury saloon though, there's no option to fold the rear seats down in order to pack more bags. Build quality ought to be fantastic given the reputation both of Bentley and its parent company, Volkswagen, not to mention the quarter of a million-pound price point.
There is only one trim level for the Mulsanne Speed, and it is as luxurious as they come. At this high stratum of luxury cars, where prices are measured in fractions of millions rather than simply in thousands, wrapping everything in leather and throwing in a sat-nav isn't going to cut the mustard as it would in, say, a Peugeot. No, a Bentley needs some real attention to detail, and that's what the Speed gets.
Denoted by carbon-fibre inserts in the Piano Black veneer, this top-of-the-range Mulsanne is gifted the Mulliner Driving Specification as standard, serving up diamond-quilted leather on the seats and doors, hide headlining, Bentley emblems embroidered onto the seats, a knurled gear lever and ventilation controls and drilled aluminium pedals.
The infotainment system is not just capable of reading an iPod; instead it stores the driver's music on a built-in 60GB hard drive, while tables in the back can be specified with recesses to prop up an iPad and the car has its own WiFi hotspot. Speed owners can even upgrade the already pretty punchy 14-speaker sound system to get a 2,200W Naim system which the manufacturer describes as "the best in-car sound experience in the world", while those who like to transport a bottle of fizz can install a frosted glass bottle cooler between the rear seats.
Running a Bentley will never be cheap, but then the car itself is a symbol of wealth and success, so that isn't likely to put any potential customers off. Admittedly, such an enormous engine is always going to be thirsty, and 19.3mpg is what you'll get if you drive with your carpet slippers on rather than your racing booties. It's unlikely to trouble the Bentley driver's wallet too much, but it may be rather inconvenient to spend quite so much time stood by the side of the car, fuel nozzle in hand.
Servicing, too, will cost a pretty penny, with Bentley dealers charging sizeable sums for simple things such as services. They'll look after you and your car though, and with cars like these, depreciation is going to be a killer, so every penny you can get back through selling a tidy vehicle is going to help. On a brighter note, road tax won't be too costly because the Bentley and its rivals are all so polluting that even 20 or 30g/km differences in emissions make absolutely no difference to the tax band: all of them lie in the top-rate bracket of £505.
At some point in the past couple of years, Bentley decided that a 2.7-tonne car that could do 0-62mph in less than 5.5 seconds just wasn't impressive enough, so the grand old British marque built the Mulsanne Speed. Getting 537PS from the 6 z-litre V8 brought the sprint down to 4.9 seconds and a wealth of extra luxury dragged the price up by around £23,000.
Is it worth that outlay? If you work on the principle that you could by a decent Ford Focus for that, then no, but if you think of it as a percentage, and say that the Speed is just 9% more expensive than the standard Mulsanne, then opting for the added pace and opulence makes more sense. Sensibility probably shouldn't come into the equation though, and no matter which way you look at it, the Mulsanne Speed would appear to be a fitting flagship for the Bentley range.