2013 BENTLEY MULSANNE REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Four door, twin-turbo V8 sedan
Price: $662,857 (plus on-roads)
Fuel economy listed: 16.9 l/100km | tested: 26.5 l/100km
Let’s start 2013 with a “dreamer”: Bentley’s stratospheric country-club on wheels, the Mulsanne.
When the stately Arnage - Bentley’s flagship - was put to pasture, its replacement had to fill big shoes. The Mulsanne not only fills them, but busts them wide open.
This is one big car.
While it follows the traditional Bentley line of 6.75-litre V8, rear-wheel-drive and cosseting luxury, it also employs thoroughly modern features such as cylinder de-activation, cam-phasing, eight-speed automatic and multimedia interface.
How well does it blend old and new, and how well does it stack up to its competition? Bentley invited TMR to spend some time behind the wheel to find out.
Quality: When creating the Mulsanne, Bentley was specific about the leather it used; it had to be tanned in the old-school fashion so it had the rich smell of Bentleys past.
And so it proves: when the doors are opened, the nostrils are greeted with the inviting aroma of sumptuous leather.
The softness of the hide is second to none - the seats are like sitting in butter.
Other ‘club’ touches abound: the ashtrays are solid stainless steel (and weigh a tonne) and the knurled metal on the infotainment switches is a nice touch.
The door handles are polished stainless also, as are the organ-stop air-vent switches (and the bullseye vents). The metal is real metal and the switches and buttons aren’t glossy plastic – they’re glass-coated.
The steering wheel takes 15 hours to hand stitch, and the chromework (polished stainless steel) takes 10 hours to polish.
The wood veneers, however, don’t quite match up to those inside a Rolls-Royce; looking across the surface of our test car’s Bird’s Eye Maple, you can see the ripples and pockmarks where the lacquer has sunk into the grain.
Also on the negative side of the ledger, the small rotary-push joystick controller is a tad ‘floppy’ in its movement, cheapening the feel somewhat. A dial which slides in four directions (a la COMAND or iDrive) would improve this.
Comfort: This a superluxury car; there’s no mistaking its purpose when you hop inside. For unadulterated comfort, few can match these seats. And all surfaces you touch have an exquisite feel.
There are seat massagers and then there’s the Mulsanne’s system of kneading rollers. It is quite simply the best of any car on sale, and means that a therapeutic back rub can be delivered while driving. This correspondent may have spent a few too many hours enjoying the experience…
That all four outboard passengers get this feature is a real bonus, and one that sets the Mulsanne apart.
Headroom and legroom is extremely generous all round, thanks to a 3266mm wheelbase, and entry and exit is as easy as you will experience from a car. Comfort? Oh yeah.
Equipment: The Mulsanne is heavily stocked with everything you’d expect: rain-sensing wipers, dimming rear-view mirror, seat massagers, four-zone climate control (for the rear, the controls are in the centre armrest), reclining and sliding rear outboard seats, a hide-lined glovebox, electrically-operated rear and window blinds, and real wood tray tables on the seat-backs.
There’s an eight-inch multifunction display for sound, DVD, satnav, car info and other details; it’s also the reversing camera screen. Backing it up is a 60GB hard-drive and a six-CD changer, plus an iPod and iPhone connector in a small drawer below it. The screen is covered by a wood panel when the car is switched off.
Our test car also came with the “Naim for Bentley” sound system, retailing for a not insubstantial $9000. Audiophiles will happily fork out the money – the sound is just superb.
Storage: Apart from the generous glovebox, there’s a leather lined scalloped tray at the base of the centre stack, big door pockets, a good-sized centre console storage area and document holders on the seatbacks.
One surprise, though, is the size of the boot. At 443 litres, it’s too small for a car which is 5.6 metres long.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Not many road cars can boast 1020Nm of torque, but thanks to a huge V8 (6.75-litres) and twin turbos, the Mulsanne does just that.
Using its eight-speed automatic to great effect, the Mulsanne builds speed off the line with alarming pace.
A deep, bass-enriched V8 sound accompanies the unleashing of that monstrous slab of torque, as it hurtles you toward the horizon in wide-eyed wonder.
Its 0-100km/h time is a modest 5.3 seconds, but that’s thanks to the launch-control that prevents the tyres being fried from every set of traffic lights.
And what’s really impressive is the rolling acceleration; when overtaking, the Mulsanne’s 2.6-tonne heft disappears in a rocket-ship blast of prodigious power.
The steering is light but still gives enough feedback, and though it’s not especially direct, its weight can be altered when set into Sports mode using the Drive Dynamics Control dial on the centre console.
This also alters the suspension and shift patterns. In Sports mode the suspension firms up for cornering (physics notwithstanding), or, choose Comfort and the ride is calmingly, serenely pliant.
Refinement: Thanks to two layers of glass (in effect, double-glazing), the cabin remains hushed no matter what the speed.
Despite the monster 377kW engine attached to it, the ZF automatic is brilliant in its smoothness, and the relaxed manner in which it slurs the shifts is perfect for this sort of car.
There are paddles for shifting as well - not that many Bentley owners will use them.
Suspension: Riding on an air-sprung suspension and 20-inch wheels, the Mulsanne’s ride is impeccable. The Continuous Damping Control (CDC) system is constantly monitoring, making adjustments to damping rates and ride height.
Braking: Whopping 400mm front and 370mm rear discs help to haul the Mulsanne up, with excellent pedal feel and a good resistance to fade.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: The Mulsanne features 10 airbags, ESC, TC, ABS, EBD and plenty of other acronyms. Child seats can be fitted with either Isofix or top-tether arrangements, and there’s a tyre pressure monitoring system as well.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Service intervals are 15,000km and pricing varies dependent on interval.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Rolls-Royce Ghost ($650,000) - The Mulsanne is the bigger car, but the Ghost’s interior is far more modern.
The Ghost gets a V12, is slightly quicker off the mark, is nimbler and better looking. Do you want space or pace? (see Ghost reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Bentley’s flagship is no shrinking violet. Although perfectly sumptuous, and with perfect regal poise on-road, its engine and gearbox combo is brilliant.
In a more sensible world, there would be laws against such astonishing torque and its cosseting fleet-footed performance.
Driving it, in fact, is trance-inducing.
There are so few black marks - perhaps the finish, though exquisite, is not quite a match for its size-rival, the Phantom - that only a nit-picking curmudgeon would find fault.
That said, while the Mulsanne is “tempting” (and we use that term advisedly - we’re dreaming remember), so is its price-rival, the Rolls-Royce Ghost.
One thing’s for sure, though – 1020Nm is extremely persuasive…