That’s when the 8-Litre was unveiled, a car that WO Bentley personally oversaw to the nth degree.
Unfortunately, his attention to detail was combined with a global recession. Bentley was crippled, rival Rolls-Royce pounced, and decades of Bentleys as rebadged Rolls-Royce followed. It ensured the company survived, sure, but it wasn’t the proudest of continuations.
Of course, since VW bought Bentley, finally separating it from Rolls-Royce, the firm has been thriving. The last year or so has been a blip rather than a trend, and word is things are recovering again. It’s thus the perfect time, reckons Bentley, to launch its first all-new range-topping saloon since that fabled 8-Litre. Goodbye Rolls-Royce-derived Arnage, hello Mulsanne. A car as all-British and all-Bentley as they come.
Car Dealer Magazine attended the car’s international launch for the car, of which UK dealers will soon be second only to US outlets in snaring a slice of the 800-a-year volume. It’s going to be a well-heeled set drawn in, too. Prices may start at £220k for the Mulsanne, cannily placing it right between the Rolls-Royce Ghost and Phantom – but Bentley expects most will add a good £50k on top of that. Such is the virtually limitless array of personalisation options on offer.
It’s not all about the interior, either. The 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8’s fuel-saving deactivation was detailed to us, along with its 505bhp and eight-speed auto’s ability to withstand the staggering 1,019Nm torque figure. Much of this comes in at idle, added the engine expert, with knowing understatement. It takes around 2,000 people a good nine weeks to build each Mulsanne, and the standards on display are ‘the best ever achieved’.
The Bentley didn’t disappoint when it crunched up the gravel drive to the launch handover depot. Over 5.5 metres in length, it’s a huge car, with a stately and elegant rear swoop (‘like a coupe’ is the intention). Yet there’s an understatement to it that trades back a Rolls-Royce Ghost’s visual clout. Old money Britishness, if you like; imposing yet not ostentatious.
We thought we’d mirror many buyers by being a passenger first of all (actually, said Bentley later, dealers report many more will use this as a driver’s car rather than a chauffeur wagon). From the very first tug of the chrome door handle, we were treated to a precision-fit, hand-crafted tactile masterclass.
A tall, cockpit-like dashboard is dominated by wood paneling that really is wood, even the bits you can’t see. It wraps elegantly right around the cabin, creating a ‘ring of wood’ that Bentley head Dr Pfasdfegen apparently insisted on (despite the expense and complexity).
Both auto shifter and three-spoke steering wheel are sporty, the seats are high yet pretty firm and supportive, and the reverse-swing dials are simply brilliant.
With leather specially treated so it’s soft to the touch, and every bit that looks metal proving to actually be real metal, the impact of the interior is jaw-dropping.
It can’t match a Rolls-Royce for rear comfort, but it’s still good – and we’d even say the slightly sportier control of the air-sprung ride is slightly more preferable.
Yes, on the move, the Mulsanne is a thing of wonder. You’ll savour the ride yet be amazed at how it can also turn into corners so crisply, accurately and with so much confidence. The engine staggers with its immediate pulling power and utter mechanical refinement. Steering is just right, brakes are just so, everything about it oozes the quality you’d expect of a quarter-million-pound car. By Lord, is it fast, too.
It may have taken 80 years, but the patience of the Bentley Boys has been worth it. With the Mulsanne, loyal dealers at last have a range-topper that epitomises the brand, and should help them staple their top-level credentials. If, in doing so, it means putting one over Rolls-Royce in the process, then all for the good. It’s not as if the opportunity comes round that often…
by RICHARD AUCOCK