In the same way that the Tesla transports you to a future ruled by instant everything, the Bentley makes you want to buy a smoking jacket and a gun dog and go and live somewhere stone-built and untouched by the relentless creep of technology.
Of course, I may be doing the Bentley a disservice by suggesting that it’s backward-looking. It has an effective, modern-feeling sat-nav and audio system, and if you sit in the back, where there’s enough open floor space to iron your slacks if you want, you will find iPad holders. Wooden-clad, electronically extending iPad holders, no less, that prop your tablet up just so and keep it charged.
Details such as these make the Bentley feel so special: the soft-close action on the door to the chilled champagne cabinet; the embroidered leather case for the warning triangle; the specific ‘B’ setting on the standard variable driving modes, so you know that this is how Bentley’s own engineers would have the standard air suspension, steering and gearbox tune.
For all that, we’re most keen on sampling Sport mode, since this is the one tuned specifically for the Speed. While the other settings are unchanged from the normal Mulsanne, Sport brings damper and steering settings that are unique to the Speed. It’s this, and the extra power and torque – 530bhp and 811lb ft to the regular car’s 506bhp and 752lb ft – that set the Speed apart.
Set off with gusto, though, and it doesn’t feel dramatically different from the standard Mulsanne. It has the same overall sense that it’s progressing by pounding the road into submission, delivering wonderfully enjoyable but generally heavy-handed responses.
Turn in and, regardless of the firmer set-up, you’re keenly aware of the weight, as all 2.7 tonnes lean over onto the outside wheel, promptly surrendering the car into easily manageable but quite copious amounts of understeer. Of course, if you have the guts and the space, you can poke the twin-turbo V8 motor and get the back end to step out, but that would be frankly vulgar – like seeing the Queen in denim.
Still, the Mulsanne is a joy to drive. In moderately vigorous use there’s satisfaction to be had in sweeping through bends and generally revelling in the grandeur. It’s a lovely engine, and the eight-speed automatic transmission – also tuned specifically for the Speed’s monstrous level of torque – does a good job of shuffling the ratios to make sure that you’re always best placed to take advantage of an ocean of thrust.
It even rides with suitable aplomb, particularly at sedate speeds, when it sighs over broken roads and leaves you mostly oblivious to surface patina. Higher speeds result in more noticeable thumps and shivers at times, while awkward cambers can tug at the steering wheel. Essentially, though, piloting the Mulsanne is a delight – albeit not a particularly sporting one.
The Tesla is also not the most sporting of performance saloons. Even after stepping out of the endearingly portly Bentley, the Model S doesn’t feel nimble. Swing it into a bend and, while it stays flatter and much more neutral through your chosen line than the Mulsanne, there’s still plenty of body roll, while the steering lacks the feedback you get in the Bentley’s light but precise and delightfully oily-feeling hydraulic rack.
Ultimately, for all its extraordinary accelerative potential, the P85D is most at home in sprightly six-tenths driving, where it feels cohesive, predictable and satisfying despite its hefty bulk and shortage of feedback through the controls.