The Bentley Mulsanne is a luxuriously well appointed limo with a dash of real driver appeal

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The Bentley Mulsanne is a car 80 years in the making. The last time the brand built a bespoke model from the ground up, W.O. Bentley was still on the payroll.

At the same time, the world was on the precipice of total financial ruin and Bentley itself was about to be bought by Rolls-Royce. While today’s backdrop bears some similarities to 1931, Bentley can at least now consider itself in good health.

The Mulsanne is the first ground-up new design from Bentley since 1931

The company has shown healthy post-recession growth, and under the guidance of new CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer the tectonically slow rotation of Crewe’s product renewal cycle is speeding up to include a much-anticipated SUV, allowing the Mulsanne to sit at the zenith of a larger line-up.

But for now it is for this flagship limousine to prove two things. First, that Volkswagen was right to allow Bentley sufficient freedom and scope to develop a unique £200,000 car at Crewe.

And second, that Bentley’s central offer – of effortless performance combined with hand-crafted luxury – still appeals in a market accustomed to high quality at a fraction of this price. To supplement the needs of those looking for more space there is an extended wheelbase Mulsanne and, in 2014 was joined by the more aggressively-styled Speed.

In 2016, the Mulsanne was facelifted with Bentley majoring on giving the big luxury car a fresh modern look, while empowering its technology to take the fight to the Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Mercedes-Mayback S 600.

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Looking towards the future, there is talk that the Mulsanne could be in line to receive an all-electric powertrain as Bentley aim to reign in the emissions its luxury machines make, while their Marketing Manager was keen not to rule out talk of a convertible Mulsanne in the future.



Bentley Mulsanne rear

The Mulsanne's look is traditional Bentley but with a modern touch, including an array of LEDs around the headlights' circumference to provide dipped beam. The front is a homage to the Bentley S-Type of the 1950s, but the look is thoroughly modern.

You can have the radiator grille in body colour or chromium plate to choice, and working your way through the ample options list is one of the most satisfying parts of buying a Bentley as you create your own aesthetic blend of colour, wheel design, interior finishes and so on. The bespoke world of Bentley Mulliner takes customisation to a level Mini dealers could only dream of.

The Mulsanne's body features lightweight doors and wings, plus a composite bootlid

The Flying B mascot is, surprisingly, optional but at least it retracts meaning the desirable - read thief magnet - ornament is more likely to remain attached over the long term. Other brightwork includes sill treadplates and matrix grilles.

The 2016 update was extensive and saw a new bumper, bonnet, radiator, front shell, grilles and lights incorporate to give the Mulsanne a wider visual presence. The new radiator grille is a throwback to historic Bentleys, such as the R-Type Continental and the Embiricos. The headlights have been upgraded to adaptive fully LEDs with the rear lights and bumper also subject to the makeover treatment.

Bentley’s flagship saloon is just under 5.6m long. As such, it’s about 350mm longer than Jaguar ’s long-wheelbase XJ, and large even by Bentley’s own standards. The long bonnet, short front overhang and long rear overhang is textbook luxury car styling. Against this girth, the wheels measure 20 inches, although 21s are optionally available.

Compared with its predecessor, the Arnage, it’s almost 200mm longer, although it has an identical claimed weight of 2585kg. The latest facelift has also seen the addition of active engine mounts and revised suspension bushes and specifically designed wave-absorbing Dunlop tyres.

The Mulsanne’s body allows for some of that weightless growth. It sits on a steel monocoque and features lightweight superformed aluminium doors and front wings, a process borne of the aerospace industry. Despite the cutting-edge technology, the D-pillars are so complex, they are created by coachbuilders.

Earlier this year the Mulsanne Speed was given a light facelift which largely saw the wick of the turbocharged 6.75-litre engine.


Bentley Mulsanne interior

Near the top of the centre console, underneath an eight-inch satellite navigation screen that motors almost noiselessly out from behind a veneered door, you’ll find the Mulsanne’s iPod connector. Hidden in a leather-lined, chrome-edged drawer, it’s the perfect microcosmic representation of this car’s mission statement: to deliver the very latest technology, and last word in comfort, to the Bentley customer, in a rich, elegant and unprecedented style.

The profusion of expensive-looking leathers, metals and veneers in this car’s cabin creates an ambience not just of real sumptuousness but of genuine warmth, too.

Few limousines can produce the same air of relaxed, informal luxury

Other limousines might approach the Mulsanne’s spaciousness and interior specification, but few produce the same air of relaxed, informal luxury. The driver sits in a tall chair that’s comfortable and supportive, and adjusts in 12 directions. A fairly large steering wheel presents itself ahead, with a veneer rim that’s easily adjusted to your preferred position.

The fascia in front of you is clad in glossy wood, surrounded on all sides by soft leather and punctuated by polished stainless steel fittings. There’s no Breitling clock, as in previous Bentleys, but the usual organ-stop ventilation controls are present.

Having criticised the Rolls-Royce Ghost for cabin componentry carried over from a BMW 7 Series, we must praise the Mulsanne both for the uniqueness of its interior fittings and for the tactile material quality on show. Even the smallest rotary knob on the centre console, which adjusts the volume on the 14-speaker audio system, is breathtaking.

The opulent luxury in the rear cabin is just as impressive. Eight-way adjustable heated seats are standard, and they grant a maximum of 1050mm of legroom and 940mm of headroom. That’s more legroom than you get in either a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or an Audi A8. In fact, rear headroom is within 50mm of a Range Rover’s.

The overall equipment level of the Mulsanne was increased in 2013's overhaul with three new specification packages. The Comfort spec included new headrests, adjustable lateral wings, footrests and loose duck down pillows. Upgrade to the Premiere and you get some lovely ambient interior lighting, rear view camera, climate control and massaging front seats, and veneer iPod drawer, while the Entertainment spec adds picnic tables, 8in screens in the headrests, DVD player, 20GB hard drive and Bluetooth headphones. 

The 2016 facelift saw numerous additions to the interior, with the addition of a new 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system equipped with sat nav, a 60GB hard drive and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. There is the option for owners to include a 19 channel Naim audio system adn 2200 watt amplifier and super tweeters.

Other changes include a new stability control system, a blind spot monitoring system and automatically adjusting headlights, new seats and trim, and glass switchgear.


505bhp Bentley Mulsanne

The Mulsanne's body cloaks an entirely new chassis for a Bentley. It consists of double wishbones at the front and a multi-link system at the rear. The body is suspended via an adaptable air suspension system that allows the car to lower its ride height at speed and maintain good body control and level suspension irrespective of load.

The Mulsanne’s powertrain is a totally refreshed version of Bentley’s 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V8, now producing 505bhp and 752lb ft of torque. Other engines were considered, Bentley says, but dismissed because they wouldn’t produce the effortless low-rev torque that owners of grand Bentleys expect.

Despite a heritage dating back to 1952, the V8 engine feels wonderful

However, the technical update includes variable phasing of the single camshaft, cylinder deactivation to make it a V4 under light load, and lightweight pistons, conrods and crankshaft. It's a direct descendant of the original Rolls-Royce Bentley V8 of 1959, but today's engine could idle on the old one's unburnt exhaust hydrocarbons alone.

The engine is partnered with the very latest eight-speed automatic gearbox from specialist ZF. Its use means Bentley’s flagship model has gone from four forward speeds (in the old Arnage Red Label) to twice that number in less than a decade.

Despite its bulk – an almost naval 2745kg, 160kg more than Bentley’s claim – our test Mulsanne recorded a 5.7sec two-way average sprint to 60mph and needed only 13.7sec to crack 100mph. That’s slightly slower than Bentley’s claims, and slower still than the Ghost, but it’s by no means slow in outright terms. This near-three-tonne limousine is still faster than our 2008 road test Mitsubishi Evo X.

Bentley’s titanic pushrod V8 is the reason why. Despite tracing its ancestry back to 1952, it feels wonderful under the long prow of the Mulsanne: refined, potent, still as industrious and idiosyncratic to listen to as ever and, at last, perfectly matched with a modern gearbox. Although very hushed at idle, you get a taste of the engine’s distant savagery when you blip the throttle out of gear. The crankshaft zaps beyond 3500rpm in an instant, and with enough force to rock the substantial Mulsanne laterally on its suspension.

In gear, the twin-turbo V8 provides huge, lag-free urge, enough to make the car feel very brisk when given its head. The engine only revs to 4500rpm, but the ZF gearbox juggles ratios so judiciously that flexibility is never in question. All you get is instant and considerable performance, in whichever of the car’s six intermediate gear ratios is best chosen to deliver it.

Of more importance to many owners will be the refinement the car affords, and here the Mulsanne excels. At idle our noise meter recorded just 39dB in the Mulsanne; the Ghost registered 5dB more in the same test. At 50mph the Mulsanne is 4dB quieter than Jaguar ’s XJ 3.0D – more than enough difference to notice – although the Rolls-Royce Ghost is a decibel quieter still at this speed, as is a Phantom coupé.


Bentley Mulsanne cornering

Adaptability is the Mulsanne’s biggest dynamic asset. Although it isn’t without flaw, that air suspension system allows this Bentley to play both the cosseting limousine and the involving and controlled sports saloon.

There are four positions to the car’s Drive Dynamics Control system. Comfort mode gives the most rolling refinement in town, and works well enough cross country if you’re content to make the relaxed progress with which many owners will be satisfied. Judging by the strictest standards, the suspension doesn’t quite deliver the soothing smoothness of a modern Rolls-Royce or a carefully equipped Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Bentley's air suspension system gives the Mulsanne plenty of adaptability

The Mulsanne’s ride is perfectly comfortable most of the time, but its chassis lacks the capacity to absorb the sharpest shocks in a way that the most refined limousines do.

If you’re in the driving seat, however, you can forgive the Mulsanne its minor shortcomings simply by selecting ‘Bentley’ mode on the rotary controller. Now the car’s steering gathers weight, its suspension programs itself for tighter body control, and you can have a great deal of fun guiding this substantial British aristocrat briskly along a flowing B-road. There’s remarkable accuracy and feel through the steering, plenty of composure from the chassis and, all the time, a reserve of 752lb ft of torque to tap into.

But, in firmer-still Sport mode, you can push too hard. Muted crashes through the chassis, and a building sense of reactiveness and imprecision from the steering, are the messages sent to warn that you’ve progressed beyond the car’s natural gait. And yet it’s remarkable how fast you can go on really testing roads before those messages materialise, and how satisfying a driver’s car the Mulsanne can be 98 per cent of the time.


Bentley Mulsanne

Purchasing and running a Bentley is not intended to be cheap. The Mulsanne is a hand-built statement of startling financial clout.

Next to its nearest rivals, the car isn’t particularly expensive, but Bentley would prefer you to think of the Mulsanne’s £220k price tag as a jumping-off point for a prodigious customisation process.

It wouldn't be hard to spec a Mulsanne to more than £300,000

So yes, you could easily spend Phantom money on a Mulsanne, but does that matter? No, because in many ways the Bentley is the more compelling car. Just don’t expect the expense to cease on delivery.

The Mulsanne’s coal-fire-like CO2 emissions of 393g/km earn it an M-rated tax band, and servicing won’t be in the slightest bit cheap.

That said, in our experience you can expect a halfway-reasonable 22mpg from the car on a clear 70mph run – which is certainly progress if you choose to judge via the right standards.



Bentley Mulsanne side profile

Unfortunately it’s impossible for us to give the Mulsanne a class-leading recommendation. Its chassis imposes an unavoidable compromise in that it doesn’t have the pillowy ride or authoritative shock absorption of the most comfortable saloons. For a £200k Bentley limousine, that’s a big loss.

What the Mulsanne gains as part of that compromise is exactly what distinguishes it from almost every other four-door of its size, and that’s real credibility as a driver’s car.

You have to pay extra for adaptive cruise control and a rear-view parking camera

Much as the Jaguar XJ does in the class below, the Mulsanne offers the owner-driver a truly enjoyable experience at the wheel. Most owners of this kind of car will prioritise refinement over driver appeal, so we must mark the Mulsanne down. But if your taste is for a sporting drive whatever type of car it comes in, the Mulsanne could well be the best luxury saloon in the world.


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Bentley Mulsanne 2010-2020 First drives