An enthralling delight on so many levels, and yet disappointing in a few critical areas

What is it?

It’s a bit of a vehicular oxymoron, isn’t it? A Mulsanne to drive rather than to be driven in. And yet that is just what Bentley maintains the Mulsanne Speed is. And while a (near enough) three-tonne limo that is also a driver’s car seems a faintly ridiculous proposition, the flipside is that this is a 530bhp, sub-5.0sec to 0-62mph, £250,000 car. Of course, such a posh wedge of automotive real estate should be special to drive. And people who love cars will want to drive such an opulent thing. So, what’s wrong with making a version of the Mulsanne that caters for them?

Even so, the first question we need to address here is one of expectations. Bentley might choose to describe the Mulsanne Speed as a driver’s car, rather like Porsche might describe its Cayman GT4 as a driver’s car. All this means is that somebody needs to have a sit down with Bentley’s marketing people and explain why they need to be a bit more imaginative. Let’s face it – there are driver’s cars, and then there are cars that are memorable, enjoyable – spectacular, even – to drive. If it does the job well, this is only ever going to fall into the latter category, and that’s more than enough to delight us.

Having now armed ourselves with the blindingly obvious fact that the Bentley Mulsanne Speed isn’t going to be as incisive to drive as any kind of sports car, thereby not actually being a driver’s car in our books, we can turn our attention to what it does feel like.

This facelift has brought a fairly small sum of mechanical alterations beneath the substantially new – all-new fore of the A-pillar in fact – and sleeker-looking exterior.

These changes include new active engine mounts and suspension bushes, and advanced foam architecture for the Dunlop tyres to improve refinement. This combines with the standard air suspension and the velvet-padded hammer blow that is the 6.75-litre bi-turbo V8 petrol engine.

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What's it like?

This is the first time we’ve driven the Mulsanne Speed in the UK, and suffice to say that it presses the road into submission in as pleasing a fashion as it ever has. It doesn’t drive so much as it parades, preceded at all times by the Bentley forcefield; that intangible aura of superiority that seems to be stitched into its cars with as much care and thoroughness as the carefully selected bullhide.

Naturally, with 811lb ft from 1750rpm, a quick getaway is perfectly easy. A stupendously rapid one, if you really want it. But everything from the soft throttle response and long pedal travel to the sheer mass surrounding you makes those sort of antics feel frankly vulgar.

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Entertaining, yes, because there is an edge of irreverence to the Mulsanne Speed. A brief glimpse of rock and roll exuberance somewhere in the mutter of that V8, the chirrup of the tyres as you make the aforementioned vulgar getaway, the landslide of torque that sweeps you through the short-lived rev range.

Then, of course, oncw the buzz has worn off you can twist the button into Comfort mode and enjoy the sublime refinement. This is really where the Mulsanne excels. Bentley reckons that the fancy tyre technology should cut noise in the cabin by 4 decibels, and bear in mind that the pre-facelift Mulsanne was hardly unrefined. Now – short of some unfathomably complicated light switches and a fruit bowl on the dashboard - it’s like tooling around in a posh hotel suite. Hit a steady motorway stride, and engine and tyre noise die down to a near inaudible background thrum. Wind flutter is the only thing that dares to intrude on your consciousness as the Bentley punches a hole through the air.

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It’s in this unashamedly laid-back attitude that the Bentley feels wholeheartedly epic. In fact, it almost seems to buy you time and a relaxed attitude. After all, turning up late is only to be expected – everyone else can wait.

And yet, there is that tricky question of expectations again. Should this be a car that can deliver a modicum of involvement and handling prowess? Well, snick that rotary dial into Sport and give it a go, and to be honest you might be a little underwhelmed. Any kind of vigorous cornering and the Mulsanne will lean ponderously on its front tyre until it eventually gives up under the pressure and hands you fistfuls of rather uncouth understeer.

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Yes, you can provoke it into oversteer. Of course you can – it has 811lb ft going to the rear wheels. But really. Really? You’re not going to do that, are you? Don’t do that. Or am I going to have to explain the driver’s car/not a driver’s car thing again?

The steering, too, feels a bit too meaty at low speeds when you might want the oily, light precision that a Rolls-Royce Phantom serves up in spades. It does, though, weight up and deliver a fair sense of connection at higher speeds when you can inject a really satisfying sense of fluidity to proceedings on the right sort of sweeping, high-speed curves.

Now, to the biggest problem here; ride comfort. Speed or not, the Mulsanne is a car that will be defined by the level of serenity buffering occupant from road, and it isn’t quite good enough in the UK, either in the back or the front seats.

Sure, put it in Comfort mode and it lopes over high frequency or long wave imperfections, brushing off eroded tarmac and awkward cambers with casual ease. But then you hit a recessed drain cover, or a sharp-edged pothole, and feel the unexpected shiver and thud as those air springs find the end of their travel.

In the incrementally firmer Bentley mode, you also feel an echo of the road’s undulations and scars. Go for Sport, and you seem to get very little extra body control in return for ride comfort that’s another notch further away from what you want in a Mulsanne. There’s a touch of patter here, a shiver there, a hint of a fidget over town roads. Don’t get us wrong, the Bentley Mulsanne Speed rides with the sort of majestic stride that most will be very happy with, but anyone who has driven the now-out-of-production Phantom will know that the Bentley’s waft just isn’t of quite the same exceptional vintage.

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Still, there are other areas in which the Mulsanne Speed has really moved on. Namely in the multimedia area, where you'll now find a new 8.0in infotainment touchscreen nestled in the dashboard. Before we get to that, we'll mention that we’d like fewer buttons scattered across the dashboard, since it's easy to get a bit flustered by the sheer number of switches, and it doesn’t look too pretty, either. But it’s still a lavish treat of an interior, and the redesigned seats are wonderful: just soft enough without being armchair-like; supportive in all the right areas, adjustable to a tee - an absolute delight. I want one in my living room. 

While the plethora of switches looks a bit old-school, that new infotainment is quite the opposite and is one of the most significant updates to the facelifted Mulsanne range. The system's graphics and layout are bespoke (and very classy they look, too), and between the touchscreen, rotary button and voice control, it's easy to find your way around the various functions.

This all comes with the full complement of media connectivity and a 60-gigabyte hard drive, although you do have to pay extra – some £14,890 – for the Entertainment Specification pack that brings the superb Naim audio system and two 10.4in retracting touchscreens for the rear passengers with wireless headphones thrown in. These can display Google Maps with the relevant travel info for your journey, any app-based feature that you could want including games, video streaming and the like.

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Should I buy one?

So, after all that, the unsavoury truth is that the Bentley is neither a driver’s car, nor quite the class-defining, indulgent limousine that the Phantom was.

But that past tense is quite critical, since the Phantom is now no more until the new one arrives in 2018, leaving the Mulsanne is in a class of its own for the meantime. You could mention the Mercedes-Maybach S600, but it just doesn’t seem in quite the same sphere as the Mulsanne, does it? It's certainly not in the same price bracket, at least.

So, the Bentley’s not faultless, and the Phantom was better. Even so, there is every reason to want to drive and own one of these most remarkable automotive creations. There’s shock and awe in every stomach-churning burst of speed, and every spectacular handcrafted detail. No shadow of a doubt – there’s just as much to be enthralled with here as there is with any pinnacle sports car. The enthusiast landscape is all the richer for its existence, and long may that continue.

Bentley Mulsanne Speed

Location Surrey, UK; On sale Now; Price £252,000; Engine V8, 6752cc, twin-turbocharged, petrol; Power 530bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 811lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2685kg; 0-62mph 4.9sec; Top speed 190mph; Economy 18.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 342g/km, 37% Rivals: BMW 760Li, Mercedes-Maybach S600


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bowsersheepdog 28 February 2017

Parrott fashion

So, after all that, the unsavoury truth is that Parrott is not really a reader's writer, handling of the subject is dodgy and the flow of the piece is bumpy and uneven. Well below Bentley standards.
Citytiger 23 February 2017

Wonderful car but

it doesn't really scream "a quarter of a million pounds", the exposed screw heads of the rear tables are a bit out of place, and not even colour coded, black screws in a grey plastic moulding.. A top spec Rangerover interior look much more inviting and is £100k cheaper.
yvesferrer 23 February 2017

'should I buy one?'

What a silly question! At only £252K it is an absolute bargain for any oligarch! For the rest of us, it is a nice read in the dentist's waiting-room... I shall never forget the look that the salesman cast in my direction as I entered the Maybach showroom in Monaco during a GP week-end: he did not say a word, nor did he have to; I could not reach the door fast enough to shake off my humbling. Maybe Bentley sales staff are less intimidating? Maybe they will even extend generosity to a glossy brochure? Still, good to look at, from a respectful distance...