2011 Bentley Mulsanne Review
Bucking industry convention, Bentley chose not to unveil its glitzy new flagship at an auto show, instead taking it to this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where many attendees can afford to buy one on sight. But no one was allowed in the car, and very few details were provided.
The Mulsanne is a car that was never meant to be. While Paefgen and his team fought hard to keep the Arnage alive after Volkswagen Group’s purchase of the storied British marque, there was never a plan — nor the money — to replace the flagship Bentley with an all-new vehicle. As recently as four years ago, the Arnage successor was to be a pumped up Continental Flying Spur. Paefgen was never completely happy with the idea, and when the reworked CFS fared poorly in clinics, he abruptly canned it, and sold the VW Group board on developing an all-new vehicle that retained two key elements of the Arnage’s DNA — rear drive with the front axle centerline pushed as far forward as possible, and a 6.75-liter pushrod V-8 with twin turbochargers.
Bentley describes the Mulsanne’s design as a “unique fusion of sportiness, coachbuilt elegance, and solidity.” Six inches longer than the Arnage but similar in height and width, the Mulsanne is indeed flagship-sized. The most dominant aspect of the big Arnage’s design is the pair of “highly prominent” Gatling-gun headlamps—some nine inches in diameter—flanked by smaller ancillary lights, an arrangement that recalls some Bentley grand sedans of the past. The “matrix” grille is huge and cliff-like, while the lower air intake spans the width of the car and features matching mesh. It is, as intended, unmistakably a Bentley, with a nod to the present in the form of an octet of Audi-like LED driving lights. Oh, and not to be outdone by Rolls-Royce, a “Flying B” radiator mascot is available as an option—and is retractable, of course.
You can fit the number of Mulsanne components carried over from the Arnage in a reasonably sized briefcase, say Crewe insiders. Despite rumors the new big Bentley would be based on the forthcoming A8, its platform is unique; a mixture of high-strength steel and lightweight aluminum. The engine shares its basic architecture with the Arnage’s legendary L410 V-8, whose design dates back half a century, but apart from the two turbochargers, every single component is new. The Mulsanne’s V-8 is lighter, more powerful and much more fuel efficient than the L410, and drives the rear wheels through an eight speed automatic.
2011 Bentley Mulsanne Performance
So why is the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne so much better than the Arnage? The simple answer is money. This is the first “big Bentley” (which is how those within the company refer to the flagship sedan, as opposed to the Continental GT and Flying Spur) built under Volkswagen ownership. That means expensive things like an all-new chassis and a complete reengineering of the 6.75-liter V8 weren’t out of the question.
This new Mulsanne, however, needs to be described by its superlative numbers. For instance, its 6.75-liter twin-turbo V-8 produces 752 pound-feet of torque at 1500 rpm. With the exception of a few heavy-duty diesels, the only production car that offers more twist is the 16-cylinder, quad-turbo Veyron. Not coincidentally, Dr. Franz-Joseph Paefgen is both the CEO of Bentley and the president of Bugatti.
With so much power on hand we thought there would be a greater sense of it, but the noises are so well contained that we hardly know it’s there. Even at 80 mph, the new V8 is almost completely silent, and at full throttle only a low murmur barely registers above the sound of the air-conditioning.It’s much the same with the new eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. We hardly notice it sliding between gears, and even full-throttle shifts barely generate the slightest nudge forward. There are nicely surfaced metal shift paddles on the steering wheel, but we can’t think of a situation where we would use them.
Customers will be able to select from no fewer than 114 colors, including some “unusual heritage” colors, satin and pearlescent finishes, and two-tone combos. Of course, they can always mix up a batch of your favorite color should you not find what you’re looking for in the Bentley palette.
Visually, the new Mulsanne is not nearly as gauche as the Rolls-Royce Phantom with which it will compete in the marketplace. Nor, however, is it as dull as the Maybach 57. “We wanted it to be the driver’s choice” in its segment, said Dirk van Breackel, who spoke to us during a private unveiling the night before the Concours. He cites the slim windows and “almost coupe-like roofline” as elements that say, “I’m a driver’s car.” His words, not ours.
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