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Bentley goes for the premium

Countdown: Bentley's Mulsanne is set to go on sale in Australia in eight months, but there's a queue.

Mulsanne’s drawing-room quality on display in Bentley new-model teaser test

7 May 2010

THE Bentley Mulsanne was unveiled to the media this week in Sydney, some eight months before the first customer cars arrive here.

We can’t tell you how it drives – it was only a static display, even though the British press have already driven it – but there is plenty to say about Bentley’s all-important large sedan.

While the just-announced drive-away price of $695,000 is about double the UK price, this is a relatively small-change increase over the final version of the Arnage sedan it replaces, which was $628,637 plus on-road costs in Australia.

The Bentley is also more expensive than its Rolls-Royce competitor, the upcoming Ghost, to the tune of $50,000.

Bentley’s regional manager for Australasia and Southeast Asia, Ed Striebig, said the new big Bentley was not a direct Arnage replacement because the Mulsanne was sportier.

“It is a fine distinction though,” he added.

Bentley is working hard to sell the high-quality nature of the Mulsanne, with Mr Striebig saying the quality and finish of the new large Bentley was paramount.

“If anything it is a more labour-intensive process to produce the Mulsanne than it was the Arnage,” said Mr Striebig.

Bentley has returned to traditional leather tanning methods to produce softer leather, with the hides of 17 cows going into each Mulsanne.

54 center imageThicker wood veneer is a feature of the interior, which soaks up 170 hours of the car’s 450-hour build time.

The interior is strikingly conservative, with bullseye air vents and their ‘organ-stop’ controls a clear nod to the past. Every surface appears to be either stainless steel, wood veneer, leather or polished glass, in the case of some switchgear. Even the sides of the carpeted boot are encased in leather.

Easing into the front seat, it’s remarkable how soft the leather is and how well it is stitched. Everything reeks of quality, from the cross-stitched steering wheel – instead of the now-common baseball stitching – to the highly polished tread plates as you step into the sumptuous deep-pile carpeted interior.

“Carpets are about 50 per cent thicker than the previous large-car range, and Wiltshire 100 per cent wool carpet mats are used,” said Mr Striebig.

The only jarring note is struck by what look suspiciously like Volkswagen Group-parts bin switches on the ceiling for reading lights.

In the back of the four-seat configured Mulsanne, the legroom is surprisingly lacking, especially toe room. The rake adjustable seats compensated for this a little, but a Statesman has more legroom – and more boot space too.

To stop peering eyes, electrically-operated privacy blinds screen the rear side and back windows, controlled from the front or rear of the cabin with one-shot operation.

Even the seat belts come in 23 different colours to match the 24 standard leather seat colour choices and 21 carpet colour options to match.

The 2585kg Mulsanne, measuring 5575mm long and 1926mm wide, has real presence, and although blending contemporary and traditional themes in its design, is most striking for its ‘metal-not-plastic’ approach.

As Ed Striebig said, the intention was for anything that looked metal on the Mulsanne was to be metal wherever possible.

So the Mulsanne’s body is adorned with plenty of ‘jewellery’, such as the polished stainless steel on window frames, doors and bumpers and a stainless steel grille.

The bonnet, front guards and doors are all aluminium, with superformed pressing allowing complex shapes such as the creaseline on the front mudguards. This has a 3mm radius instead of the 6mm allowable with normal stampings.

Twin bi-xenon projector headlights are supplemented with a LED ‘halo’ daytime running lights in a headlight cluster and front guard shape reminiscent of the 1955 Bentley S-type.

The window glass features acoustic glazing with infrared reflective interlayer, except for the windscreen so as to allow use of mobile communications and toll readers.

Bentley says the monocoque frame is unique to Mulsanne. Suspension is a double wishbone front multilink rear design that is fitted with electronically controlled air springs with Volkswagen’s Continuous Damping Control (CDC) to monitor and adjust damping.

Servotronic speed-sensitive power steering is fitted to the Mulsanne, with two settings selectable by Drive Dynamics Control (DDC) that also has four settings for CDC.

The power steering stiffness can also be altered.

The Mulsanne has a twin-booster braking system with ventilated discs and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), ESC, ABS, traction control, hydraulic brake assist, electronic brake prefill and automatic hill-hold control.

Supplied as standard are a set of 20-inch alloy wheels with 265/45ZR20 tyres.

The engine is a new iteration of the 6.75-litre twin-turbo overhead valve V8 with many new components that help the Mulsanne to achieve a 15 per cent improvement on consumption and CO2 emissions over the Arnage.

The V8, which develops 377kW at 4200rpm and 1020Nm of torque at 1750rpm, employs new technology such as cam phasing and variable displacement – the engine closes the valves on four cylinders and runs on the remaining four cylinders in light-load conditions. The engine also has lighter pistons and associated components.

Fuel consumption is quoted at 16.9L/100km for the combined Euro cycle, and 100km/h arrives in 5.1 seconds from rest, which is quick, although not as quick as the upcoming Rolls-Royce Ghost, which has a 4.9-second 0-100km/h time.

The Ghost is also more fuel-efficient, with its BMW-developed twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 returning a claimed 13.6L/100km.

The rear-drive Mulsanne has an eight-speed ZF transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shift.

The standard 14-speaker Mulsanne sound system has double the power of the Arnage’s premium sound system, while the latest model’s optional premium system has double the power again.

A flip-over centre panel reveals a multi-media central screen for navigation, telephone, digital radio and media, with USB, SD card, 3.5mm auxiliary jack and iPod and iPhone compatibility. A 60GB hard-drive is standard.

The options list for Australia is due to be announced in four to six weeks, when the first customer orders will be taken.

Bentley already has some 15 expressions of interest from potential customers – five more than the cars it is likely to receive in the first 12 months of the 800-car total annual production.

Options will at least include the 21-inch alloy wheels (over the 20-inch standard wheels), carbon-ceramic brakes and automatic cruise control. Beyond the standard 28-colour exterior range buyers, can also special order any other colour they like.

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