New models - Bentley - Mulsanne
First drive: Bentley's high-tech Mulsanne
New twin-turbo engine makes Bentley’s Mulsanne an effortless and comfortable cruiser
25 Jul 2011
WHEN Bentley’s Mulsanne replaced its venerable Arnage predecessor, it had to deliver the same gravitas and sense of history, combined with modern technology and performance.
So there’s a brand new body, sat atop a new platform with a new engine that just happens to opt for the traditional 6.7-litre V8 format as its ancestor.
Bentley says the torque delivery required of its range-topping car called for a similar engine format to the outgoing unit to provide the flavour and soundtrack buyers expect, but that the basic building blocks are all new, and all aimed at maximum torque, refinement and efficiency – hence the introduction of electro-mechanically controlled cam phasing and variable displacement.
Bentley’s regional co-ordinator for South-East Asia and Australia, Ian Churchill, said seven Mulsannes have been sold in Australia already, with a total of 14 expected this year.
“To put these figures in context, Australasia is roughly one per cent of global Bentley sales (but) with a production of 800 Mulsannes per year we will comfortably exceed the eight units this would suggest,” he said.
“This is quite exciting for us as it clearly demonstrates that, despite the distance from Crewe, our customers do in fact understand and appreciate all that Mulsanne represents in its standing at the pinnacle of the Bentley product portfolio.”
At the car’s heart is a powerplant developed by Bentley at Crewe to meet EU5 legislation and cut fuel consumption and emissions, at the same time feeling more powerful and delivering a lighter car.
The new engine remains a 90-degree twin-turbo V8 with a dual-plane crankshaft, single camshaft and pushrod-operated valvetrain. It features a cylinder deactivation system that Bentley says cuts CO2 emissions by around 19 per cent during “real world useage”.
Engine outputs are rated at 377kW of power at 4200rpm and 1020Nm of torque (now peaking at 1750 rpm instead of 3250), which is 4kW and 20Nm more than the Arnage.
This new engine is mated to an eight-speed transmission co-developed with ZF that is shared with Audi’s A8, with software and calibration designed for Mulsanne and driving the rear wheels.
Bentley replaced the Arnage hydraulic suspension with a newly-developed air suspension set-up allied to the double-wishbone front and multi-link rear, with infinitely variable twin-tube dampers developed with Continental. It shares components like the air springs with the A8.
The 5.6-metre Mulsanne is 175mm longer, 26mm wider and 6mm taller than the Arnage T, yet at 2585kg is 25kg lighter and now capable of accelerating from zero to 100km/h in 5.3 seconds, half a second quicker than the T, en route to a top speed of 296km/h.
Bentley claims the car uses 15 per cent less fuel – the Mulsanne consuming a claimed 16.9L/100km combined, while emitting 393g/km of CO2.
Inside the completely overhauled cabin, you sit within a ring of fine wood, the highly polished hand-cut veneer with 20 coats of lacquer taking five hours to apply and four days to cure, laid over solid wood.
Hand-stitched high-quality leather throughout comes from Alpine cows – they meet fewer biting insects and wooden fencing is less damaging to skin than barbed wire – and the skins are tanned near Milan using a traditional process that delivers the right smell.
Bulls-eye air vents and knurled organ-stop controls remain, yet this is also a modern car, with a bigger instrument display in front of the driver and a multi-media interface and screen to access the Sat Nav, telephone, radio and other media. There’s a 60GB hard disc drive, voice control for major systems, an optional 20-speaker 2200W sound system and even an iPod drawer that is as finely-wrought as the rest of the car.
Our test car was finished in cream leather and blond wood, and was standard apart from the sound system, so it came with 20-inch wheels, ESC, ABS, traction control, hill hold and ventilated disc brakes (400x38mm up front and 370x30mm at the rear).
Extensive features include heated door mirrors with reverse-dip, puddle lamps, keyless entry, soft-close doors, 12-way adjustable seats with massage function and park distance control – vital in such a large car.
The three-mode Drive Dynamics system lets you opt for ‘Bentley’, sport or comfort, but you can also customise the damper settings and the steering tuning.
During GoAuto’s UK drive, we found the standard Bentley setting the best compromise, with comfort supplying too much body roll and sport, with its harder dampers and lower ride height, less than ideal in such a car. But in Bentley mode the level of body control is outstanding – certainly this car is more capable of handling difficult road surfaces and tight corners, being more accurate and even fun to drive than anything this size has a right to be.
The rather high riding position gives you a good view of the road around and makes the car easy to place, which was fortunate given some of the narrow English lanes. Except when parking, the Mulsanne always felt smaller and more wieldy than expected.
The Mulsanne supplied a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ driving experience courtesy of that impressive body control from a car otherwise oozing laid-back luxury. Vigorous acceleration was delivered alongside a suitably muffled soundtrack and the sort of effortlessness that suggests you won’t need the steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear.
Clearly Bentley has succeeded in taking its flagship into the modern world, without compromising the effortless performance and luxury its buyers expect.
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