Multiple refinements finally make this a true pleasure to drive
It’s taken since the start of the decade, but Bentley has finally turned the Mulsanne if not into the car it should have been from the start, then at least the one you might have hoped it would be.
I’ve always enjoyed the Mulsanne – hard not to when ensconced in a cabin where perceived quality is not applied like make-up, but designed in from the very start. I liked the torque of the V8 and even its benevolent tolerance of being hustled quite quickly. But nor have I been blind to its shortcomings: it’s never ridden quite well enough to be a convincing rival for a Rolls-Royce, never felt quite quick enough to be cast in the role of the modern Speed Six. It felt caught between the imperative of being a luxury car and its conflicting brief to satisfy the desire of the man or woman behind the wheel. You can be driven in a Bentley, we are always told, but a Bentley is for driving.
No doubt this Speed model is the one that most subscribes to this credo. The enormous pushrod V8, so changed from the 1959 original that only the bore centre spacings remain, now puts out 530bhp and, far more significantly, a wall of torque so wide and tall it might make an American president gasp.
New for this year is a rather dubious facelift forward of the A-pillars featuring new lights and a wider grille – how long must we wait before Bentley engineering is no longer let down by Bentley styling? – plus new suspension bushes, revised air spring ratings, active engine mounts and far quieter Dunlop tyres. Inside and at last there’s an all-new infotainment system now at least as good as one you might find in an Audi costing a tenth of the price.
Finally the car now seems complete. Certainly you’ll find others, like AMG’s S-class Mercedes, that are more dainty, blow harder at higher revs yet still ride beautifully and cost a fraction of this money; but there is nothing in my experience that feels like this. The Speed specification engine provides low-down torque unlike that of any other limousine and, at last, performance fully commensurate with its role in life. But I appreciated even more the improvements to the car’s ride and refinement: once a little disappointing, both are now truly magnificent.
I read elsewhere someone bemoaning that it wasn’t a driver’s car and I could scarcely disagree more. A driver’s car is a car you enjoy driving, and while it may not get you to your apex like a Porsche Cayman or drift like a Jaguar F-type, that doesn’t make it worse, just different. And it is unique: there is no question that a Rolls rides even better than this, and is a lot more attractive too, but the Bentley is a delight to drive fast and no longer forces you to accept compromises to its ride and handling as part of the deal.
This is not the best Bentley and the only reason it exists in a class of one right now is because Rolls-Royce is currently between Phantoms. But nothing encapsulates the spirit of Bentley better than this, nor feels more like I’d want a Bentley to feel. In short, I loved it.
6.75 litres, 8 cylinders, turbocharged
811lb [email protected]
eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
POWER TO WEIGHT
197bhp per tonne
TOP SPEED 190mph