Early Pit Stop: Bentley brings its LeMans-straight namesake in ahead of schedule for fresh tires, a front clip, and more
Hand-built mega-luxe cars priced for the One Percenters don’t get redesigned very often. With such low production the tooling doesn’t wear out very quickly, and it takes time for a design to fully imprint on the 99.9 Percenters and thereby achieve the desired icon status. Bentley‘s Arnage was built for 11 years, its predecessor Mulsanne/Brooklands/Turbo R lasted for 18 years, and the T-Series before that hit age 15. Rolls’ current Phantom debuted in 2003 and received a big upgrade for 2012. So the timing and scope of changes made to Bentley’s flagship Mulsanne for 2017—its seventh model year—are noteworthy.
Design-wise the entire front end is new and incorporates a 3.1-inch wider grille featuring vertical bars in front of the traditional diamond mesh and a revised fascia with air intakes that are pushed farther outboard and shaped like the letter B. A new arrangement of the four round lighting elements aligns the bottom edges of each on a perfectly horizontal line, like the china and cutlery at a “Downton Abbey” dinner party. Elevating the outer lamps thusly makes them look less like tears flowing from the larger “eyes” but keeps them looking more somber than those on the more sporting Continentals and Flying Spurs, whose lights are placed higher than the main beams.
The all-LED headlamps feature high-beam assist and support adaptive beam patterns where that’s legal (most markets outside the U.S.). The fenders, still made of aluminum and vacuum pressed in the superforming process, incorporate new B motif vents, and in back there’s a subtly redesigned bumper fascia and taillamps that also incorporate—can you guess?—a B motif. They’re said to look more like crystal than plastic when illuminated at night. We saw plastic in daylight. Interior upgrades include new seats front and rear, new glass and crystal-look plastic switchgear, and what Bentley claims is the most powerful OEM audio system extant—the 2,200-watt, 18-speaker Naim system.
Functional upgrades include suspension revisions (air springs, subframe mounts, and bushings primarily) aimed at improving ride quality at no cost to body roll or driving dynamics. The Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT tires incorporate Goodyear’s newish SoundComfort technology. An open-cell polyurethane foam applied to the inside of the tire tread dampens “tire cavity resonance.” Goodyear/Dunlop says this cuts tire noise by 11 dB, which translates to what Bentley says is a 4-dB reduction in interior noise.
But the bigger upgrade is to the vehicle’s electrical architecture, which now features mod-cons everyone is coming to expect on much lesser cars: forward collision warning and mitigation, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, and a proper 8-inch touchscreen user interface with 60-GB hard drive that supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. What about auto-cruise and autonomous driving features? “We’ve had that for years,” quipped R & D board member Rolf Frech. “It’s called a chauffeur.” When being driven in back, plutocrats are treated to a pair of 32-GB 10.2-inch Android tablets that motor down into the front seat backs when not in use. The tablets detach easily for use in the home or elsewhere, and of course they can be connected to Bluetooth touchpads and keyboards.
The Mulsanne lineup includes the base 505-hp “signature” and 530-horse Speed models (there are no powertrain changes) and adds a new 505-hp “extended wheelbase” variant with 9.8 inches spliced into the area of the rear doors. (This is precisely the amount by which Rolls-Royce extended its Phantom EWB in 2005.) Those doors get unique styling with more pronounced Bentayga-esque haunches. That space makes room for aircraft-style reclining seats with footrests and standard power-operated curtains to cover the rear and side windows for privacy and better movie watching. (After all, we can’t have $192,000 USD Mercedes-Maybachs trumping the grandest Bentley.) Naturally there’s a big sunroof, a champagne chiller, and seat-back tray tables, but because the trays are well out of reach with the wheelbase stretch, exquisite stainless tray tables are available that deploy from the center console. Their complex mechanisms are said to employ 600 components. Each.
With high EWB sales anticipated in Asia, Bentley expects the global mix to be evenly split between the three models. Oh, and if 9.8 inches isn’t enough extra length to suit you, Bentley’s in-house custom coachworks Mulliner has engineered a 1-meter (3.3-foot) longer stretch limo that incorporates a pair of rear-facing seats for the ultimate in bachelor(ette)-partying debauchery.
Will Bentley’s early pit strategy force archrival Rolls-Royce to bring its Phantom back in again? Its decision could determine whether this sales race is won in the pits.
|2017 BENTLEY MULSANNE|
|BASE PRICE||$307,000-$394,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||6.8L/505-530-hp/752-811-lb-ft twin-turbo OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,950-6,100 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||219.5-229.3 x 75.8 x 59.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.8-5.1 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||11/18/13 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||306/187 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.46 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Fall, 2016|
Become a Bentley Veneer Idiot Savant
One of the (many) things that differentiates the veneer trim in a Bentley Mulsanne from similarly splendid-looking trim in lesser Bentleys (and brands) is the fact that it’s applied over a hefty substrate of real wood, not aluminum or other thin metal. Depending on the chosen veneer, the substrate will be walnut, oak, or cherry. The back side of these pieces is CNC machined with hand finishing of the front and hand-drilled mounting holes. Different glues are used depending on the veneer choice. Wood veneers are sliced 0.6mm thick and cut into rectangular sheets about the size of a clipboard. These rectangles are stacked exactly as they came off the tree, so the pattern matches on successive sheets. The craftsman selects burl and bird’s-eye type patterns (typically shaved off the root ball) from successive sheets in a given set of these veneer panels, opening them like a book so that the panel is “book matched,” with an adjoining or opposite panel “mirror matched” by selecting the next two sheets in the stack. Sometimes the random whorls and swirls appear to form recognizable patterns. A very clear skull appeared in one that got framed and hung in the wood shop. Occasionally they find designs that look a bit too much like “naughty bits,” and these tend to be discarded. More fun pub-ammo facts:
- The root ball from a typical 80-plus-year-old tree will produce enough veneer for 20-60 cars.
- Unlike other manufacturers, Bentley does not bleach its veneers and then stain them to a uniform matching color, so veneers from different trees of the same species cannot be mixed in a single car.
- Spare samples of a specific root ball’s veneer are retained for possible use in repair, but only until the cars using that tree’s stock are all sold. Hence localized crash damage could result in the need to replace all the interior wood.
- All wood procured must be from demonstrably sustainable sources. This is why ebony has been unavailable for years and Sapelli Pommelle is being discontinued. 13 veneer choices remain.
- Stone veneer is even thinner than wood (0.3mm) and is not cut from a block of granite. Rather, a proprietary solvent/glue is applied that dissolves a thin layer and adheres it to a backing layer. It weighs no more than a wood veneer and is equally pliable. Bentley offers four stone choices.
- Even un-grained finishes like piano black utilize the veneer process to preserve the same part thickness.
- Straight grained woods like the newly available Liquid Amber (from a sweetgum species called liquidambar styraciflua) are gaining popularity.
- A typical 40-piece veneer set requires 52 hours of handwork done over a period of three weeks to allow for various drying and curing. Five coats of lacquer are applied, sanded, and polished.
- Each panel’s edges are sanded, and even the back gets fully painted to seal the part against temperature and humidity.