Smoother, Quieter, More Luxurious
Bentley has discovered luxury. The 2017 Bentley Mulsanne features a couple of mild cosmetic tweaks, but the real money has been spent on turning Bentley’s flagship sedan into a car that’s smoother, quieter, more … luxurious than before. And there’s a new addition to the Mulsanne range for those owners who’d prefer to have someone else do the driving: the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase, which features a 9.8-inch wheelbase stretch, with all the additional room dedicated to the rear seat passengers.
The changes to the Mulsanne reflect, say the Bentley boys, the voice of the customer. Launched in 2010, the Mulsanne was positioned as a sportier alternative to the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Customers—typically mid-50s men with two houses and five other cars in the garage—liked the big sedan’s rakish stance and raffish road manners but questioned the sometimes edgy ride and the rumbling vibrations from the turbocharged 6.75-liter pushrod V-8 under the hood.
“We wanted a step-change in the level of refinement,” says Sam Graham, Mulsanne product line director. “We tried to make the car a sanctuary, either as driven or from the back seat.” And after driving—and riding in—the revised Mulsannes through southern Germany and Austria, first impressions suggest the Bentley team has hit its target. This is one of the most serene Bentleys ever—though, critically, it’s still entertaining to drive briskly.
A redesigned front end readily identifies the 2017 Mulsannes. Everything ahead of the base of the windshield is new. The biggest changes are a wider, more muscular grille with strong vertical bars that recall the grilles of classic Bentleys from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s and new headlights. The headlights are still round, but the base of the smaller outer lights has been moved upward to align with that of the larger inner lights, eliminating the droopy jowl effect caused by lower positioning of the outer lights on the original Mulsanne.
Other exterior cosmetic changes are minor. There’s a new rear bumper that gives the rear end a wider, tauter look and new rear lights with light paths that create a “B” graphic. There’s a vent graphic on the front fender that echoes the “B” theme, and unique wheels for each of the three models in the 2017 lineup—Mulsanne, Mulsanne Speed, and the new Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase.
The 6.8-liter turbocharged, overhead-valve V-8 under the hood—the basic design of which dates back more than 60 years, though every component has been changed over the decades—remains unchanged for 2017, and it drives through the same eight-speed automatic transmission. Base output is 505 hp at 4,000 rpm, with 752 lb-ft of torque available from just 1,750 rpm. In the Mulsanne Speed the engine develops 530 hp and a herculean 811 lb-ft. Redlined at just 4,500 rpm, the Bentley V-8 has the imperious demeanor of an Industrial Revolution-era steam engine, its low crankshaft speeds effortlessly overwhelming mass and resistance. Think on this for a moment: The Mulsanne Speed weighs 5,919 pounds (2,685 kg) yet accelerates to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and has a top speed of 190 mph (306 km/h).
The engine rests on new active engine mounts designed to reduce noise and vibration transmitted into the cabin by up to 15 decibels, especially at lower speeds. The big V-8’s trademark rolling thunder soundtrack is still there, but it’s like the storm is way over the horizon rather than chasing you into the tornado shelter. The real key to making the Mulsanne feel much smoother and sound much quieter, however, is the upgraded suspension, which features stiffer control-arm bushes, continuous damping control, and higher capacity, more efficient air springs. Tires are also a part of the suspension, and Bentley worked with supplier Dunlop to develop a special foam that cuts tire noise by 50 percent.
Bentley engineers say the new air springs were critical in terms of not only reducing noise but also in improving ride and body control. That they’re right is evident after the first few miles in the 2017 Mulsanne: The low speed ride is much plusher, yet the body motions are beautifully damped. Though you’re always aware this is a big, heavy car, the Mulsanne feels reassuringly planted and composed at high speeds—we hit an indicated 175 mph (282 km/h) on the A95 autobahn from Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen—yet remains surprisingly agile and responsive on winding two lanes.
Complaints? There’s a lot of gain in the hydraulic power steering that sublimates road feel under a gluey layer the moment you pull the steering wheel off-center. And the more relaxed transmission calibration in the regular Mulsanne’s eight-speed means it’s less reponsive to kickdown than the sportier setup in the more powerful, torquier Mulsanne Speed. On mountain roads, or while overtaking on two-lanes, it’s best to flick the shifter into Sport mode, or use the paddles on the hand-stitched leather steering wheel to pre-empt the powertrain’s computers.
Nearly 6,000 pounds (2,721 kg) of luxury limousine traveling at 190 mph (306 km/h) equals a lot of kinetic energy, which is why the 2017 Mulsanne Speed is now available with carbon-ceramic brakes, a first in the ultra-luxury sedan segment. Bentley engineers went to a lot of trouble to eliminate the squeaks and rasps typical of the high-performance stoppers, and although the $17,335 USD option price might seem steep to us wage slaves, in the context of the Mulsanne Speed’s $335,600 USD base price they’re well worth the money, delivering great pedal feel and unquenchable stopping power.
Modern luxury means more than just smoothness and refinement, however. Today’s plutocrats expect their sanctuaries on wheels to be fully connected with the world. The 2017 Mulsannes, therefore, feature a new infotainment system with a 60-gigabyte solid-state hard drive and an 8-inch touchscreen in the dash that can also be accessed via a haptic controller in the center stack for those who hate fingerprints all over the place. The nav system uses Google Earth imagery, and a TFT screen between the traditional Bentley analogue speed and tach allows display of map details or other information of the driver’s choosing.
An optional $19,855 USD entertainment package delivers a 2,000-watt, 20-speaker Naim audio system, and, for the rear passengers, a pair of 10.2-inch Android tablets that rise out of the backs of the front seats at the push of a button. Each tablet has 32 GB of on-board storage, USB ports, and a front-facing camera, and can be detached from the mechanism for ease of use. The on-board 4G Wi-Fi system allows access to the internet and streaming video.
The hand-built nature of the Mulsanne—each car takes 400 hours to construct, 20 times longer than it takes Toyota to build a Corolla—meant Bentley was able to modernize elements of the car’s electrical architecture. The 2017 Mulsannes, therefore, now come standard with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, and adaptive headlights that change the width and reach of the beam according to vehicle speed. None of this technology is groundbreaking stuff, of course, but retrofitting it into an older vehicle is no easy feat.
Smoother, quieter, more refined, better connected, the 2017 Bentley Mulsanne ups its game in all the right areas to keep it competitive with the Rolls-Royce Phantom at the top end of the ultra-luxury segment and the Mercedes-Maybach at the entry-level end. To most of us, a sedan whose base model starts at $340,670 USD seems an extravagance that’s impossible to justify. But to those who can afford it, the fact the Mulsanne is painstakingly assembled by skilled craftspeople—it takes 150 hours to assemble an interior that, among other things, contains 480 individual pieces of leather and 40 bits of carefully matched and highly polished wood veneer—makes it more than just another car.
2017 Bentley Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase: The Bentley for those who want more
The Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase was created in response to customers who wanted the Bentley experience from the rear seat. Though most Mulsanne owners drive themselves, there is a significant number, primarily in China and the Middle East, who are chauffeur-driven. With its 9.8-inch wheelbase stretch, this supersized Mulsanne gives them plenty of rear seat to enjoy.
For an extra $13,670 USD above the $361,500 USD base price, the Extended Wheelbase is available with two separate rear seats and a large center console. The seats are unique and feature integrated into their bases airline-style electrically powered leg rests that extend outward and pivot upward to provide a comfortably reclined seating position. The leg-rest extension is the longest in any automotive seat, says Mulsanne product line director Sam Graham.
Integrated into the center console is a pair of beautifully crafted aluminum tables that fold out to a full A3 surface that can be tilted up to 20 degrees and will support up to 88 pounds (40 kg) on their outer edges. Each table is made from 761 separate parts and is deployed without the aid of any electric motors—the all-mechanical mechanism includes tuned springs and dampers.
In addition to a new roof and floor, the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase gets new rear doors that are not only longer but also feature a pronounced break in the bodyline running to the rear haunch, a subtle visual differentiator. The wheelbase stretch adds 100 pounds (45 km) to the overall weight, putting the Mulsanne EWB at just over 6,000 pounds (2,721 kg). Final figures have yet to be confirmed, but Bentley expects that will add four-tenths of a second to the regular Mulsanne’s 5.1-second 0-60 mph time. Top speed is expected to remain the same, however, at 184 mph (296 km/h).
While China and the Middle East are expected to be the main markets for the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase, Bentley plans to test demand for the car in the U.S. Bentley Americas chief Michael Winkler confirms 25 Extended Wheelbase Mulsannes will be coming here, probably packaged as five special editions of five cars apiece.