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First Drive: 2017 Bentley Mulsanne Speed

Bentley's Mulsanne Speed is a private jet that just happens to have 4 wheels

The 2017 Bentley Mulsanne Speed offers performance, craftsmanship, and luxury in a hand-built package.

Bentley’s Mulsanne flagship isn’t your average luxury sedan – far from it. It harkens back to a time when a car was a hand-built work of art designed for the world’s most discerning and wealthiest motorists.

The Mulsanne was recently given a series of updates for the 2017 model year. Visually speaking, they include new sheet metal from tip of the front bumper to the base of the A-pillar, a wider grille with vertical slats that pay a discreet homage to historic Bentley models, jewel-like headlights, and revised tail lamps with B-shaped inserts. The B stands for Bentley, of course.

There’s more than meets the eye, however. Bentley’s team of engineers and designers focused on making the Mulsanne more refined and more cosseting. However, they realized that they had made the cabin so quiet that road noise was markedly more pronounced than before. As a result, the company designed tires that incorporate a special foam-filled layer that reduces road noise by 50 percent. Active motor mounts keep all drivetrain-related noises from entering the cabin.

Another notable addition for 2017 is a third variant called Mulsanne extended-wheelbase (EWB) that’s limited to just 300 examples worldwide. Buyers who don’t need the extra space can order the standard Mulsanne, while the Mulsanne Speed is for drivers in a hurry.

Effortlessly powerful

To understand the Mulsanne, it’s best to start by looking under the hood. Bentley has resisted the urge to fit its flagship with the 6.0-liter W12 engine that’s found between the fenders of the Bentayga. That’s not a bad thing, because the Mulsanne carries on with Bentley’s historic 6.75-liter V8 engine. Colloquially called six-and-three-quarters, it traces its roots back to 1959, though it’s evidently been updated time and again over the past six decades.

The Mulsanne Speed tested here is the performance-focused variant of the lineup. Fitted with a pair of turbochargers, the Speed’s eight-cylinder provides 530 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 811 pound-feet of torque at just 1,750 rpm. 530 horses is an impressive figure on its own, but 811 pound-feet is downright insane. The output is channeled to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts as smooth as silk. It’s hard to tell what gear you’re in without looking at the display in the instrument cluster – that’s how imperceptibly the ‘box fires off shifts.

Even the Speed isn’t a loud, brash, hey-look-at-me! sedan. It’s polite in its demeanor; the engine emits just enough noise out of the rifled exhaust tips to remind you that eight cylinders are pumping tirelessly under the hood, but it’s not the kind of car you can hear coming from a hundred yards away. Power is always delivered smoothly, quietly, and effortlessly.

The prodigious amount of grunt makes the Mulsanne Speed lively to drive. It sprints from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, which is mind-boggling considering it weighs nearly 6,000 pounds, and it goes on to a top speed of 190 mph. A cylinder de-activation system keeps fuel economy in check by turning the eight-cylinder into a frugal four-banger under partial load.

2017 Bentley Mulsanne

As is often the case, specifications only tell part of the story. The Mulsanne Speed lives up to its name on back roads, where it’s fast through corners, sharp to drive, and sure-footed. All-wheel drive isn’t available but the rear axle never feels overwhelmed with the V8’s power, even when the pace picks up. Body lean is perceptible, though a stiffer air suspension makes it a lot less noticeable in the Speed than in the standard Mulsanne – especially when sport mode is engaged.

You need to ask the navigation system to direct you to the nearest stretch of unrestricted Autobahn to fully experience the Mulsanne. Hitting 100 mph is child’s play, and from behind the wheel it feels like you’re only doing 60 mph. Stay on the throttle and watch as the speedometer needle rotates around the dial like a single-handed clock that’s set to fast-forward. At 170 mph, the Mulsanne remains calm and composed. The air suspension is as soft as ever; if the Mulsanne could talk it’d ask “what’s the big deal here?” You can have a conversation with the person sitting next to you without raising your voice, a reminder of the effort that went into making this sedan as quiet as a bank vault.

The Germans are a respectful bunch, the kind that have gotten used to vacating the passing lane swiftly if they see a fast-moving car approaching in the rear-view mirror. Most of them, anyway. When courtesy fails, four massive disc brakes (with six-piston calipers up front) prevent you from using the 219-inch long Mulsanne to forcibly turn a third-generation Volkswagen Passat into a smart fortwo.

Fit for a king

Inside, the attention to detail is astounding. There’s an aura of refinement in the cabin that’s difficult to put into words. To quote Bentley, “if something looks like leather it is; if something looks like wood it is; and if something looks like metal it is.” Every single component feels and looks solid. If the Mulsanne’s cabin was a hotel room, it’d earn five stars hands down.

If the Mulsanne’s cabin was a hotel room, it’d earn five stars hands down.

The switchgear is kept to a minimum thanks to an eight-inch touch screen lodged in the dashboard. It’s fully compatible with Apple CarPlay. Android Auto isn’t available yet, but Bentley told me that it’s on the to-do list. The list of driving aids includes adaptive cruise control and a blind spot monitoring system, but there’s no fancy semi-autonomous technology to be found anywhere in the Mulsanne. That’s simply called a chauffeur in Bentley-speak.

The redesigned interior balances modernity and tradition. There are no less than 40 different pieces of real wood trim in the cabin, organ stop-like controls that let the passengers control how much air blows out of the vents, and three analog dials in the center console. The Mulsanne boasts a very timeless-looking dashboard, too.

2017 Bentley Mulsanne

I prefer driving, but I won’t scoff at those who say they’d rather sit in the back. In the Mulsanne, it’s understandable. Even the standard-wheelbase model offers plenty of leg room to stretch out, and enough creature comforts to render the most selective passenger speechless.

There are two types of tablets integrated into the front seatbacks: the first is made out of solid wood, and it neatly folds out so that the occupants can get work done. The second features a battery, wires, processors, tiny screws, and a screen, and it gives the rear occupants their own infotainment system. The 10.2-inch, Android-based device pops up at the touch of a button.

Old-school craftsmanship

Study the Mulsanne’s lines and you’ll notice that something is unusual; something is missing. The body is completely seamless, which gives Bentley’s flagship a flowing, elegant appearance that’s unequalled in the industry. It’s not chiseled from a solid block of sheet metal, however. Building one requires over 5,800 individual welds, but Bentley has gone to great lengths to cover them.

It’s this kind of painstaking attention to details that explains why it takes a whopping 400 hours to assemble a Mulsanne from start to finish. 12 of them are spent polishing the body with lamb’s wool, and 150 of them are dedicated to the interior. The leather is shaped, stitched, and finished by hand. There are 12 types of wood veneers to choose from, though some of the trim pieces can be replaced by carbon fiber components for a sportier, more contemporary look.

Conclusion

Fast, luxurious, and quiet, the 2017 Bentley Mulsanne Speed is a private jet that just happens to have four wheels. The idea of a limousine built for driving enthusiasts sounds like an oxymoron, but my hat goes off to the folks in Crewe for executing it so brilliantly.

Highs

  • 811 pound-feet of torque
  • Effortless power delivery
  • Stable at Autobahn speeds
  • Elegant, seamless body
  • Interior fit for a king

Lows

  • Android Auto not available yet
  • Options add up quickly