Highway 128 in Northern California often winds through manicured vineyards and rolling open terrain decorated with gnarly old oak trees. It’s a road ideally suited for a warm day’s drive in a small, lightweight vintage sports car, convertible top retracted.
But it’s just as delightful navigating the same twisting, narrow two-lane road in a 2017 Bentley Mulsanne Speed. It’s a 6,000-pound luxury furnished apartment on wheels. It’s about the same size as one of the trendy new tiny houses infiltrating the national landscape. But those don’t yet have a 2,200-watt, 19-speaker symphonic-quality sound system or chilled champagne flutes snuggly stored in the back seat wet bar. And they don’t have tires that might provide inferiority issues for monster truck owners, painstakingly groomed wood panels or a slew of other top-line features fit for a queen.
Which makes sense since Bentley has long been the chosen car of the Queen of England. It’s the native country for Bentley, too. About 10,000 units are hand-crafted per year in Crewe, England, and distributed globally. About 3,000 new Bentley models arrive yearly in the United States, including 200 or so Mulsanne models. Which means if you’re driving one like I recently did for a few days, you’re in rarefied company.
Slightly more than two years prior to its 100th birthday, Bentley has introduced the Mulsanne as part of a new generation of vehicles, a rare occurrence among exotic cars. The Mulsanne was unveiled in 2009 and its more powerful sibling, the Mulsanne Speed, in a 2014 model. They’ve remained the only generation until now. But for the new 2017 models, they’re joined by a Flying Spur V8 S, the “entry level” Bentley. There’s also the Bentayga, the new SUV for soccer moms with an appreciation for racetrack driving capabilities in their vehicles and a few hundred thousand dollars to spare.
2017 Bentley Mulsanne: Beautifully quiet
The Mulsanne, its namesake a turn at the LeMans racetrack in France, is the brand’s flagship. It’s big, beautiful and quiet. In some ways it’s not too dissimilar from a well-crafted vintage sports car. It accelerates quickly, drives with precision and has superior maneuverability. The caveat: It’s more than 18 feet long and 6 feet wide.
Beyond its connection to royalty, Bentley has at least two other monolithic achievements. It was the original car author Ian Fleming selected for his James Bond character to drive while wearing custom-tailored suits. Bentley cars have also won the 24 Hours of LeMans six times.
While pedigree is important in luxury cars, Bentley has plenty else to offer and it does so uniquely. The Mulsanne’s 6.75-liter V8 engine produces 530 horsepower and it’s supremely confident. It’s peaceful and powerful and made with every top-line material and expert craftsmanship skill available. Glass switches and dials slide, snap or click into position as if magnetic.
But pretentious Bentley isn’t. And despite its status, the luxury vehicles are more attractive because the interior and exterior stylings exude refinement rather than flash. The gigantic chrome front grille, bright enough to communicate with ships at sea, is as showy as Bentley gets.
Inside, there’s classy innovation. Removable Samsung tablets are stored in discrete compartments and they emerge from the top of the back of the front seats via a push button. There’s also a massage feature activated the same way via push buttons located near the seat adjustment levers. There’s a host of state-of-the-art technology features.
Bentley offers great flexibility to its clients. Customization combinations are nearly limitless, including facing rear seats in the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase model, of which only about two-dozen are made annually. It’s an option likely best reserved for tycoons, businessmen from far-flung lands and perhaps even a few rogue sheiks. Like many of the rest of us, they also appreciate Bentley, the ultimately unnecessary cars of intoxicating appeal.
Facts & Figures, 2017 Bentley Mulsanne (Speed)
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 4.8 seconds.
Fuel economy: 11 mpg (city), 18 mpg (highway), 13 mpg (combined), 8-speed automatic transmission.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $335,000.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.bentleymotors.com.
Price As Tested: $400,340.
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited mileage; extended warranty optional.