A smattering of high-priced luxobarges populates the upper stratosphere of the sedan segment, that rarified sweet spot that makes Maserati Quattroportes and Porsche Panameras look pedestrian.
Sporting massive, round headlamps and a silhouette suggesting a tenuous relationship between staunch upright edges and slightly swept back curves, the Bentley Mulsanne's presence suggests reserved muscularity, a tensile store of energy awaiting a gentle press of the right pedal.
Behind the wheel of this nearly three-ton saloon, the road ahead is framed in a letterboxed windshield surrounded by an architecturally sound assemblage of handcrafted wood, marquetry, and supple leathers. 100 exterior colors, 9 veneers, and 24 varieties of hide are available for order, and every Mulsanne interior is rimmed in a ring of wood. Of course, bespoke hues also enable you to match your Mulsanne to your favorite lipstick or Scotch, if you so choose.
Not quite as erect as a Rolls or elongated as a Maybach, the Mulsanne's cabin is a surprisingly cozy space with scooped doors, exquisitely contrasting textures, and traditional details such as chromed, globe-like air vents with organ-stop levers. The 20-speaker Naim stereo claims the most powerful amplification system on the market, producing 2,200 watts of transcendently clear sound. But the main attraction — at least for those who prefer to ditch the passenger seat and drive — is the twin-turbocharged, 6.75 liter V8 that produces 505 horsepower and a colossal 752 lb-ft of torque while spinning at a mere 1,750 rpm. The mill is classic Bentley: a low-revving eight cylinder that churns enormous waves of power with light throttle input, and the Mulsanne happens to be the first big Bentley equipped with paddle shifters, suggesting there's more to this big five-seater than being chauffeured.
We motored the Mulsanne on intimate country roads snaking through Scotland and Northern England, insulated in the plush interior as bright green hills bled past. This large sedan achieves triple-digit speeds effortlessly, and double-glazed glass mutes external road and traffic noises (though the saucer eyes of fellow drivers suggested that the car leaves quite an impression on the outside world). Along winding stretches of secondary road, the Mulsanne's air suspension performed a commendable job of controlling body movement, and the engine's low-strung torque curve obviated the need for pedal burying. As our grand tour continued into the afternoon, the seats proved to be as comfortable as they looked, quietly massaging our backs as we dodged speed cameras and hugged the hedgerows around tight bends.
Our day-long tour proved that the driving dynamics of Bentley's flagship are as supple and buttery smooth as its slippery silhouette. Though its target audience may be limited to masters of the universe, the thin slice who choose this Bentley over the latest offerings from Rolls-Royce and Maybach will be treated to a meticulously hand-crafted example of modern motoring finished in an old world style — a nearly lost art that elevates this graceful specimen far above the realm of mass-produced, lower priced alternatives.
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Watch a video of the Bentley Mulsanne