2011 Bentley Mulsanne Review and Prices
The 2011 Bentley Mulsanne is the best car for you if you desire the latest in automotive luxury and status – and are only peripherally concerned about what it costs.
The 2011 Bentley Mulsanne is the magnificent new flagship from the marque second only to Rolls-Royce as Britain’s best-known purveyor of sumptuous motorcars. Pricing was still secret at the time of this review, but estimates place the huge, beautiful four-door sedan in the $300,000 neighborhood.
Should you wait for the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne or redecorate the cottage on Martha’s Vineyard? Folks who shop at this price level rarely deny themselves a car they want. But they may prioritize their spending. If a Mulsanne is within your reach, wait for it to go on sale in midsummer 2010. You’ll relish how it brings old-world craftsmanship smartly up to date. Meanwhile, just a slight extension of the side deck would improve your view of the lighthouse.
2011 Bentley Mulsanne Changes back to top
Styling: The 2011 Bentley Mulsanne styling builds on the tradition of classic Bentleys and manages to look both extravagant and tasteful. Present is the upright Bentley crosshatch grille, long bonnet (hood to us Yanks), and sweeping rear overhang. Headlamps hearken to the four-unit setup on the iconic 1950s Bentley S-Type, but use modern LED technology. The sides of the stately square-rigged body seem imposing as a cruise-ship hull but are softened by graceful rear “haunches.” In back, the tall roofline and fenders are limousine-massive yet have a lovely organic sweep thanks to hand metalworking at Bentley’s plant in Crewe, England. Bentley employs aerospace technology called superforming to shape the complex aluminum front fenders. The bootlid – uh, trunklid -- is plastic composite to save weight and free the car’s myriad satellite electronics from interfering metal: that’s why the body isn’t sullied by one of those shark’s-fin transponders. Overall, the 2011 Mulsanne looks far more contemporary than the Bentley Arnage flagship it replaces and comes across as blessedly less stuffy-looking than its chief automotive rival, the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Dimensionally, the Mulsanne is assertive. At 219.5 inches long overall, this five-passenger sedan is just three inches shorter than a Chevrolet Suburban SUV. Wheelbase -- the distance between the front and rear axles and a main determinate of a vehicle’s interior volume – is similarly impressive. An entire Mini Cooper would just about fit within the Mulsanne’s 128.6-inch wheelbase.
Mechanical: The 2011 Mulsanne symbolizes a sort of closure to a confusing Bentley odyssey. It’s the first car designed and built purely as a Bentley since the 1930s. The company was founded in 1919 and purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1931. For the next six decades, Bentleys – including the Arnage -- were essentially rebodied or retrimmed Rolls models. Volkswagen took over Bentley in 1998, and the smaller, highly successful Bentley Continental series launched in 2004 was based on VW’s Phaeton sedan. Bentley acknowledges VW’s financial backing in the creation of the Mulsanne. However, it also emphasizes that the car’s all-new chassis, body, and running gear is exclusive to it and was designed specifically to satisfy Bentley’s image of powerful, sporting luxury. The origins of Mulsanne’s 6.8-liter V-8 can be traced to classic Bentley V-8s of that displacement. But re-engineering gives this twin-turbo engine 505 horsepower and an inspirational 752 pound-feet of torque at just 1800 rpm. Torque is the force that does the heavy lifting during acceleration and the Bentley ideal is seemingly effortless torque. This V-8 comes with a social conscience, however: it’s the first ultra-luxury engine that can save fuel by shutting down half its cylinders at cruise. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic and for the first time on a Bentley flagship includes steering-wheel paddles for manual-type shifting. Unlike the all-wheel-drive Continental series, the 2011 Mulsanne is strictly rear-wheel drive to preserve styling objectives and a certain Bentley driving feel. A new air suspension system uses continuously variable dampers to balance comfort and handling; a center-console rotary switch enables the driver to select from among three suspension and steering calibrations or to cherry pick elements of all three and create a customized fourth setting. Standard wheels are fulsome 20-inch alloys; 21s are optional.
Features: The 2011 Bentley Mulsanne features story is one of opulence and opportunity. In contrast to mass production that churns out the typical car in about 30 hours, each Mulsanne requires nine weeks to construct, much of that devoted to the passenger compartment. Each steering wheel, for example, can take 15 hours to hand stitch – 45 hours if the customer opts for cross-stitching. Indeed, personalization is a prerequisite for Mulsanne’s clientele. “Our customers are individualists,” Bentley sales and marketing chief Stuart McCullough says. “You don’t get to a position in life where you can afford a car like this without being a little different.” Thus, Bentley affords Mulsanne buyers the opportunity to choose from among 114 standard exterior paint colors and an additional 850 special blends; it’ll also mix any bespoke hue. Interior leathers – tanned with an old-school process to capture a particularly rich aroma – come in 24 standard colors or a virtually unlimited pallet of custom dyes. The cabin is encircled at windowsill level by a ring of solid wood – not a veneer – that can also be custom-finished. The personalized fob that enables keyless entry and pushbutton ignition also automatically activates preset audio, climate, and driving-position preferences – as well as the ventilation and massaging modes of both the front and rear seats. Dashboard instrumentation is classically understated, and controls are kept to a minimum. Many buttons gleam with a glass coating a precise 4 mm thick, just enough to distinguish the finish from that of plastic. The iconic Bentley bulls-eye air vents are present and, like every knob, handle, and switch that appears to be metal, are in fact made from solid stainless steel (some aluminum is used on the center console). The floor mats are Wilton-weave deep-pile pure wool. Behind an electrically operated wood panel in the dashboard is an 8-inch multimedia screen for the navigation system, rearview camera, and data displays. A 40 GB hard disc drives the navigation functions and the standard 14-speaker audio system, which includes USB iPod interface and Bluetooth connectivity. Concealed near the screen is a leather-lined MP3-player drawer. The optional audio system is a 20-speaker Naim-brand unit with a 2,200-watt amplifier.
2011 Bentley Mulsanne Prices back to top
Pricing for the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne won’t be announced until shortly before the car goes on sale, but look for it to start around $300,000 or so. That would be roughly $30,000 more than the starting price of the outgoing Arnage sedan and about $90,000 more than the most-expensive version of Bentley’s Continental Flying Spur sedan.
The Mulsanne, including its engine, is built entirely by Bentley in Crewe. Production is planned at about 700 per year worldwide, with some 245 shipped annually to the U.S.
2011 Bentley Mulsanne Fuel Economy back to top
Fuel economy ratings for 2011 cars had not been released in time for this review. But Bentley says the Mulsanne will be more fuel efficient than the Arnage. The 450-horsepower Arnage RL (a 132.5-inch-wheelbase model) is the least-fuel-efficient car in the EPA’s “Large Car” class with a rating of 9/15 mpg (city/highway).
Bentley hadn’t released a curb weight for the Mulsanne in time for this review but says it’s lighter than any Arnage model, the least-massive of which, the 122.7-inch-wheelbase Arnage R, weighs 5,699 pounds.
2011 Bentley Mulsanne Release Date back to top
The 2011 Bentley Mulsanne goes on sale in the U.S. in mid-summer 2010. The Mulsanne, like the Arnage, is named for a famous section of the 24 Hours of Le Mans racing circuit. A proud part of Bentley’s heritage is its series of victories in the race during the 1920s.
What's next for the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne back to top
Bentley models tend to have a fairly long life-cycle, with periodic updates to styling details and technical features to keep them fresh. The Arnage, for example, traces its basic design to the 1990s and has spawned a “T” sport model, the longer-wheelbase RL, even the Azure convertible and Brooklands two-door coupe.
Bentley says it has no plans to expand the Mulsanne line with a long-wheelbase model or with alternative body styles. The car is likely to undergo periodic updates, however, and within a few years its engine will be modified to become capable of running on low-emissions enthanol biofuel. It’s part of Bentley’s “green” initiative. The engine could run on gasoline, an enthanol blend, or any combination, and Bentley pledges the driver will notice no difference in performance. The company says it’s waiting until enthanol-blend fuel is more widely available before it institutes the change. Some reports also suggest a diesel version of the Mulsanne is being planned for overseas markets.
2011 Bentley Mulsanne Competition back to top
Rolls-Royce Phantom: Volkswagen-owned Bentley isn’t the only prestigious British marque in the hands of a German automaker. BMW took control of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in 2003. Its flagship is the Phantom, introduced the same year and now offered in regular- and extended-wheel base models, both of which are larger than the new Mulsanne. Rear-hinged “suicide” back doors, a big V-12 engine, and potentate-grade styling are just part of the aura. Base price range is roughly $360,000-$420,000.
Maybach 57 and Maybach 62: Not to be left out of the ultra-luxury Teutonic triumvirate, Mercedes-Benz in 2003 resurrected a hallowed pre-war German nameplate and launched its own lavish sedan. These limousine-like cars have been criticized for looking too much like the 2000-2006-generation Mercedes S-Class, upon which they’re loosely based. But the quality of their appointments is beyond reproach and performance from their twin-turbo V-12 engines (horsepower ranges from 543 to 631) is astounding. Starting around $360,000, the Maybach 57 is the shorter-wheelbase companion to the Maybach 67, which is priced from around $410,000.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class: This enormously spacious and fantastically refined sedan defines high-end luxury motoring for most people and offers everything anyone could want in a car – except the exclusivity of a Rolls, Bentley, or Maybach badge. A mild facelift and introduction of a 295-horspower hybrid model freshened the line for 2010. You could purchase three $90,000 S400 Hybrids for the price of one Mulsanne. Conventional gas-engine models start around $93,000 for the 382-horsepower S550, which is available in rear- or all-wheel drive. Atop the line is the performance-tuned $202,000 S65 AMG with its 600-plus horsepower turbocharged V-12.