What is it?
One of the great pleasures of this job is finding The Thrill of Driving in unusual places. Who’d have thought a Twingo RS could be an absolute hoot around Spa? Or that a Skoda Yeti can yield hot-hatch-type thrills along your average B-road? Both are recent examples, I might add.
In a similar vein, it’s intriguing to investigate – or call out – manufacturers who claim to have divined The Thrill from the unlikeliest of vehicles. And with that in mind, we bring you the Bentley Mulsanne Speed, or ‘the world’s fastest ultra-luxury driving experience’, according to the men and women of Crewe.
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Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The Speed is Bentley’s flagship and, at 2610kg, that’s an appropriate term. Power is supplied by the firm’s 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8 – a motor that in one guise or another has been in production since 1959. Today this galactic motor is EU6 compliant and produces 530bhp – a 25bhp increase over the standard Mulsanne.
For the Speed, the combustion system has been redesigned, including the chambers, inlet ports, fuel injectors and spark plugs, plus there are revisions to the engine’s variable valve timing system and compression ratio.
Torque – the Mulsanne Speed’s trump card – is up to 811lb ft from 752, and overall efficiency, according to Bentley, is improved by 13 per cent. With Bugatti Veyron production having ended, that torque figure is the highest of any production car on sale. The standard Mulsanne receives the same ‘efficiency upgrades’, plus a more relaxed gearshift calibration to create some differentiation between the versions.
On the road, the Speed’s torque is the first thing that hits you… hard. With it all available at 1750rpm, the accelerative punch is deep-rooted, relentless and quite startling. The 0-60mph sprint takes 4.8sec and the top speed is 190mph. Porsche owners, then, will need to think carefully about taking on a Speed – at least on the straight bits.
A Bentley insider told us that a three-speed auto ’box would be sufficient given the torque on offer. However, the eight-speeder contributes to efficiency and is perfectly smooth and swift – there’s also a new ‘S’ mode that keeps the engine speed above 2000rpm.
And if you like your factoids, here are some more. It takes 400 hours to build a Mulsanne (30 to build the engine), the Speed’s wheel design is directional (being unique to each side), the rear lamp ellipses have a 3D effect, the dark matrix grille is laser cut and electrocoated to withstand stone chips at high speeds, the engine has a cylinder-cut function, the bootlid material is composite so that the antennas underneath work, and lastly, Mulsanne customers often personally select wood veneers that have unique patterns in them – like faces. In short, this is an exquisitely lavished car that mixes old and new quite spectacularly.
What's it like to drive?
Revised suspension creates a little more feedback and sharpness in the chassis than the standard car can muster, but you would never call the Mulsanne Speed wieldy. There is pleasure to be taken from carving along fast B-roads – the chassis is easy to read, the tyres grip remarkably well and the Speed has no bad habits. Steering feel, as you’d expect, is masked, but there is just enough feedback for you to accurately place and adjust the car neatly when pushing on. Bentley certainly has considered the driving experience, even if physics ultimately prevents the Speed from being a true drivers’ car.
In terms of driver settings, you can select four modes – Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Custom. As you progress through the first three, the air suspension gets firmer, steering weight increases and the engine’s response is ramped up. Cylinder deactivation is also disabled in Comfort (for maximum smoothness) and Sport (for the fastest response). ‘Custom’ allows you to pick-and-mix, but on this occasion we doubt you’ll need it.
Bentley is adamant that the Speed will be driven by its owners and you can feel that in the chassis. While its bulk prevents it from being an exciting steer, you can sense that it has been engineered by people who care about driving. Sure, the list price may raise an eyebrow, but Bentley’s craftsmanship really is something to behold. Add to this the fact that Bentley hasn’t just paid lip-service to drivers and you have a tremendously likeable car.
Given quarter of a million pounds to spend on something fun, there are dozens of other performance cars you'd choose ahead of a Mulsanne Speed. But assuming for a second that you absolutely must have four luxurious pews, plenty of luggage space and a suitably aristocratic badge on the grille, what are your options?
The obvious choice is a Rolls-Royce Ghost - a snip, at £216,864 with the standard wheelbase, and just under £250,000 with a long wheelbase. It's certainly fast - a tenth quicker to 60mph than the Mulsanne (it's a third of a ton lighter), but better at slow speeds than it is to drive with pace. If you're prepared to lose two doors but gain in entertainment, the £229,128 Wraith coupe is a better option.
Positively bargainous is the ludicrous V12 biturbo, 621bhp, Mercedes-AMG S 65 L - £182,750 and a 4.3-second 0-60mph sprint. There's not a lot of steering feel, but mighty pace.
The Mulsanne Speed currently costs £252,000, around £22,000 more than the regular Mulsanne.