Bentley's new flagship sedan, the Mulsanne, takes its name from the sharp turn at one end of the 8.5-mile French route where the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race is held. It replaces the Arnage, a sedan sold stateside from 1998-2009. Bentley calls the Mulsanne the first car made exclusively by itself in 70 years. Originally an independent company, Bentley was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1931, which resulted in platform sharing. The Arnage had a Rolls-Royce sibling, the Silver Seraph, as recently as 2002.
In the Mulsanne's price realm, shoppers might also consider a Rolls-Royce Ghost or Maybach 57.
From bumper to bumper, the Mulsanne stretches well over a foot longer than most minivans. Its imposing face is at once squared-off and curvy, with huge headlights flanking an enormous upper grille. Anything on or in the Mulsanne that looks like metal is real metal, according to Bentley. A lower grille spans the width of the front end, separated from the upper grate by a bumper that protrudes in the middle.
Twenty-inch alloy wheels are standard, with 21-inchers optional. Atop the hood, the optional Flying-B ornament can retract itself to prevent damage or theft. As is to be expected for an ultraluxury car, the Mulsanne is offered in more than 114 factory colors.
The Mulsanne's handcrafted interior features the usual Bentley fare — plenty of wood and stainless steel, with pull-stoppers for the air-conditioning vents and gauge needles starting in the 1 o'clock position. Bentley says it adopted a traditional tanning process this year for the Mulsanne's leather to evoke the smell of vintage cowhides. Running across the dashboard and doors is a continuous band of wood trim, which the automaker says takes two weeks to refine from raw material to polished veneers.
Audiophiles can get an optional premium stereo crafted by British audio company Naim. Other cabin features include quad-zone climate control and power-adjustable front and rear seats. Unlike Rolls-Royce's rear-opening backseat doors, the Mulsanne has traditional front-opening doors.
Should buyers wish, Bentley's in-house Mulliner division can personalize the Mulsanne with any manner of hand-tailored fittings.
Under the Hood
Enhanced this year with variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation, the Mulsanne's 6.8-liter V-8 makes 505 horsepower; its 752 pounds-feet of torque is available at just 1,800 rpm. Combined with a new eight-speed automatic, the drivetrain reduces fuel consumption 15 percent versus the outgoing V-8, according to Bentley.
Settings for the steering and adaptive air suspension can be tailored to three modes — Sport, Comfort and an in-between "Bentley" setting — as well as a Custom mode that lets drivers fine-tune each system's specific settings.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system. Besides the required dual front airbags, the Mulsanne also has side-impact airbags for both rows of seats.