2010 Bentley Mulsanne: First Look

The same 2010 Bentley Mulsanne that made its world debut at California’s Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance in August has begun a tour of major U.S. markets to stir up interest among Bentley loyalists. One such market is our hometown of Chicago, where we got our first in-person look (and photos, below) at the new "grand Bentley" flagship sedan (or saloon, if you must), which takes the place of the Arnage (1998-2009). This tan model and a blue one shown at this month's Frankfurt Motor Show are two of 20 prototypes around the world. The Mulsanne, which is pronounced mull-sahn, begins production next spring and will hit the U.S. in summer.

The imposing car is at once squared-off and curvy, with huge headlights flanking an enormous upper grille, which is shiny — but not too shiny. Unlike the Continental, which we've criticized for having a plastic grille, this one's real stainless steel. Anything on or in the Mulsanne that looks like metal is real metal, Bentley says. A lower grille spans the width of the front end, separated from the upper grate by a bumper that protrudes in the middle. It looks a bit odd, as if bumpers — which used to protect the car, before they elegantly disappeared into front and rear fascias over the years — are being forced to turn back into bumpers again. Atop the hood was an optional retractable Flying-B ornament.

The automaker calls the Mulsanne the first car made exclusively by Bentley 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.

Though Volkswagen technically bought both brands in 1998, BMW owned the rights to Rolls through a loophole, and the brand transferred over in 2003. Bentley says the Mulsanne's body is "bespoke," which is fancy Brit-speak for custom-made. Much of the interior is also bespoke — and overwhelmingly handcrafted. Bentley may be free of BMW, but it's still owned by VW, some of whose parts have been visible in Bentleys in the form of electronic controls and displays. These items certainly don't qualify as bespoke, but the Mulsanne now represents the leading edge of its parent company's entertainment systems; someday a redesigned Audi or VW will be accused of having parts that aren't massgeschneiderte, which means bespoke to people who bespeak German. For what it's worth, the controls and menus I saw in the Mulsanne were appropriately elegant — and, really, all such components come from a handful of third-party suppliers anyway. The voice of reason has bespoken.

Our favorite aspect of the Mulsanne is the twin-turbocharged 6.75-liter V-8. It's not because of its 505 horsepower and 752 pounds-feet of torque. It's not because it's a 50-year-old design that has been re-engineered bit by bit to keep it up to modern standards, most recently adding variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. And it's not because it can run on E85 ethanol. It's because what you can see of it is stunning — a brushed-aluminum intake manifold and valve covers plus a plaque bearing the signature of the single technician who built it by hand.

Ian's photos do the engine and the rest of the car more justice than I ever could, so check them out. Pricing will be announced in November, but the 2009 Arnage's $224,990-$267,990 price range is a good clue.

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