When I think of Bentley, the first image that comes to mind is Rich Uncle Pennybags, the original Monopoly Man.
Then I think of Planters' Mr. Peanut, because anyone who owns a Bentley undoubtedly views the car's finer details through a monocle. Bentleys and monocles go together like ham and Dijon.
But I am a little disconnected from Bentley, in part, because until I had the all-new flagship, the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne, delivered to my house, I had never driven a sedan of this caliber and stature. I had read about these handcrafted cars, had seen them dropping off stars at movie premieres on TV, but now I held its heavy key fob in my Downriver mitt.
Look out, Eureka Road, there's a new car in town, and I'll finally be able to buy those carpet remnants and used guns at the Gibraltar Trade Center and stuff them into the gloriously large trunk — 15.6 cubic feet of space.
That might kill one afternoon in this car, but what else do you even do with a $285,000 car? Is any car even worth the kind of money typically mentioned in TARP fund projects? "Yes," Mr. Rich Uncle Pennybags might say. "Indubitably, it is."
Bentley may have limited my total driving distance to 200 miles over four days, but I tried to make the best of it — and my time in the Mulsanne included tailgating at a University of Michigan game, fine Downriver dining, shopping at the Dollar Store and, of course, the Trade Center — which, as a resident of Gibraltar, I'd like to point out, is in Taylor.
Just sit inside this car and suffocate on the leather. Smell the love. No wonder Bentleys have long been the inspiration for rappers and rock stars like Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins.
Bentley offers 24 standard leather colors, all of which are aged and inspected for the tiniest imperfection. The craftsmen who assemble the car take such dedicated care that it can take up to 15 hours to hand stitch one leather-wrapped steering wheel. In deference, I avoided eating fried chicken in the Mulsanne.
I also left my shoes on, though I was tempted to take them off and put them in a plastic bag before getting into the Mulsanne. The pure wool, deep-pile Wilton-weave mats certainly have the look of the sitting room I was never allowed to enter as a child.
Then there's the wood trim that looks like it came from 18th-century French furniture — merci, Louis XV. Surrounding the cabin is a ring of wood, which looks almost like a single trim piece with the grains designed to match from one piece to the next. Bentley says it takes about five weeks to create the wood veneer found in its cars.
With so much luxury, it takes a few minutes to clear your head before you can even start the car. The massaging seats help work out those kinks. Then, crank 89X on the 20-speaker, 2,200-watt Digital Signal Processing stereo — the most powerful stereo production in car stereo evah. Dave and Chuck the Freak (and Lisa) never sounded better.
Then it's off to Dunkin' Donuts or whatever exciting destination people with this car typically go.
Driving the Mulsanne is like chartering a luxury liner. The 6.75-liter supercharged V-8 provides refined power. It doesn't rumble with bravado. Bentleys don't brag. They just create 505 horsepower and 752 pound-feet of torque that provide an amazing amount of power. The car weighs 5,700 pounds and can still go from 0 to 60 in 5.1 seconds. That's NASA kind of thrust.
All of that weight requires a meaty air suspension that offers three pre-calibrated settings ranging from comfort to sport (the other mode is just "Bentley"), and a fourth setting allows the driver to program specific ride characteristics. The suspension includes continuous dampening and adjusts the car's height to provide a more stable ride.
While big and heavy, the Mulsanne feels nearly nimble through hard corners, with the stiff platform never bending and moving on those fast exits. When leaving the U-M game, it was much easier than I thought to weave my way through traffic in that desperate rush back to I-94.
There were slight differences between the modes, but in all cases, the optional 21-inch tires tended to swallow up any bad road bits. On the highway, this big vehicle just glides along. You have to watch your speed because the car is so quiet — it includes double-paned laminated side windows. Outside of the Bentley, the world just doesn't make as much sense as it does inside.
The ZF eight-speed automatic transmission serves up each gear with the precision of a butler serving up vodka martinis. There's no lurch, no lunge, just a slight sound change and then more torque. There are even paddle shifters if you want to give them a spin, but for the most part, paddle shifters are a novelty that some people try a few times and then forget about.
But people will not forget seeing this car. Some may not know the Mulsanne behind them at the McDonald's drive-thru is worth more than all of the other cars in line combined, but they know it's special.
At the end of the long hood, the Mulsanne boasts a massive stainless steel grille and round headlights that are outlined by chrome trim. All of the chrome "brightware" sparkles along the car's body like jewels adorning a king. Even the elliptical LED taillights float on the back of the car and cause people to notice.
Mostly though, the Mulsanne is not about bragging; it's simply about the good life. Certainly, it's a life most of us will never achieve, and that's fine by me. Do I really need a key fob that will reprogram everything in a car as soon as I touch the door handle? (This magical fob remembers everything from the radio station presets, phone book, seat position, massage settings, steering wheel position, mirrors and seat belt.) Well, I may not need it, but it sure sounds nice.
Life through a rose-colored monocle, even if for just a long weekend, is a pretty nice life. The Mulsanne simply reminds a few people that they've got a little more mustard.
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Exterior : Exquisite — classic lines and form. Stretching more than 18 feet, the Mulsanne looks beautiful.
Interior: Unbelievable. Homes do not come this nice; wrapped in more leather than a cow.
Performance: Fantastic. Lots of power and a ride that feels like you’re on a cloud.
Pros: Everything about this giant sedan is fantastic. It’s exclusive, beautiful and caters to the driver and passenger.
Cons: Requires congressional bailout package to afford payments.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor