Austin, Texas – Gilded lilies, roasted ortolan, and late-career Liam Neeson have a new partner in overkill: the 2015 Bentley Mulsanne Speed.
Bentley’s flagship sedan has already distinguished itself from its rival, the Rolls-Royce Phantom, as a car that an owner might care to drive, at least when Jeeves has the day off. The upgraded Speed will invite an even smaller handful of heroes and Neros from Wall Street to Beijing to roll up their French cuffs and go slumming in traffic or to lounge on magisterial, massaging rear thrones and survey the games from a distance.
The price rises as generously as the torque, at a base freight of $341,325, almost a $32,000 premium over its less aggressive counterpart.
Appropriately, Bentley showed off its bigger-is-better Mulsanne in Texas, underlining the brand’s performance bona fides with the Bentley GT3’s participation in the Pirelli World Challenge race at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. We rode shotgun for Mulsanne laps with retired Le Mans champ Derek Bell, twirling an artful steering wheel that takes five hours to craft and features no fewer than 620 leather stitches. The Bentley lapped the circuit with estimable grace for a nearly 3-ton steer of a sedan.
The high-class rodeo continued in Texas hill country. The Bentley’s console “charisma switch” accessed smartly calibrated settings for the air suspension, throttle, steering, and eight-speed transmission. And while the rear-drive 2015 Bentley Mulsanne Speed is only “sporty” in the manner of an agile sumo wrestler, it rocked downhill sweepers at triple-digit speeds with gratifying poise, its old-fashioned hydraulic steering delivering direct, honest feel. Tooled metal paddle shifters summon smooth gear changes for the rare driver who’ll feel the pressing need.
The engine boasts a new head, pistons, cams, bearings, intake manifold, injectors, ignition coils, a rebalanced crankshaft, and a recalibrated engine control unit. Bentley claims 13 percent better fuel economy, though it’s still not enough, at 12/19 mpg, to dodge a $3,000 gas guzzler tax.
Dark tint suffuses the matrix grille and lower air intakes. Smoky lenses for head- and taillamps, Speed-badged side vents and kickplates, and rifled exhaust outlets round out the visual menu.
Available carbon-fiber cabin trim is unique to the Speed, though it seems too boy-racer in such an elegantly understated machine. Bodacious 21-inch rims are more successful, each unidirectional wheel milled from a single billet of aluminum. Signature Spectre paint offers a villainous shade of gray-brown with a subtle reptilian undertone.
As with virtually every British ultra-luxury car, technology trails the curve, from an aging navi system to the absence of semi-autonomous functions and safety monitors found in far-less-expensive sedans.
But the rest is familiar, fragrant, and fabulous: The Mulsanne is an XXL jewel box of wood, leather, and metal that owners can stuff with every imaginable treasure. Craftsmen and -women in Crewe, England, spend 11 weeks to build each 2015 Bentley Mulsanne Speed, clocking 150 hours to outfit the interior, which includes 593 individual pieces of leather from 14 bull hides.
Over-the-top options include a $10,900 bottle chiller. Hit the button, and a frosted glass panel glides open to reveal champagne glasses and your favorite vintage Krug. Traditional, veneered picnic tables that fold down for rear-seat noshing can be switched for gleaming metal iPad tables. They cost $13,225—for the metal frames alone. You want the iPads? That’ll be $28,760, though that “Entertainment Specification” adds features including a 20-speaker Naim audio system, dual headrest screens, and a 60-gig hard drive.
Under a groaning $48,000 load of options, one Speed we drove reached $389,390. That price, and exclusivity, is one reason Bentley sold only about 300 Mulsannes here last year and a hair under 1,000 worldwide. Bentley figures Americans and Europeans in particular will favor the Speed, with Chinese buyers sliding into the back of the standard edition.
For wealthy enthusiasts, the 2015 Bentley Mulsanne Speed further presses Bentley’s advantage over its Rolls rival: a sincere pursuit of driving pleasure, whenever one feels like setting down the champagne flute and grabbing the wheel instead.
2015 Bentley Mulsanne Speed Specifications
|Engine:||6.75L twin-turbo DOHC 16-valve V-8/530 hp @ 4,200 rpm, 811 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||12/19 mpg city/hwy|
|L x W x H:||219.5 x 86.9 x 59.9 in|
|0-60 mph:||4.8 sec|
|Top Speed:||190 mph|