2011 Bentley Mulsanne - True Blue Blood

Having made its entrance in the rarefied environs of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and its worldwide public debut at last fall's Frankfurt auto show, the Bentley Mulsanne is now ready to hit the streets. We've had a chance to do just that, but in this case the streets were the narrow village lanes, undulating country byways, and wide-open dual carriageways (divided highways) of Bentley's home turf in the U.K. The car won't be rolling onto U.S. roads until sometime this fall.

In the Bentley lineup, the Mulsanne slips into the top spot recently vacated by the Arnage sedan, that aged doyen of the luxury-car class. Well, perhaps not exactly the same spot. The Mulsanne is better than fifty grand more expensive, at $287,600 plus a still-to-be-determined gas-guzzler tax. It's also a tick less than seven inches longer while tipping the scales at the same Rubenesque 5700 pounds. The regal coachwork, much of it hand-finished, is draped over a six-inch-longer wheelbase. In price, size, and bearing, the Mulsanne moves closer to Rolls-Royce. Actually, by most measures, it nestles in between the Rolls Phantom and the new Rolls-Royce Ghost.

Bentley claims that the Mulsanne is the company's first from-scratch vehicle in eighty years (!), meaning that it's the first Bentley not adapted from another car. (The Continentals, for instance, are built off the platform of the Volkswagen Phaeton, and previous big Bentleys were adapted Rolls-Royce designs.) Even so, there are some items shared with the Audi A8, such as the Mulsanne's new eight-speed automatic transmission (by ZF) and the infotainment system, which is based on Audi's Multi Media Interface.

Although the Mulsanne is a new car, its mechanical layout is decidedly traditional, much more so than that of the Continental family. Whereas those cars all have a W-shaped twelve-cylinder engine driving all four wheels, the Mulsanne uses the massive V-8 and rear-wheel-drive configuration of its predecessor. The pushrod V-8 retains the previous bore and stroke dimensions, the "63/4 litre" designation, and two turbochargers. Brian Gush, head of powertrain and chassis, says that the previous engine "was a good starting point; then we changed what we needed to change, which ended up being quite a lot."

The two headline changes are the addition of variable displacement (allowing the engine to cruise on four cylinders under light loads) and variable valve timing, which lowers the peak torque rpm.

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