With 752 lb-ft available at a just-off-idle 1750 rpm (versus 738 lb-ft at 3200 rpm previously), the V-8 is now even more of a low-rev-ving torque monster. The peak power output of 505 hp occurs at 4200 rpm, just shy of the diesel-like, 4500-rpm redline, but that hardly matters. With so much thrust available at such low engine speeds and the V-8 betraying only a distant rumble when pressed, there's little reason to explore the upper reaches of the tachometer.
The low-effort thrust is a key part of this car's character. "If we had gone with one of the [Volkswagen] Group's V-8s," notes Stuart McCullough, Bentley board member for sales and marketing, "we would have had a much more urgent, high-revving engine."
If the big Bentley's top speed (184 mph) and quickness (0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, according to the factory) belie its tremendous size and weight, so, too, does its poise.
The chassis features air springs, whose firmness can be programmed by the driver, as can the steering effort. A simple rotary knob on the console switches among the three preprogrammed modes (Sport, Comfort, and "Bentley," the standard setting) plus a mix-and-match custom mode. The custom mode lets a driver call up his own combination of steering effort and suspension firmness.
Get going quickly, and you're never unaware that this car is carrying a lot of momentum, but it is not a nodding, heaving luxobarge. Along the England/Scotland border, where the roads are in much better repair than ours at home, there seemed to be little difference among the suspension settings, with the Mulsanne displaying excellent body control at a cost of some impact harshness.
Calling up sport mode gives you steering that is ideally weighted and just about perfect for this car. In the other two settings, it's overly light with no real buildup of effort. The firmer steering combined with the softer damping might make the ideal combination in most areas of the United States.
As impressive as the Mulsanne's performance is, however, even Bentley executives admit that - for the company's intended audience of "high net worth" individuals (those with investable assets of $25 million or more) - performance is not what's going to win the day. At this lofty elevation, brand image, appearance, and the feeling a car imparts are paramount.
Bentley goes to great lengths to convey a special feeling with the Mulsanne, and nowhere is that more evident than in the interior. In most cars, we note the quality of the plastics; in the Mulsanne, we couldn't find any plastic. Instead, 390 pieces of leather, from fifteen hides, cover every surface in sight. Wood veneers are laid over solid wood substrates. Metal-finished bits are real metal. The idea is to impart authenticity. The feel, and even the smell, exude luxury.