2011 Bentley Mulsanne - True Blue Blood

Unlike in the Arnage, there are no compromises in how things function. The multimedia interface is logical, and there are just enough dedicated buttons to keep you from hunting for things. The infotainment system is completely of-the-moment, with a 60-gigabyte hard drive, Bluetooth, and a new optional high-end audio system, by Naim, that offers 2200 watts of power (which Bentley claims is the most in any factory system). There are connections for all manner of personal audio devices and a veneered wood drawer to put them in.

The driver sits behind a thick-rimmed steering wheel of surprisingly small diameter. Through it one sees the speedometer and the tachometer, whose needles sweep downward from the one o'clock position, in the manner of classic Bentleys. An electronic display in between can be configured to show nav system directions, a digital speed readout, or a variety of trip computer info. The view out is pretty good and can be supplemented by a phalanx of cameras. The rear chairs sit taller than those in front, so rear-seat riders enjoy a good view forward, not to mention a plethora of electronic controls, including power seat adjustment. Legroom is plentiful and headroom adequate (although the C-pillars encroach a bit), but there's little foot room under the front seats.

For all the talk of the practical aspects of this car, there's plenty that's irrational about it, starting with the fact that it even got built. "The current market is not supporting this kind of car," says a candid Franz-Josef Paefgen, Bentley chairman, "so there was much discussion about whether we were going to build it." But as another Bentley board member put it, "The one truth about [the] Volkswagen [Group] is that it's run by people who really love cars." And so Bentley won approval to design a dedicated new platform for this car, which will be built - slowly, and mostly by hand - in volumes of only 800 per year. True, there will be additional variants. A sport model is mentioned, and a coupe and a convertible (to replace the Brooklands and the Azure) are sure to follow. But this is still a car whose image looms much larger than its sales numbers. "Its biggest job of all is to tell the world what a Bentley is," says McCullough. We think it does that exceptionally well.

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