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2017 Bentley Mulsanne Speed First Drive

On Monday, July 4th, 2016

You can hear it loud and clear – that is, the sound of nearly nothing at all – when hurtling along at 160 mph. The quiet part isn’t surprising; after all, this is a $300,000 übersedan. But the speed? The sensation is disarming and utterly intriguing. It’s safe to say that three tons of mass have no right to move through space so effortlessly. Welcome to the latest ultraluxe, four-wheeled hyperloop from Bentley.

2017 Bentley Mulsanne

In case you missed the engraved announcement, the Mulsanne is the higher-priced, handcrafted flagship that plays big brother to the Flying Spur, the (relatively) more ubiquitous sedan that shares a good amount of parts with the Continental GT. Imagine the snooty older sibling that studied at Wharton, wears tailored suits to breakfast and an ascot to supper, and dangles a pipe from the corner of his mouth, and you’ve got a good idea of what distinguishes the more finely finished Mulsanne from its stablemate. Not only does a base Mulsanne command a $100,000 premium over the Spur, it’s a more laboriously assembled specimen that takes a staggering 400 man-hours to build. Unlike the Spur, whose top model boasts a W12, the Mulsanne is powered by a 6.75-liter pushrod (!) V8. Less is usually less in this stratospheric segment, but this humungous eight-cylinder has a history stretching back six decades – precisely the sort of tweedy legacy stuff that appeals to old money. This is the last Bentley to use this engine, and it will be replaced by a new twelve-cylinder.

Inside, new seats with revised foam offer greater comfiness. Perhaps more notably, the infotainment system gains a much-needed upgrade with an 8-inch touchscreen, a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and Apple Carplay functionality (for front passengers). Optional 10.4-inch tablet screens at the rear offer a trick bit of engineering, rising out of the front seats at the push of a button. The removable, Android-operated touchscreens have a slick feel, an intuitive interface, and Google Maps integration; bundled with veneer picnic tables and a Naim premium audio system (20 speakers, 20 channels, and a 2,200-watt amplifier), the Entertainment Specification package adds a cool $19,855 to the grand total – a nicely optioned Honda Civic’s worth of loot.

The Mulsanne feels big-boned when the road gets twisty, though the Speed’s tighter suspension takes the edge off the feeling of bulkiness. Hydraulic steering enables easy, precise direction changes when piloted briskly. But push it even faster and brake harder, and steering requires a bit more attention. This is, after all, a massive sedan that’s been tuned for Teflon-smooth refinement, not sports-car-like performance.

And then there’s the silence, which has been noticeably improved for 2017. Bentley says that low-frequency rumbles were reduced by the suspension tweaks, and that up to 15 dB of engine noise were cut thanks to the new hydraulic mounts. The resulting reduction in road and drivetrain noise during development made the tires sound perceptibly louder, which led to Dunlop cutting 4 dB of tire noise by introducing a foam architecture to the rubber. The most extreme example of the silence/performance disparity is the Speed: With 811 lb-ft on tap and that eerily low noise level, the Mulsanne Speed easily overcomes its elephantine tonnage. Coupled with the insulated cabin, the sensation of speed feels akin to riding in the eerily well-insulated nose section of a Boeing 747 while wearing noise-cancelling headphones.

The Bentley Mulsanne has never pretended to be on the cutting edge of technology, though the newfound multimedia system and driver aids push it incrementally towards the 21st century. But the flying B’s flagship doesn’t need bells and whistles to maintain ultraluxury relevance; with its delightfully old-world interior and improved ride and sound insulation, the Mulsanne becomes more of what it was conceived to be: an imposing, seemingly unstoppable, but strangely discreet locomotive of a passenger car. There may be nimbler big sedans that can be had for a fraction of the cost (see top dogs from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes), but the Mulsanne sets itself apart for the sheer audacity of its vision, from the exquisiteness of its interior to its insistent thrust. Most will never see, smell, or touch this leather- and wood-lined interior (after all, only 200 or so Mulsannes make it to the US every year), but that also offers a sense of validation for Bentley’s top-of-the-line sedan. In this case, rarity is a treat, one that inspires more attainable cars to become quicker, quieter, and ultimately more special.

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