The Bentley Mulsanne: What It's Like to Drive a $300,000 Car (Video)
This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
To set the scene precisely, I have parked my borrowed 2014 Bentley Mulsanne on the street in Santa Monica as passers-by stop in their tracks and -- there is no other word for it -- gawk at 18 feet of old-school British automotive luxury cooling its wheels curbside.
In this exotic-car-choked city, where valets blithely park Lamborghini Aventadors, it takes a lot to get noticed. But from rubbernecking Mercedes drivers to the individual who orbited my Mulsanne snapping photos, strong reactions were provoked by the big Bentley wherever I pointed its yacht-like prow during my week with the car.
Part of that is scarcity. No more than a thousand Mulsannes -- the top of Bentley's line that also comprises the relatively lesser-priced Continental and Flying Spur -- emerge annually from the factory in Crewe, England. (Seventy-eight are registered in L.A. County.) So own this car if you want to be noticed -- as have Kourtney Kardashian, Houston Rockets star Dwight Howard and Diane von Furstenberg -- or be driven, as this Bentley is both a driver's car and a personal limousine, with acres of rear leg room and privacy curtains that deploy when the hoi polloi loom.
What does the Mulsanne's nearly $300,000 base sticker get you? First and foremost, a driving experience in which every rough edge has been smoothed as if by a valet ironing out the creases of his master's morning Times. First produced in 1980, the Mulsanne is meant to the evoke the Bentley DNA of old, and adroitly balances that veddy British legacy with a body that suggests the more-aggressively styled Continental and Flying Spur. Saucerlike headlights flanking a traditional Bentley grill give the car a cartoonish mug, but otherwise it carries on with dignity, from the Flying B hood ornament to a carbon-fiber trunk lid that hides entertainment-system antennas so the roofline isn't sullied.
The Mulsanne's interior is a delirium of quilted leather (Bentley claims 17 hides are needed), burled woods in painstakingly book-matched patterns and indulgences like reclining and massaging rear seats. They flank a hidden refrigerator with space for two bottles of bubbly, stored at an angle to avoid sloshing. There's enough tech to keep the car current with its class: Sat-Nav touch screen, backup video cameras and an entertainment package with drop-down tray tables for iPads and wireless connectivity that turns the car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. The tech is tempered by an analog speedometer and tach whose movements are charmingly retro, going counterclockwise -- a throwback to when Bentleys were winning races at Le Mans (the Mulsanne is named after the rally's famous straightaway).
All of this is to be expected in a $300,000 pleasure boat from a storied British brand. But the revelation is that such a big car handles so nimbly. The steering is as taut as a sedan half the Mulsanne's size, the suspension adjustable among four settings, although I found the default mode (as opposed to, say, the comfort mode) best expressed the car's sporting-gentleman persona.
Most astonishing was the neck-snapping acceleration. Bentley claims a zero to 60 mph time of under five seconds and a top speed of 185 miles per hour, and while I never got close to the latter, several pedal-to-the-metal excursions caused me to marvel at the 6.75-liter, 500-horsepower bi-turbo V-8 under the bonnet and eight-speed automatic transmission so finely calibrated that upshifts were almost unnoticeable. Half the engine's cylinders automatically shut down at low RPMs, which helps gas mileage but not much. Expect 11 mpg city and 18 highway.
So who should drive the Mulsanne? When the price reaches atmosphere this rarefied, cost benefit goes out the window. But if you've got the scratch and want a car built better than it has to be at every turn, this Bentley won't disappoint.