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Test Drive: 2016 Bentley Mulsanne Speed

DESIGN

Test Drive: 2016 Bentley Mulsanne Speed

One of the world’s most luxurious and most expensive rides is surprisingly light on its toes

by Evan Orensten
on 06 November 2014
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We’ve driven and reviewed most of Bentley’s line up but held back on our review of their flagship Mulsanne until we got to spend the day in the Mulsanne Speed, the souped-up variant of the stately sedan that was launched in 2010. We drove from Bal Harbour, Florida to the Keys, and choppered back to an airstrip in the Everglades where we drove on a course set up on the runways, including a three mile long straightaway where, despite some fierce headwinds, we got the Speed up to nearly 160mph (well short of its 190mph top speed).

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Its war horse V8 engine, first introduced in 1959, has been tweaked and turboed to deliver 811 lb-ft of torque—more than any sedan other than the short lived Fisker Karma hybrid, which delivered a combined 960 lbf·ft of torque produced by its twin electric motors—not quite an even comparison. But enough with the technical details. It’s a very powerful engine that can make this large and heavy sedan (one of the world’s most luxurious and most expensive rides) move very quickly—achieving 0-60mph in around 4.6 seconds.

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Despite its large size and nearly 6,000-pound weight it handles surprisingly well, hugging and sticking to the pavement with confidence. The Speed is perfectly happy to have you at the wheel, or sitting most comfortably in the rear, admiring a cabin made with 14 flawless bull hides, surfing the internet using the car's WiFi on iPads built into seat back trays or while sipping a cool beverage from the fridge and its custom crystal glassware while your seat massages you. Everything you can see is stitched by hand.

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The Mulsanne is already light on its toes and quite spritely. The Speed, available in early 2015 as a 2016 model, amps up the power, torque and performance profile, delivering more of everything. The magic comes in its driving mode selector, where you can cruise along in comfort, dominate the road in performance mode, or select the "Bentley" mode, which sits somewhere between the two. Shifting the car into Sport is when the magic happens, with the cars steering, gear ratios, braking and suspension all poised to deliver.

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Featuring a tinted finish to its stainless steel grilles and vents, the background of its head and tail lights gets a similar dark tint. Exhaust pipes feature rifled inserts, and any knob, pull or lever you can manipulate has a gnarled finish that tells your fingers something good is about to happen. The wheels are a highlight—21” forged from a single aluminum block in a five spoke directional design, meaning that they are machined differently for the right and left sides of the car.

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Unlike most cars, the Mulsanne is assembled mostly by hand, a process that takes around 500 hours. Where other cars cover their seams with plastic bits the Mulsanne's body panels are welded with silicone-infused bronze which is sanded and polished, giving the car the illusion that it is created from a single sheet of metal. Around 80 hours are spent assembling and finishing the body alone, which is then painted by hand. Solid-walnut waistrails are installed and veneered to your liking. Building a Mulsanne takes around 25 times longer than it takes to build most cars, which spend around 18 hours going from the parts bin to driving off the line.

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Offering a nearly unlimited range of customization and personalization it and can of course be built pretty much any way you can imagine it. Bentley have added four new colors, including the reptile-inspired black/green/gold-ish Spectre, which suits the Speed perfectly. A new style for two-toned leather is available, as is carbon fiber inlayed in Piano Black veneer, a Mulsanne first.

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Bentley's recently released "Intelligent Details" video features its heads of interior and exterior design and speaks to the brand's passion for excellence:

To ogle or customize your Speed, visit Bentley. If you have to ask, the base Speed starts at $335,600 in the US. Our spec, a lovely Burnt Orange with all black interior, featured the Entertainment spec, hand-crossed stitching, refrigerated bottle cooler, massage seats and more, topped out at $400,810.

Lead image by Alex Kalogianni, others by Evan Orensten and Bentley

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