Torque of the Town
Once out of claustrophobic Fulham, William Cash enjoys the performance and plushness of the exquisite Bentley Mulsanne — right up until he has to squeeze into another tight space…
Driving a Bentley Mulsanne around England for two weeks was a little like embarking on a one-man — or rather one-driver — Pirandello play in which I suddenly found myself forced to take on various guises according to where I found myself pulling up. When I drove up to Claridge’s, for example, I was asked by the parking valet if I was collecting a guest. By far my favourite guise, after two weeks of the car that took in the deserted moors of North Yorkshire and the backstreets of Fulham, among others, was being driven by a chauffeur, instead of being assumed to be one.
Some can’t even countenance driving it. A well-known actress friend who has been driven in every form of limousine remarked, when I pulled up in the muddy drive of her Gloucestershire farmhouse, ‘Oh, that looks divine but I can’t imagine what it feels like to drive. You would have to be in the back.’ Indeed, being in the back is like being in a grand hotel on wheels, so much craft goes into the interior.
But when you do drive it, finding yourself behind the wheel is a bit like having a large cigar clamped to your mouth at all times — you find yourself adopting a larger-than-life personality. The Mulsanne is an alpha’s car, over a ton of sleek, attention-seeking automotive sculpture with polished metal muscular haunches.
Despite the car’s extraordinary driving performance, with a 6.75 litre V8 engine (delivering an almost obscene torque of 1020Nm/752lb-ft), it is best suited to certain terrains and journeys. The car is over five metres long and nearly two metres wide, making it difficult to negotiate certain streets in London. I wouldn’t recommend the Mulsanne, for example, in Fulham, where the cars are parked on each side of the street. When I dropped off my girlfriend there, it took me almost ten minutes to drive up her narrow street after a honking stand-off between the Mulsanne, a Chelsea tractor and a minicab van.
I do not think raw performance (which includes 0-60 in 5.1 seconds) is the main reason why the seriously wealthy and aesthetically snobbish order a Mulsanne. An aesthetic friend, who lives in perhaps the most exquisite Baroque house in England, mentioned that he had a Mulsanne as his ‘other car’ in LA, along with a Ferrari California.
When I asked why he chose a Mulsanne to ferry him up and down the Hollywood Hills canyons and over the winding corniche of Mulholland Drive to have lunch in Beverly Hills, he candidly admitted that he did what most people do in LA: his decision was based almost exclusively ‘on looks’. With the Mulsanne’s distinctive shape that nods to the Fifties S-type, and the most detailed and indulgent leather cabin in the world, he said it was not a difficult choice.
DESPITE SOME HIGHLY sophisticated rear cameras in the dashboard screen, I found parking the car a little tricky, if not nerve-wracking at times. The wheels are vast — specially designed twenty-inch monsters that look as if they belong on a Royal parade car. The most challenging parking attempt was during a shooting weekend at Mulgrave Castle in North Yorkshire. It’s not really an ideal car to take shooting, but it did look resplendent — indeed at home — outside the front gates of the castle, if a little incongruous with the game carts and muddy Land Rovers around the back. But Bentleys are used to getting muddy.
I found myself around 8pm joining a convoy of bankers’ Range Rovers as we sped along a steep and narrow Yorkshire lane en route to dinner at an award-winning fish restaurant on the beach near Whitby. It took me so long to park the car in the one space in the adjacent pub car park — sweating with fear of scratching my glossy V8 beast — that I actually got to the table after everybody had already started their first course.
Pictured below: The Bentley Mulsanne speeding through the countryside
But there was one advantage. As the owner of the pub saw me struggling to park the monster in the small parking space in a pothole of mud between a clapped-out pick-up and a Land Rover, he brought out the Land Rover’s owner, who moved his car so there would be more room for the Mulsanne. ‘Never seen a car like that here before, sir. Wouldn’t want anything happening to it. You can keep her here overnight if you like. I live above the pub and will keep an eye on it.’ It’s not often that a complete stranger offers to act as a nightwatchman for your car.
THE COCKTAIL OF classic Bentley coach-building with state-of-the-art technology is evident throughout the car. Take the rear windscreen, which is fully surrounded by bespoke coachwork, completed through a ‘hand-brazing process’ to create perfect joins. Or take the seatbelts, colour-matched to the 24 leather colours available for the interiors, along with the buckles, too. Everything you feel or touch or lock does so with a reassuringly solid Bentley ‘soft close’ click.
The Mulsanne is easy not only to drive but also to operate. At one point on my Yorkshire trip, my iPhone died. I began crawling around Whitby trying to find a hotel with enough stars to have a concierge who would lend me a charger. But then I realised that the Mulsanne had its own concierge, with a hidden drawer on the dashboard that you click open to reveal an iPhone charger. Problem solved!
I didn’t go further than charging my iPhone, but for the gadget-minded there are two SD memory-card slots and a telephone SIM card slot. The Mulsanne’s ‘standard’ entertainment system comes with fourteen speakers powered through six channels, but my model was fitted with the ‘mobile concert hall’ option of a Naim Bentley premium audio processing system. This Albert Hall setting also came with a pre-programmed jukebox of British pop hits from the Eighties, which may say a little about the target audience of the Mulsanne.
So it was just as well I was carrying a pair of ear defenders from the shoot to hand to one of my fellow guns when he wanted to go for an early morning spin around the Whitby cliffs the next day, listening to Sting on the jukebox.
At the last Geneva Motor Show, I saw that Bentley was developing a prototype four-wheel-drive to rival the Range Rover — now that really would be ideal for shooting weekends. I look forward to seeing Crewe’s craftsmen also come up with an optional extra of detachable leather earphones that can double up as the smartest pair of ear defenders on the shoot.