Thursday, October 14, 2010

2011 BENTLEY MULSANNE: TRUE NOBILITY

A Grand Tour of the Scottish borders gives Road Test Editor HOWARD WALKER a taste of Bentley’s new flagship.

The 10th Duke of Roxburghe is off tending to his trout when our new Bentley Mulsanne wafts majestically along the crunchy gravel driveway towards Floors Castle, the fairytale 200-room Scottish pile that the 10th Duke calls home.

We’ve come for lunch. Smokey Scottish salmon for starters, grilled scallops over curry rice for the entrĂ©e, fresh berries and soupy ice cream for dessert. Nothing short of pyrotechnics for the palette!

Built way back in 1721, Floors sits on 60,000 rolling acres on the outskirts of Kelso, a couple of hours south of Edinburgh. It’s here where Prince Andrew went down on bended knee and proposed to a rosy-cheeked Sarah Ferguson while they were weekend guests of the Duke.

Floors is the second stop on our two-day Grand Tour of the Scottish borders. Earlier this morning, for coffee and a muffin, we had squeezed the Bentley’s considerable girth through the pinch-tight portcullis of dark, satanic 11th Century Bamburgh Castle on the bleak Northumberland coast.
   
And tonight, we’ll luxuriate at the breathtaking Archerfield House – its roots date back to 1298 – overlooking the Firth of Forth estuary. We’ll be staying in one of the 12 exquisite, newly restored suites, and dining on a Buick-sized slab of finest Aberdeen Angus.
A Grand Tour indeed, in a car that defines the term Grand Tourer. It's massively powerful, artisan-built, and capable of transporting a party of four adults in total hedonistic comfort.

The 2011 Mulsanne is Bentley’s new masterpiece. Replacing the ageing yet still rakishly elegant Arnage, it is actually the first car to be totally designed and engineered by Bentley Motors in 80 years. Everything else was either adapted from a Rolls-Royce or, as in the case with the latest Continentals, a Volkswagen Phaeton.
   
Photography can’t capture the sheer gorgeousness of this new Bentley flagship. You could land a helicopter on its hood! And the way the roofline cascades down into the trunk, the way the beltline swoops over the rear wheels, is pure candy for the eyes.

When you’re handing over $288,000 you really do want your car to stand out from the crowd. And one look at that massive slice ’n dice honeycomb mesh grille, those giant pizza-sized headlights, and massive 20-inch wheels, you instinctively know that this is much more here than mere transportation.
Slip inside and give thanks to the herd of cattle and small California woodland that gave it up to be part of the Mulsanne’s fabulous cabin! The wood veneer that lines the interior takes five entire weeks to turn from rough root ball into a full set of mirror-matched, fine-polished panels. Just hand stitching the leather that wraps the Mulsanne’s steering wheel takes a painstaking 15 hours.
While to drive it is to adore it, there is something so overwhelmingly hedonistic about reclining in the reclining rear seat, slipping off your Cole Hahns and watching your feet disappear into the deep-pile wool carpets, and then cranking up the ear-bleeding 2,200-watt, 20-speaker Naim audio system.
On Scotland’s fast, surprisingly traffic-free highways and by-ways, the new Mulsanne morphs into the true Flying Scotsman. Providing the locomotive-like power is a new 6.75-liter turbocharged V-8 gushing out 505 horsepower and an unthinkable 725 pound-feet of torque. Peterbilt trucks don’t have this kind of muscle!
It’s more than sufficient to lunge the car from standstill to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds and punch it onwards to a top speed of 184 mph. Yet like being in a Gulfstream G5 on takeoff, the sensation is one of rapidly increasing velocity rather than brutal acceleration.

And for its size and bulk – it tips the scales at over 5,700 pounds – this new Bentley is as agile as Serena at the base line. Computer-controlled air suspension, with a choice of three different stiffness settings, keeps the body level through the curves and dive-free under hard braking.
   
While to my mind, the Mulsanne has no true, direct rival, its price and luxury dictates that Rolls-Royce sits squarely in its crosshairs. And price-wise, the Bentley occupies that rarified space equidistant between the leviathan-like Phantom and the new, less-leviathan Ghost.
   
To choose between the three would be a challenge worthy of Mission: Impossible. But after our Scottish grand tour, after feeling the turbine-like thrust of its big V-8, after luxuriating in its handcrafted cabin, the Mulsanne has, like the Duke of Roxburghe, true nobility.   

For more information about the new Mulsanne and the full Bentley product line, please visit, http://www.bentleymotors.com/models/mulsanne/

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