Step into the $285,000 Bentley Mulsanne and odd things happen. Your heart rate drops. The softball-sized knot between your shoulders shrinks to a marble.
Unlike white-knuckle-driving supercars which cost more than a house in Florida, this luxury sedan induces a vastly different reaction. Breath out, relax. You’re rich, after all.
The Mulsanne demanded that it be put to the ultimate stress test. Early on a Monday morning, I drove out of Manhattan until reaching the heart of commuter country in Westchester. I got a deli coffee and idled until traffic began to shut down to a bumper-to-bumper clog. Then I turned the British coach back toward the city.
Stress level: 20 percent, with an excellent chance of stratospheric surges.
If the best-selling, bullet-shaped Continental coupe is the modern Bentley, the Mulsanne evokes the era of the horseless carriage. A completely new model which replaces the Arnage as the brand’s flagship, the Mulsanne is a good choice if you aspire to be a modern-day Arthur (either the Camelot king or the rich playboy portrayed by Dudley Moore).
Owners of the Mulsanne or its competitor, the $246,500 Rolls-Royce Ghost, are of a different ilk than those who drive the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series. There’s an inherent declaration of check-me-out entitlement.
Yet the two brands have a different approach. If the Ghost wears its extravagance on its bespoke sleeve -- call it upper-crust bling -- the Bentley has a less showy demeanor.
At 18-plus-feet-long, it’s certainly formidable. It would be hard to overlook the fantastic upright mesh grill and headlights the size of salad plates. You can add optional 21-inch wheels and a flying-B hood ornament. But the beltline is high and the side windows small, rather like hedging hiding a Greenwich mansion.
To really be wowed, you have to be invited in. My test car cost $333,885 with options, and my favorite element was the interior oak wood, a shade so light it seemed to glow. For $4,640, it seemed as if all of Sherwood Forest had been used. Leather? Oh yes, it’s got leather, but it takes a backseat to all that blinding wood.
In typical Bentley fashion, each knob is burred and every control has a feeling of mechanical weight behind it. You’ll find yourself turning stuff on and off just because.
As I set off into traffic, I glanced at the rear seats, each of which reclines and has its own temperature control and folding table (also in wood -- part of a $19,860 premiere specification package). Good place to nap or read, ignoring the congestion completely.
But I was in the driver’s seat and was pleased to find that traffic was actually moving. The seat was top-rate comfortable, and the steering wheel surprisingly small and well-weighted in my hand.
The Mulsanne isn’t bad to drive. It’s powered by a 6.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 505 horsepower and 752 pound-feet of torque. It has a sport setting and even a switch to shut off the stability control, plus paddle shifters to manually manipulate the eight-gear automatic transmission (yes, eight).
Speed isn’t the point, though. The sedan handles reasonably on curves, but the instinct is to slow down and enjoy, not accelerate.
The air suspension not only absorbs bumps, it banishes them to a parallel universe. So far my stress level had actually fallen. Even the minivan loitering in the left-hand lane wasn’t bothering me.
What would stress me would be trying to find a gas station in the city, a common occurrence since the Mulsanne manages only 11 mpg in the city, 18 highway. No wonder it gets socked with a $3,700 gas guzzler tax.
As I knew it must, traffic stopped, so I turned on the Naim Audio system, which has 2,200 watts, 20 speakers and a price tag of $7,415. The car went from church silent to full-on Carnegie Hall. My blood pressure stabilized.
Unlike the Ghost, which I tested around Los Angeles and was always worried about scraping, the Mulsanne’s footprint seems to shrink in traffic. It’s not easy to squirt into tight openings in traffic, but at least it’s possible.
More quickly than I hoped, I found myself on Manhattan’s West Side Highway. I’d only used the horn twice. I was so relaxed that I decided to really get wild and exited onto Broadway toward Times Square, a place native New Yorkers believe is best avoided even on foot.
Tourists pointed. Minutes later I’d left behind the cold light of oversized LCD screens and was skirting past the taxi wars outside Penn Station, the Mulsanne’s torque-heavy engine pulling me by in an irresistible surge. There was no stopping me now.
Actually, there was, in the form of a stalled bus, blocking three lanes of traffic. Horns erupted. A bike messenger zinged past my door. A pedestrian yelled at him.
I rolled down my window, turned up the 20-speaker stereo and began idly fiddling with those well-weighted controls. I’d be here for a while.
The Bentley Mulsanne at a Glance
Engine: 6.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 505 horsepower and
752 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed ZF automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 11 city; 18 highway.
Price as tested: $333,885.
Best feature: Magnificent interior.
Worst feature: Thirst for fuel.
Target buyer: Royals and playboys.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)