My friend Melanie has long honey-brown hair and legs tanned from her summer-weekend habit of surfing in the Rockaways.
She rides a vintage Honda motorcycle, has a powerful job producing fashion shows, and speaks four languages, including her native French, which produces the intoxicating accent most men first notice when they speak to her.
I drove Mel, along with a few surf dudes, out to Montauk the other week in search of some waves unadulterated by hipster hoards and fussy families crowding the water.
We took the 2016 Bentley Mulsanne Speed, a $335,600 sedan best enjoyed by those fortunate enough to ride in the back seat, for that's where you access such charms as the champagne cooler, automatic foldout polished-wood work tables, and $30,000 entertainment system.
Mel sat in the rear. She loved it. And she, for those readers who might be interested, is the type of woman you can expect to attract should you happen to purchase said vehicle. Just something to keep in mind.
Here’s the deal: The Mulsanne Speed has a twin-turbocharged pushrod 16-valve, V8 aluminum block engine. Major. Using an 8-speed automatic transmission (manual shifting mode included) pushing its rear-wheel drive, that 530-horsepower engine gets this 6,000-plus pound brute to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Torque rates reach 811 foot-pounds of twisting power. Top speed hovers near 200 mph. For reference, that’s just a hair slower than the hypertuned 2016 BMW B6 Alpina I drove last week.
Driving it feels like commanding a cloud: The vehicle seems to hover imperceptibly above concrete as it surges forward on the wind. There is no hesitation as you press the drilled alloy steel gas pedal. There is no resistance as you pass first, second, third gear. There is no outside sound.
Visibility around the car is complete; those ungodly thick windows span the entire front, rear, and sides of the car. The massive iron-black brakes are somehow unobtrusive, a feat when you consider the amount of force required to stop the Mulsanne quickly and in a straight line. Better yet, the steering feel aligns more closely with the Bentley Continental Speed—a $237,000 sports coupe that has set racing records worldwide—than the Bentley Flying Spur, the unrestrained W12-cylinder near-limousine that the brand reserves for those who truly, truly will never drive themselves anywhere.
This is the type of car you buy when you often must write, take calls, or otherwise work while you are being driven to your summer home, when you have frequent black-tie affairs, or when Bentley’s bold mass is a better look for you than Rolls’s structured torso as you pull into the Monte Carlo marina. Buy it when you want to own the most luxurious (and generally the biggest) production sedan money can buy. Cross-shop it against a $290,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost, the $190,000 Mercedes Maybach, and maybe even a $157,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S if you’re feeling liberal. None of them—not even the Rolls—has quite the presence of the Mulsanne.
You should know that the one I drove came with paperwork saying the car gets only 11 mpg in the city, 18 on the highway (the Ghost gets 13 and 20 mpg), but also keep in mind that, if you pay him like you should, your chauffeur will never divulge this embarrassing fact. Nor will he leak word that this thing probably cost you well more than its list price, if you have any ambition. The Mulsanne I drove cost $398,000—the Flying B hood ornament on it alone costs nearly $4,000 extra.
Like a Private Jet
Also know that the moniker “Speed” connotes added value: Sport-tuned variable dampers, more horsepower, and refined air springs make it significantly faster and more powerful, with a tighter ride, than the more basic $307,000 Mulsanne, but the aesthetics most obviously illuminate the differences.
I don’t quite feel settled about the optional $2,800 carbon fiber inlay trim along the interior—it’s the first I’ve seen in a Mulsanne, and on first brush its aggressive track-born pedigree seems out of place against the ultra posh mirrored wood veneers and hand-selected, hand-stitched leather that otherwise encases the entire cabin, including inside the glove box and storage bins.
But the 20-speaker Naim surround sound, high-def video monitors, (optional) refrigerated middle rear console, and iPad/Bluetooth enabled computer embedded in those wooden work tables will go a long way in helping you overlook such an affront to your sense of taste. There are (optional) black city umbrellas in the rear that, when employed, are the size of dinner tables. The rear seats recline nearly parallel, which comes in handy when you close the power blackout shades and the massage function kicks in. The car has Wi-Fi, and you can control the entire media system from the rear, audibly. Frustratingly, though, while the car has three cigarette lighters, it doesn't have one USB port to charge your devices.
Handsome British Gent
Bentley has encased this interior splendor in a steel shell built like a tank but polished like a bowling ball. Even the fuel cap is finished like a crown jewel. The Mulsanne’s 21-inch alloy wheels are as foreboding as the ones on a G-Wagon; its dark-tinted latticework grill, flanked by circular bi-xenon headlights illuminated like diamonds, rises straight up from the ground like the side of a yacht resting in the sea.
The sides, like the hood and roof, look straight and flat. But they never look bloated, because they’re not actually flat—look closely and you’ll see that they have subtle lips through the sides of the nose and the flanks on each side. The dual-rifled exhaust pipes, those rims, and those headlamps add enough glamour that it’s good the rest of the car remains subtle.
Bentley is spinning this as the Mulsanne you’ll want to drive yourself—since it’s a Speed—but the opulence afforded inside will have you feeling like a young rajah in the rear. Which means it's either you or Melanie back there. I'm not sure you'll mind either way.