I got the call on a Wednesday afternoon. It was from Gil Hofheimer, General Manager of EuroMotorcars Bentley/Rolls-Royce, the Washington DC area’s premium retailer of the legendary marques.
“Hello Brian, just wanted to know if you are interested in test driving the Bentley Mulsanne? Keep it for the weekend and let us know what you think.”
Gil, are you serious? Did you really think I would say “no?”
So I arrived at the new dealership, recently constructed to showcase the latest lines from the two UK based automakers. Outside was a beautiful burgundy Mulsanne with Twine (cream-colored) leather, and I could feel my blood pressure rise. If you don’t know about Mulsanne, it’s Bentley’s flagship Saloon, and is quite a motorcar.
The mission of the Mulsanne is to pay homage to past Bentley greats like the 8 Litre, yet create a new standard for the Crewe, England based company. And though the German brand Volkswagen now owns Bentley, the Mulsanne represents a vehicle that was designed and engineered at Crewe from the ground up, reaffirming the marque’s intent with the Mulsanne to create a motorcar with refined performance, unparalleled levels of interior luxury and a continuation of the legendary coach-built craftsmanship that makes Bentleys, Bentleys.
It would be easy to think such a complex automobile was completely assembled by robots on a production line, as the engineering for the new Mulsanne is state of the art and very complex.
Thanks to the Media Relations team at Bentley US, I’ve traveled several times to Crewe to see firsthand how Bentleys, including the Mulsanne, are assembled.
First off, the Mulsanne is a huge car. It is eighteen feet, three inches in length, and seven feet three inches from side mirror to side mirror. The car weighs in at a mind boggling 6,812 pounds, a figure that defies belief when you flex the Mulsanne’s agile chassis on roadways. Seeing the “body in white,” or the bare shell on the assembly floor, a lesson in premium metalworking is the first lesson of the day. The Mulsanne’s high strength steel and aluminum body/chassis is hand brazed. The front “wings” or fenders are aluminum (as are the doors and hood), are a very complex design, one impossible to achieve with normal metal pressing techniques. Bentley uses “superforming” technology, which uses high heat (500 degrees Celsius) and high air pressure to custom form the aluminum fenders.
Mulsanne design is breathtaking. The front incorporates huge, round LED/HID headlights that resemble the large lights on the 8 Litre car, with cool circular LED daytime running lamps on the lower flanks. Move to the front of the hood, and the iconic “Flying B” mascot is available as an option in standing, retractable form. The long hood, short front overhang and long rear overhang convey power, while the wheel haunches and strong character lines define Mulsanne muscularity. Choosing an exterior color for your new Mulsanne can be an exercise in itself, as 144 colors are standard, with Mulliner bespoke customization rendering your optional color choices from mild to wild.
Total production time for Mulsanne is nine weeks from start to finish. We witnessed hundreds of craftsmen and women utilizing many of the same coachbuilding techniques that W.O. implemented in the early days of the company. For example the wood finishing is an art to behold. The entire cabin is encased in wood, with a solid wood waistrail leading into the Mulsanne wood dash. We saw stacks of oak, cherry and walnut, ready to be formed into the dash, drawer panels, glove box, rear picnic tables, shift lever, steering wheel (optional) and waistrail, and then adorned with the customer’s choice of veneers; including Burr Walnut, Vavona, Sapellli Pomelle, Bird’s Eye Maple, Olive Ash and other exotic choices. And if “ordinary” veneers are not up to your standard, the “Mulliner” bespoke program allows you to choose custom marquetry to personalize your wood trim. It takes about five weeks of finishing to complete the highly polished lacquered veneers standard in the Mulsanne.
But the hand built work doesn’t stop there. Consider the leather steering wheel, which takes 15 hours to hand stitch, or the interior brightwork, which takes ten hours to finish. And the leather components of the interior, which include the seats of course, but also the dash, door panels pillars, sunvisors and headliner, all hand finished in your choice of 24 standard colors or an unlimited palette of custom colors. We saw leathers of every shade, including pink, during our tour. And this is no ordinary leather. Each hide is inspected by hand, and matched with other hides for interior continuity. The leather sections are then laser cut, and stitched by workers before being custom fitted to door panels, seat shells, and other interior pieces. Your feet touch pure wool carpets, and you can opt for Wilton weave floor mats to add protection and additional luxury.
And I learned something on this factory tour as well. Each “Bull’s Eye” dash vent, “Organ Stop” airflow control, coat hook, and other brightware is chrome finished stainless steel, not plastic as I always believed it was. Perish the thought! As you see the assembly process, you understand that only the finest materials are used in Mulsanne assembly, quickly adding to the prodigious 6812 pound weight.
Other interior luxury accoutrements include 60 GB satellite navigation with eight-inch multimedia screen, Bluetooth, six-CD changer, keyless start and keyless entry, among other features. More on the keyless entry – the system can be programmed to set your preferred seat and steering wheel position, as well as your favorite radio stations, telephone books, seatbelt height, window blind settings, and even seat massage settings. New for the 2013 model year is a non-sliding (it does vent) glass sunroof, a welcome addition.
The Mulsanne’s base audio system features 14 speakers powered by a six channel amplifier with digital signal processing. The base unit also features satellite radio and iPod/MP3 player compatibility. But if you are looking for a system that I think is unmatched in the industry, you must opt for the Naim for Bentley premium system with 20 channels and 2200 watts, 20 custom made speakers, and eight digital signal processing modes. The system is concert hall quality and will totally blow you away with its clarity and deep bass. Whether your musical style favors Mozart or Marley, this is the system you want in the Mulsanne.
Overall, the interior takes about 170 hours to complete. Even though many are customized to meet owner demands, every Mulsanne has one common theme -- perfection.
At the heart of the Mulsanne powertrain is the venerable 6.75 liter V8. The engine has been in use by Bentley for decades, but has been totally reengineered for Mulsanne. According to Bentley, three objectives were set for the revised V8: 1) To produce the effortless torque from low revs customers expect from a flagship Bentley; 2) To maintain the highest levels of refinement; and 3) To satisfy environmental standards through improved engine efficiency. The twin turbocharged Mulsanne V8 features 505 horsepower and a whopping 752 pound-feet of torque. Extensive lightweighting is employed, with special lightweight pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft used. The lightweight camshaft features variable timing to enhance engine breathing and improve efficiency and lower emissions. Variable displacement means the Mulsanne runs on four cylinders when unstressed, and all eight when you need to move out. The system is seamless and I could not detect when the system was in four or eight cylinder mode. Overall, emissions and fuel consumption are reduced by 15 percent over previous 6.75 liter units.
Mulsanne stops are equally impressive, with large, multi-piston calipers slowing the big Mulsanne to a smooth halt. Optional ceramic brakes are a good investment if you enjoy triple digit motoring.
As expected, a full complement of safety gear is standard, from multiple airbags, to stability and hill hold control.
During my long weekend with the Mulsanne, I took it to “Cars and Coffee” in McLean, Virginia early on a Saturday morning. Cars and Coffee is an open meet, where folks bring everything from monster trucks and tractors to vintage Ferraris.
The Mulsanne was a huge hit, as many had read about the car, but few had actually seen one up close. Most commented on the large size yet graceful appearance, and everyone had positive comments about the unique headlights on the car. Inside was a love affair for all, as you really have to experience British craftsmanship up close to appreciate the time spent making a Bentley special.
After spending the morning at Cars and Coffee, I put the Mulsanne through its paces on the Georgetown Pike, a winding road close to the Potomac River. Given the outright luxury this car possesses, one would forgive it if it were less than stellar handling the twisties on this circuitous route. No worries though, as a new Drive Dynamics Control system complements the all-new chassis, unique to the Mulsanne. Through a rotary knob by the gearshift lever, you can choose from three standard modes – Bentley, Sport and Comfort. Sport and Comfort are pretty self explanatory; “Bentley” is a combination of the best of the two, and is the setting Crewe engineers think is best for all-around operation that combines luxury and sporting handling. A fourth mode, “Custom,” allows the driver to select bespoke settings via the multimedia system to “tune” your Mulsanne to your preferred driving style. In total, over 80 electronic control units assist the Mulsanne driving experience.
At $290,000 base, and about $329,000 loaded, the Mulsanne is not within reach of the masses, and that is just fine with the folks at Bentley. When W.O. developed the 8 Litre car, his marketing slogan was “good car, fast car, best in class.”
Well W.O., it appears history has repeated itself.
To arrange a test drive of this magnificent motorcar, please contact the good folks at EuroMotorcars Bentley Bethesda at 7108 Woodmont Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815. Their phone number is 301.718.7900. You can also access their inventory on the Web at www.EuroBethesdaBentley.com
About EuroMotorcars Bentley:
Founded in 1976, Bentley Bethesda is the Washington, D.C. area's premier imported car dealership and sells new and pre-owned Bentley vehicles. Under the direction of Charlie Harmel, President, and Gil Hofheimer, General Manager, Bentley Bethesda has consistently rated in the top five nationally with Bentley. The heart of their business - and their business philosophy - is people serving people.
Gil is joined by Kevin Korban, Bobby DiCesaro and Mike Rogan, all of whom have extensive history with Bentley Bethesda.
New and pre-owned models include the Mulsanne, Continental GT and GTC, Continental SuperSports, Continental GT Speed, Continental Flying Spur and the Continental Flying Spur Speed.