The good (and bad) side of driving the Bentley Mulsanne Speed
What I’ve noticed most in the brief four-month timespan of writing this column is that even as someone who knows (and cares) very little about cars, it is quite easy to become emotionally attached to them. I mean, everyone remembers their first car (me: Toyota Yaris). Everyone remembers the first sports car they drove (me: Maserati GranTurismo). Everyone remembers the first time they reversed a two million-dirham car into a tree (me: last week).
Yes, that’s right, in the brief 72-hour window where I was in possession of the keys to the shiny magnificence of automobile excellence you see in the pictures that accompany this article, I failed to notice the innocent, bystanding tree that had been growing outside my garage for the past couple of years. The barrage of colourful language that accompanied the small new dent on the bumper of the latest Bentley Mulsanne Speed seemed a bit below the vehicle’s imperial stature.
Even the police men laughed at me as they handed over the pink slip, shaking their heads. “Do you know how much that car costs?” they asked me with grins on their faces. “Just under two million dirhams,” they answered, as if only to see if my face would turn an even more vivid shade of red.
The damage to the car: minimal. The damage to my ego: critical. The damage to my bank account: [Redacted].
In my defence, the Bentley Mulsanne Speed is like nothing anything I have ever driven before. Granted, I have been driving for just 18 months, but at a whopping 5.58m in length and weighing 2.65 tonnes (the average weight of an African bush elephant), it is so far removed from my daily runaround that frankly it seems insulting to the Bentley to classify them both as automobiles.
Even those who are only remotely knowledgeable about cars will be aware that the name Bentley is synonymous with immaculately built, luxury British engineering. Knowing that the Mulsanne is considered the imperious brand’s flagship model in terms of luxury puts things a little more into context. The fact that it claims to be the fastest limousine in the world heightens those already lofty expectations.
You don’t need to be sitting in the impeccable, automatically adjusting, double-stitched leather seats of the Mulsanne to feel that this behemoth of a Bentley is more akin to a Riva Aquarama luxury yacht, than a car worthy of my two-bedroom townhouse. It is the kind of vehicle that normally comes with a chauffeur called Percy, who gleefully opens the doors for you to disappear into the back before conveying you to and from your corner office (or wherever it is people who have a full-time chauffeur on staff tend to go).
As expected with a top-of-the-range limousine, the rear seat is pure opulent luxury. There is no staring out the window watching the world go by — the passenger is better off drawing the curtains, reclining the seat and delving into the onboard Wi-Fi with a 60Gb inbuilt hard drive, or the two 10.4-inch TV monitors that are linked up to DVD players and come with a Naim 14-speaker sound system. Once that is all set up, the push of a little button reveals a hidden panel that opens to present a set of chilled, bespoke cut, champagne flutes.
“So why is Percy so gleeful?” I hear you asking. Well, because unlike other limousines, despite all the finery, the beauty of this Mulsanne is that they have added the word ‘Speed’ to the title, which means it is best experienced from the driver’s seat. Which, with the minor inconvenience of earlier behind me, is where I find myself.
Sitting at the helm, those luxury yacht comparisons are more appropriate than ever. The trophy emblem positioned on the bonnet of the Mulsanne is so far away that it may as well be in another postcode.
The huge, busy dashboard is finished with oak panelling and prominently displays the antiquated charm of classic speedometers, petrol gauges and chrome, push-button air vents. Perhaps my favourite little detail is the pleasing ticking tone of the indicator. It sounds like an old-fashioned metronome — and you can only guess into how many man-hours went it to deciding that.
As far as drivability goes, you don’t so much as accelerate in this car as gently encourage the accelerator and let the rest of the vehicle glide forward. The normal roar of a twin turbocharged 6.75-litre V8 engine is hardly audible from inside. You may be in control of an engine that produces 537hp and gets you from 0-100kph in 4.9 seconds (with a top speed of 305kph) but that is not really the point. Despite the Speed’s mind-numbing 11,000Nm of torque at 1,750rpm, it’s not a car you drive to go fast in. It’s a car that makes you not want to go anywhere fast.
Only 300 of the 1,100 Mulsannes produced per year worldwide will be of the Speed variety, so exclusivity is assured. And, this being Bentley, customers can tailor the interiors to suit their taste. Now, if only I could get them to add a better tree-detecting system.