Mulsanne Speed, the heart and soul of Bentley
It has taken 24 months from concept to delivery and makes for a new statement of intent from the company behind it. The Bentley Mulsanne Speed is, in short, the Mulsanne and then some. “The base Mulsanne project delivered in 2010 was to replace the Arnage, and at the time that was felt to be sufficiently sportier," says Ashley Wickham, head of Mulsanne operations at Bentley. “But the whole idea of the Speed was to take the idea of the Mulsanne as the pinnacle Bentley and then move it up the performance range." Certainly that has happened – the Mulsanne Speed is claimed by Bentley to be “the fastest ultra-luxury driving experience" – with selectable sports steering and suspension and, more intriguingly, a re-engineered 6.75-litre V8 engine giving 530bhp and a record level of torque second only to the Bugatti Veyron. That amounts to zero to 100km/hr in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 305km/hr.
A dedicated team of 24 brought the project to fruition: the combustion chamber, fuel injectors, inlet ports, compression ratio and spark plugs have all been revamped to give a faster combustion process. Add to that a recalibrated gearbox and the package is, as Wickham notes, “a contradiction in a sense: it’s a performance car that’s over three tonnes fully laden". Indeed, if speed is the sole buying criterion, why not buy a sports car? Wickham contends that the Speed meets the demands of a new but increasingly important consumer group. “People who want that out and out sports performance probably buy a sports car too. But there’s a need for a car that offers the experience of a genuine driver’s car, but which also gives you the ability to drive your friends to the theatre, and allows you to get out of the car without a bad back," he jokes. “There is also the appeal to the Middle Eastern and emerging markets where the car might on occasion be chauffeur-driven."
What is rather more impressive – in an increasingly environmentally aware market – is that all this additional power is provided by an engine that is 13 per cent more efficient, extending the Speed’s range by 80km. “The Mulsanne Speed customer is likely to be tech-aware, tuned into performance and even into making an environmental statement, even if improved efficiency might not be top of the list," says Wickham. “Our customers might not be sensitive to the cost of filling up the tank but they still appreciate the extra mileage." The new engine meets the new EU6 emissions legislation and is designed to meet US LEV III standards. The Speed has undergone some exterior improvements too. As well as four new colours for the bodywork – a dark green-grey, candy red, a deep blue and an unusual camel tone – the grille and badging are made of a chemically treated tinted stainless steel. This form of steel is a rarity on cars these days and its treatment is only found on a Bentley.
As for the interior, one new detail is a piano black veneer with carbon fibre inlays. More obviously, the Mulsanne Speed also says something new about its manufacturer. “I think Mulsanne started a journey towards a new perception of Bentley," Wickham suggests. “Look at the statistics and we have a significant part of the market for cars over £100,000 ($207,000) – one in four is a Bentley. Of course, some markets are not there for Bentley yet and not every customer is brand loyal. But we think Mulsanne Speed hits a new spot. We want people to aspire to the Speed. It puts Bentley at the top of the game. It shows us as really moving forward."