While motorcars become greener, lighter, smaller, and less expensive, Bentley clings to its heritage by offering the Mulsanne, a supersized sedan with a carbon footprint as large as that of a South Yorkshire coalfield. The world of motoring—plus an estimated 10 percent of Bentley owners—is all the better for this mighty $290,000 museum piece, which weighs close to three tons, barely fits between parking meters, and delivers about a dozen miles to the gallon.
The Mulsanne—named for a terrifyingly fast straight at the Le Mans race circuit, where equally big Bentleys reigned during the 1930s—is an unashamed throwback to an era when building one car took weeks. Now, as then, assembly is performed by hand, and no feature or component is considered too elegant, too expensive, or too expansive, because nothing of majesty should involve scrimping on size, cost, or luxury. Thus buyers can order the Mulsanne with monogrammed tread plates, marquetry on the doors of the backseat cocktail cabinet, stainless-steel parts that have been polished by hand for 10 hours, and wood veneers that require five weeks to complete their journey from oak and walnut root balls to dashboard paneling. Mulsanne buyers also can visit the factory in Crewe to choose an exterior paint color from a palette ranging from pastels to primaries, or to take a tea break with the lady who hand-stitches the steering-wheel covers.
Like all Bentleys, the Mulsanne represents a triumph of power over tonnage and drag. It may weigh 5,700 pounds and stretch 18 feet, but its 6.75-liter V-8, encouraged by a pair of turbochargers, generates 505 hp—with 752 ft lbs of torque. That is enough to push the Mulsanne from zero to 60 mph in just over five seconds and enable it to reach a top speed of 184 mph.
Traveling in the Mulsanne, smoothly and quietly, offers a sense of occasion that might be old-fashioned but is never out of fashion.
Bentley Motors, www.bentleymotors.com