The trouble with car launches is that you just kind of go for a meaningless drive for the sake of the drive. This is a worthwhile endeavour, especially if you’re in the right kind of car, but is not really a fair reflection of life as it is usually lived. Most people, wealthy or not, have things to do; meetings to make, children to deliver to schools and flights to catch. In other words, when they slip behind the wheel, or into the back seat, it is because they have somewhere they need to be — often short of time.
So, in a perverse way, it was a good thing for journalism that I accidentally inserted a rogue waypoint into the sat nav of the Bentley Mulsanne Speed I was driving around the Cotswolds a couple of weeks ago. I was guided a good distance towards Wales when I had a rather important appointment in London.
Generally, I don’t think people are ever late for their lunch appointments at Mosimann’s, and I had no intention of finding out how such a resoundingly awful social calamity would go down in Belgravia. That meant quite simply that I was behind the wheel of a gigantic Bentley in altogether the wrong place with an urgent need to be somewhere else. On reflection, what a hoot this all was.
I’ve long maintained that a Bentley can be as large and as luxurious as it likes, but to be a proper Bentley it needs to be quick and capable. Bentley may have spent 80 years as diluted ‘sports’ versions of various Rolls-Royces, but the heart of the brand is racing, specifically Le Mans. Now, safely ensconced in the corporate safe room that is Volkswagen, Bentley has no excuse but to make proper Bentleys.
It was with this in mind that I pointed the prow of the good ship Mulsanne in the correct direction and hoofed it. Several things followed. The six-and-three-quarter litre (never, ever “six-point-seven-five”, please) had a momentary electric conversation with the eight-speed automatic gearbox in which the best course of action was discussed. In a nanosecond or two, a suitable gear was selected, a dash of fuel was injected into each of the eight cylinders and the turbos spooled up. I love that brief pause. It is ever so fleeting but it is like the big Bentley, like Jeeves to Wooster, is saying: “Are you sure, sir?”
In any case, a frankly seismic 1100Nm of torque picks up this big car and slings it down the road with the kind of pace that would embarrass all but the quickest sports cars. The Mulsanne Speed isn’t just fast for a luxury limousine. It’s savagely quick in any language, now with added walnut.
The Mulsanne is probably my favourite Bentley. I do love a big car, and this is especially big, but is truly far from silly to drive. Drive like a gentleman and you’ll be rewarded with genuine poise, excellent brakes, usefully talkative steering in the right mode and endless, deeply satisfying tsunamis of torque. This car offers the full 1100 megatons at just 1700rpm, which translates into a very important, hard-to-define, character of power delivery. It’s not just the shunt that matters, it’s the style of it. The Mulsanne doesn’t really rev. Revolutions, I often joke, are for the proletariat. What you get is this finely attuned and very expensive pace without haste, speed without the hurry, the sprint without the exertion. It is imperious. It is nonchalant. It is casually fast, as if its pace is a side-effect of loftier achievements.
Apparently in Britain if they catch you doing more than 100mph they tend to lose their famous sense of humour, even if you’re late for Mosimann’s. So let me simply say this: The Mulsanne will cruise at enormous pace in what weaker writers might call an “eerie” silence. There’s nothing eerie about it, actually, because it doesn’t have creaking floorboards, a bat infestation and a mad woman living in the attic. It is, however, uncanny. So very much car. So very little noise. Just 5000 watts of Naim sound, if you want the opera to bounce off your bespoke veneers and hand-stitched leather steering wheel or, if not, just nothing at all — silence. And what greater luxury is there than silence?
I made it to Mosimann's, only slightly late, after my companions had ordered but before the first course had arrived. The Mulsanne — bug-spattered and poorly parked but in every other conceivable way a splendid and imposing lump of English character and engineering — ticked to itself quietly as it cooled off while I ate a memorable lunch (I had the risotto and then the roast lamb).
Such a lunch would obviously be memorable. But the manner of my arrival made it doubly so — the Mulsanne Speed is a proper Bentley, principally because while I may have been pressed for time I was never in anything so inelegant as a hurry. And that’s the proof of the pudding.
Alexander Parker is group motoring editor at Times Media.