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First Drive: Bentley Mulsanne 6.8 V8 4dr Auto (2010-2016)

£229,360 when new
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Launch Pad: Tom Ford is in the wilds of Scotland to sample Bentley’s newest offering, the gargantuan Mulsanne. It’s a clean-sheet replacement for the ageing old girl that was the Arnage, and boasts a 505bhp 6.75-litre V8, an eight-speed auto, cylinder de-activation and a 2,200-watt NAIM audio system that’s the most powerful fitted to a production car. It also costs a not-inconsiderable £220k. Got any questions as TopGear brings you news live from the launch?

See more pics of the big Bentley

Off to Edinburgh now to test the new Bentley Mulsanne. But first we’re off to the airport and Bentley is sending a car. Currently taking bets on what it might be. I’m hoping for an Arnage Black Label so I can remember what I loved so much. But it could be a Phaeton. Or even a dark blue Passat estate with 200k on the clock. What do we reckon?

Just been driving the new Mulsanne on a gorgeous Scottish set of roads and have to say that I’m massively surprised. First up, I really wasn’t keen on that front end treatment (big main lights the size of an outstretched hand, daylight running lights and indicators down and to the side), but in the metal and on the street they make a whole lot more sense. It’s not a pretty car - don’t get me wrong - but I suggest that it may not look quite so shocking once it’s been around a few months.

See more pics from the Mulsanne’s live launch

The rest is more instantly pleasing. It’s a big thing, with lots of very solid design cues and when you see it in 3D, it really does have some street presence. And it’s hugely colour- and wheel-sensitive - Bentley’s two-tone paint scheme looks really good, and there are lots of 21-inch options for the wheels which change the entire exterior character at a stroke. There’s a fine line between ‘being a Bentley’ and looking like retro pastiche, but I think this looks pretty good all told. 

I also thought we’d be looking at premium waft rather than sportiness, but the Mulsanne is definitely tuned for driving as well as lounging. The steering’s good, with some very trick hydraulic assistance, the ZF eight-speed ‘box (see pic above) is smooth and intuitive, and the seriously re-jigged 6.75-litre V8 yanks the car along. It’s all about torque, though: the car makes over 752lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm, but revs out at 4,500. So you kind of surf rather than go bananas on the dials. 

And it feels much smaller when you press on, even when you’re sighting down that mahoosive bonnet. It’s also got the best stereo I think I’ve ever heard in a car - the 2200-watt Naim system might make power headlines, but the clarity and crispness of the delivery for everything from drum and bass to classical is nothing short of extraordinary. Was listening to Massive Attack’s Blue Lines and stuff was being reproduced that I’ve never heard before.  It’s this and the Jag XJ’s B&W system or nothing for me from now on. 

Bad stuff? It’s a bit quiet when you really hoof it (matter of taste), and tends to understeer further up the performance range - not in itself a problem, but it feels like it has grip, it’s just not applying it properly. Also the throttle feels way too long when you apply it coming out of a corner - even in ‘Sport’ - so that the car feels late to accelerate. That makes it feel lardier than it needs to be, in my opinion.

And actually I keep just staring at the lights. With the chrome grill set it looks more cohesive, but is this a step too far? Aaaargh.  

Was driving today with Dr Ulrich Eichhorn – he’s Bentley’s top engineer and member of the board – and we had a whale of a time talking about uber-geeky dynamics stuff. Of particular interest if the stuff they’ve done to the 6.75 V8 to get it to do what they want in terms of character, but still make it through the emissions legislation. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t feel when the cylinder shut-down system kicked in at cruise – basically the V8 only supplies fuel to four cylinders when below 2k rpm and not under load. At a cruise that gives you about eight per cent efficiency improvements, probably more like five overall.

And the engine’s so torquey - it produces around 752lb ft from 1,750rpm - Bentley fits the tyres with a kind of glue so that they don’t spin on the rim!

Still don’t think the throttle is precise enough in ‘Sport’ mode, though - makes the car feel slow to react when actually there’s a fair amount of hustle going on. We were going quite quick. We may have jumped. Uli’s only reaction was to say - after a short period of stunned silence - “The damping’s pretty good, hey?” If people like him are engineering a car, no wonder it’s good.

Dinner: chats about China, more about Mulsanne. Had a good chat to Dr Paefgen (Bentley and Bugatti boss) and a few other board members – they all seem very excited about the Mulsanne. Have to broach the subject of the front-end treatment: suspect they may have had this conversation before. It takes a while – lots of chat about history – but I’m still not convinced. And I think I’ve worked it out: lights that big on a modern car look inefficient. And with the secondary set, a bit cross-eyed.

The proportions, surfacing, driving experience and badge can make this a Bentley – you don’t always have to visually reference the old stuff to get people to understand the car. And it’s been the big talking point ever since the car was released - which I don’t think is a good thing. Anyway, anyone who can remember what the Bentley eight-litre looked like is dead. So referencing that 80-year-old car might be a bit of a stretch.

What do you think?

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