Bentley Launch Three New Mulsannes
Bentley just launched three brand spanking new Mulsannes, the Mulsanne Consummate, the Mulsanne Speed and the first ever Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase. So where on earth could you go to test these big guys? Somewhere with great scenery, sublime mountain vistas, oodles of leather shorts and Schloss’s that would give Bond baddy Ernst Stavro Blofelt secret lair envy. Throw in long roads (the famous Autobahns) with no speed limit at all and bingo, you have the lovely Austria or Innsbruck to be more specific.
So IX Magazine sent me to Frankfurt to hop onto a private jet and fly over aforesaid sublime mountains to Innsbruck. We were staying at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria by the Wettersteinwand mountain range, which is where they held the last G7 summit, to bask in Obama’s, Cameron’s and Merkel’s afterglow. I reckon I had Obama’s room, but I neglected to check the hotel visitors book for confirmation as I left in a bit of a hurry, but we’ll get to that.
I was picked up at the private airfield in the Bentley Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase so I could feel the full pleasure of the chauffeur experience to the Schloss, through the Bavarian towns, along wide open roads and the winding mountain passes. My chauffeur was a very courteous and perfectly attired chap in full cap and uniform, however much I was hoping for a blonde Valkyrie warrior with plats to be holding the door open, but apart from that the experience was the full luxury. The Bentley Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase is aimed at those who would rather sit in the back and enjoy life, work or entertain than fiddle with wheel and peddles in traffic and offers all possible comfort and amenities. The rear seats remind me of Matt Leblanc or more accurately Joey from friends. They not only recline, but the leather clad foot rest will rise to lift those weary feet up to recuperate from any plane journey in total relax mode, just like the La-Z-Boy chair that Joey loved so much. Between these is a vertical frosted green glass panel that, at the touch of a button, slides down with a Star Trek door swish to reveal the drinks fridge, holding three glasses (designed to reflect the wheel shape) and two bottles of Champagne. There is a magnificent array of gleaming metal pistons and gears below this that folds out into a table, twisting and rotating around you, ready for a laptop, though something to hold the laptop steady would be welcome.
Press a button in the centre console and you have your own discreetly hidden infotainment system in the form of an 8” high-res touch screen that rises majestically out of the front seat with Google maps, TV and Web with a 60GB SSD and 200GB of storage. While experimenting with all the buttons I was treated to a special music selection of Bavarian hip hop from the 14 speaker Naim sound system that would have been even better at full blast with the windows down, but sense prevailed and I enjoyed the journey up to the Schloss Elmau in serene comfort. Bentley have worked hard on the sound decibels coming in too, reducing sound pollution at every possible point, from road, to wheels, to engine and airflow, making this the quietest passenger experience in the world. The windows even have dinky curtains that will close at your command for complete privacy.
The Bentley Mulsanne front grill is now angrier, wider (by 80mm) and extends down in vertical lines past the front bumper, with the Bentley B hood ornament still flying proudly on top. The front lights are still 4 eyes but with whiter LED lights to improve visibility and intelligent light systems that adapt automatically to the road conditions ahead. The back has been widened on both sides by 30 mm and the lights have the B shape from the Bentayga with details highlighted in chrome and piano black lacquer to give everyone behind you, which will be most people, a fine sense of rear inferiority. Few cars will not feel a little butt envy. There are three new wheel shapes too, the Classic which is strong and solid, the Radiance for a more sporty feel and the Speed with more curves and crisp lines. The ride is VIP first class all the way, with damping controls that use solenoid valves to glide along any road surface and the car is fitted with carbon ceramic brakes providing an amazing stopping distance, which comes in handy in a car that weighs just under three tonnes!
Each car takes 400 hours to build with 5800 individual welds on the body, 120 hours to paint and 12 hours to polish, culminating in a whopping 150 hours to stitch the leather hide interior. The veneer inside and on the doors is hand crafted with horizontal layers and an unbelievably deep gloss, oozing quality and luxury finish. There is even a stone veneer or a carbon one for that sporty look.You can pick from almost a hundred shades for the exterior, though they will create any colour you can think of. One client came in with a sequin and requested they match it to find her ideal colour!
After pushing every button and pulling every lever, and there is no more reliable test of durability than to let me loose on gadgets, we finally arrived at the Schloss and I was shown to my suite. The room and mountain views were superb, the sun was just dipping over the Wettersteinwand mountains and wisps of cloud were forming on the peaks, a reflection of the beauty and luxury in the hotel and the Mulsanne. I popped to the bar for a quick drink with friends before joining the Bentley creators for dinner in the dining room, which had recently been built for the G7 summit with impressive chandeliers and a balcony overlooking the lush green valley. I sat next to Stefan Sielaff, the design director of Bentley who studied at the RCA, and soon learned that they had a very distinct vision for the Mulsanne. “A sense of occasion and clean surfaces, dynamic and individual that would bring a fresh modern perspective to luxury automotive interiors”. Also that while developing the Mulsanne they skate it over the North Cape in Denmark (very cold), cane it in the hottest deserts of Arabia, rumble it in the streets of Los Angeles and meander Zen like all over China, to develop the perfect ride in every conceivable environment and weather conditions.
The next morning I took the Mulsanne Speed out for a spin over 270 miles to really get a feel for the drive, comfort and performance and, lets be honest, to see what this enormous albeit streamlined beast could do on the no speed limit de-restricted roads of Bavaria. At first the car is a little intimidating, the bonnet is huge and you do need to sit a little higher than expected to see over the dash and front comfortably. However you soon get used to the bulk and forget pretty quickly how vast it is as it accelerates like a sports hatchback, charging from 0–60 Mph in 4.8 seconds. Of course you can barely hear the engine as the entire car has been built for silent running. I do miss the roar of this familiar 6.75 litre twin turbo V8 engine as you paddle through the gears, which are so smooth you can only tell they’ve changed by watching the rev counter jump around. It is blooming hard to know what speed you are doing as every sensory input has been curtailed. You barely feel the road or hear anything outside. You could be in a sound booth playing MC Solaar (French Hip-hop singer) at volume one and still understand the lyrics. The way the road disappears before you is the only clue that maybe 160 mph is quite enough if you want to enjoy the arresting snowy peaks and attractive Fleckvieh cows, and avoid being arrested yourself.
We stopped at La Villa on Lake Starnberg for canapés and drinks just to take in the beauty of this extraordinary lakeside hotel, arriving just as the sun cut through the mist floating over the calm fresh water, dotted with high tech canoes and classic boats in the Italian Gondola style. Perhaps of all the places I visited on this trip La Villa most reflected the Mulsanne, simplicity, open space, light, a history of design, luxury, and comfort. A marriage of the old and the new to create a new perspective on luxury.
After the Autobahn I was keen to see how the Mulsanne Speed would perform on the mountain roads and followed the excellent Sat Nav to the next stop, Hahnenkamm Lodge at the top of the Kitzbühel Mountains, a luxury haven for skiers. The Mulsanne is actually more fun on mountain roads, you can genuinely enjoy the smooth ride as long as you watch your speedo to know just how fast you are actually going. The handling for a car of this magnitude is superb, yes it does feel a little like a yacht on the corners, but then again it should be driven with some gravitas and perhaps not thrown around like a sports car, though with 530 Bhp and 811 lb.ft of torque on the Mulsanne Speed you can clearly do both. To put it another way, this is a luxury hotel on wheels but it has more than enough power to overtake on small stretches of road and to get you out of trouble if needed.
The Mulsanne performs superbly on the hills leading up to the ski lift with the 8 speed automatic gearbox and rear wheel drive propelling the car friskily up any incline. I reluctantly left my luxury living room in the car park before jumping into the cable car that swung round a circular chain trundling up the vertiginous Kitzbühel slopes. The perspex cabin wobbled alarmingly up the mountain bound for either a dream lunch overlooking ski heaven or a convoluted death announced by a sudden 1000 metre drop then bouncing across cow strewn fields and chalets in my own hamster ball.
The Hahnenkamm lodge sits at the very top of the mountain overlooking the start of the Hahnenkamm ski run, one of the most competitive alpine events in the world. The Strief race is utter madness and only for seasoned professionals. Jumps up to 80m, steep slopes up to 85% gradient, speeds up to 140 km/hr and 860 meters height difference from the starting gate to the finish. I chatted to Wolfgang Dürheimer, the chairman of Bentley, who had recently stayed here and skied this challenging slope for fun. I am not a snow skier, more a water skier, but the corners looked utterly impossible, especially following on from such dramatically abrupt jumps and drops. I was reliably informed that the first jump had to be taken early or you simply sailed over the next corner into the trees. I was quite happy to be viewing from the balcony whilst nibbling on bacon wrapped scallops, barbecued prawns and soft pulled pork with red onion.
The Hahnenkamm Lodge is in one of the best skiing locations ever, how many lodges can boast that you can watch the race start below your own balcony or walk out of your living room straight on to the most challenging ski descent in the world, with a cable car that brings you right back to your front door. The food, service and amenities were absolutely top notch and the views of the valley below stretched on forever. Sadly we had to leave after lunch, it would have been fantastic to watch the sun set and the stars come out over the mountains on that balcony with a large Jägermeister and perhaps a little yodel.
However the best was yet to come, our route then took us via the Achensee Lake, one of the most beautiful spots in the world. The lake is renowned for the purity of its water and its stunning mountain location nestled amongst the snow capped peaks in Austria’s western Tyrol province. I drove around the lake marvelling at the kite surfers and luxury boats speeding along in the wind, so high in these mountains, air so clear and crisp that everything seemed to sparkle. As the Mulsanne climbed up on the north side, we came upon the most mythical landscape, a million rivers and streams criss crossing and flowing over the grey white shale. The lake is fed by capillaries of the purest milky jade water, luminescent green Lalique glass melting and flowing across a white stone desert, interspersed with surreal flashes of dotted emerald pines. Like splashes of sage and lime paint thrown across a white canvas. The water rushes across the stones at high speed, throwing up white horses that act as ferocious highlights to this natural work of art. The choice of colours and mix of palette is perfect. The swirl of water contrasts with the gentle swaying of the pines and the total stillness of the tan stone desert. It is a breath taking sculpture and this part of Austria should be on everyone’s bucket list. I would love to go back and spend a week photographing this river eden.
This eye candy continued all the way back to the Schloss where we were all running a little bit late from our luxury tour, so I jumped straight into the waiting Mulsanne without time for a quick swim, they have so many pools at Schloss Elmau I lost count, and sat back to enjoy the pleasure of a chauffeur in rush hour traffic, heading for the private airfield at Innsbruck for my return journey home.
Superlatives aside, they are many aspects to a luxury brand that are indicative of its quality. Handmade, craftmanship, design, value, heritage, history, ethos, performance, materials and execution. The Bentley Mulsanne ticks all these boxes. Passion is also paramount, so has the Bentley Mulsanne been crafted with love and care? Yes, definitely, this is a brand that takes pride in every car. They have also modernised the luxury car industry, bringing incredible performance and forward thinking design to both the exterior and the interior. Though I feel they are still playing it safe, I know they are thinking of their audience, but as Stefan said there are now more people in their 30’s who have made their money and looking to buy a Mulsanne. I would like to see even more passion in the car, a few more risks taken in the interior, exterior and particularly the dashboard design.
The Bentley Mulsanne range pairs cutting edge luxury with superior performance. The interior nestles and cossets you, asserting that you that you are safe from the crazy world outside, and has everything you need to run your tech empire, lay back and ponder the universe or entertain like a movie star. The exterior haunches and curved clean lines convey bespoke luxury and intelligent state-of-the-art design with just a hint of the vein popping bulging muscle beneath. I look forward to watching the range evolve further.