The Very British (and German) Bentley Mulsanne

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2011 Bentley Mulsanne.

“Rolls-Royce?” the guy in the next lane waiting beside me at the traffic light asked. “No, Bentley,” I said with a smile, trying to sound cool but not egotistical. After all, it’s a car that costs well over a quarter million dollars, but it sure wasn’t my car.

Not a week after saying goodbye to a wonderful BMW 750Li, the Car Fairy bestowed upon me a 2011 Bentley Mulsanne, the new flagship from the British brand with a heritage as rich as any other car company. For a few days anyway, I could pretend that this gorgeous blue luxury sedan was mine.

The Mulsanne is pretty significant in the upscale car world. Named after the Mulsanne Straight at the famed Le Mans 24 hour race in France, this is the first big sedan that’s not based on some other car. For decades, Bentleys were merely re-badged Rolls-Royces, as both companies were essentially one in the same. Newer sporting models like the Continental GT are heavily based on Audi running gear, since Bentley and Rolls have gone their separate ways and Bentley is now part of the VW-Audi Group.

A clean-sheet design, the Mulsanne aims to capture the essence of Bentleys from years ago, when they were sporting gentlemen’s cars, meant to be owner driven as opposed to chauffeured. The aging Arnage sedan that this car replaces was essentially a Rolls-Royce with a different grill and slightly firmer suspension.

With its corporate parentage, the Mulsanne gets the benefits of both German engineering and British craftsmanship. The twin turbo V8 engine is hand-built in England (and signed by its maker, a la Mercedes-Benz AMG engines), whereas other components such as the 8-speed automatic transmission, are sourced from Germany.

Rest assured, British car enthusiasts, you’d never know that the new big Bentley was developed anywhere but the UK; you just have to settle into the interior. It’s every bit English, every bit upscale, and every bit a Bentley. Rich leather, deeply varnished wood veneer, and bright plated surfaces just about everywhere that couldn’t be covered in timber or hides.

Special touches pay tribute to the Bentleys of the glory years in the 1920s and ‘30s. The chromed dash vents have small pull knobs (also chromed), the dials for speed and engine revs sweep downward and clockwise, an older British tradition. Outside, special attention was paid to bring Bentley heritage full circle; the mesh grill and other brightwork combine with the distinct arrangement of the headlamps to remind us of the wonderful racing Bentleys of yore.

The driving experience can be racy as well, if you so choose. The hulking V8 engine cranks out 505 horsepower and 752 lb-ft of torque, which can swiftly move the 5,700 pound car at a rate which belies its heft. And while handling is good, the ride is supple and controlled, all in keeping with the car’s prestige and price tag.

Speaking of which, as you might imagine, cars like this don’t come cheap. Or even what most people would call “reasonable.” Base tariff is $285,000, which you’d think would include everything. It doesn’t. If you want to add “everything,” you’ll be well past the three hundred grand mark. My test car was $330,000 to be exact, and it didn’t even have a sunroof. It did have things like a $7,415 sound system, and $2,265 picnic tables for the rear seat passengers, who can use them for writing tablets or notebook computers (while enjoying the $3,000 massaging seat package).

An absolutely fantastic car, yes, and quite expensive too. But boy, that guy in the next lane was sure impressed. In Southern California, isn’t that what matters?

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.

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