The famous British marque roars back with even more power and higher performance as it draws inspiration from a glittering Le Mans heritage with the Bentley Mulsanne Speed, writes Tiff Needell
When Nico Hülkenberg drove his Porsche 919 across the finishing line at Le Mans in June he recorded the German marque’s 17th win in the epic race. But while Porsche might claim the high ground when it comes to overall victories, it’s a British name that built the foundations for the great accolade attached to winning this gruelling event – Bentley. The luxury British carmaker won five of the first eight races and the exploits of the legendary Bentley Boys put the manufacturer and the Le Mans 24 Hours firmly on the map.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1980 that someone had the bright idea of using this Le Mans heritage for Bentley models, when the Mulsanne was named after the famous four-mile-long straight which has since been chopped into three pieces by the addition of chicanes in 1990 – the year I had my best result by finishing third.
That first Mulsanne had a 6.75-litre, normally aspirated V8 under the bonnet, which produced a measly 210bhp and, with only three speeds to its automatic gearbox, took a yawning 10.2 seconds to reach 62mph. A turbocharger was added in 1985 to help things along a little before the Brooklands replaced the model in 1992.
After the Brooklands came the Arnage and then in 2010 the Mulsanne returned – still with the same 6.75-litre V8 under the bonnet but now a twin-turbocharged version producing a mighty 505bhp, which clicked up through an eight-speed auto and reached 62mph in exactly half the original model’s time.
Some drivers, though, need more power, so Bentley has obliged by introducing the new Mulsanne Speed – with another 25bhp, a 0-62mph time down to just 4.9 seconds and an extra £25,000 on the price tag. Beneath the raw numbers reprogrammed electronics govern the steering, suspension and transmission, and there’s a more luxurious interior. The extra power catches the eye of the Bentley buyer who wants to drive rather than be driven by a chauffeur. The torque has been increased as well, while all those electronic adjustments have been introduced to provide improved body control and better feedback for the steering.
The extra luxury is courtesy of the Mulsanne’s Mulliner package, which includes diamond-patterned quilted seats, Bentley logos on the headrests, drilled aluminium pedals and a knurled gear lever knob. The leather comprises 593 individual pieces cut from 14 bulls for each car. It’s this quality craftsmanship from the Crewe factory that makes Bentleys so special, with the steering wheel alone taking one person five hours to craft the leather onto it.
Unless you’re an expert in wheel designs or bodywork grills and lamps with a slightly tinted shade, you’re unlikely to notice the Speed from the outside but a slightly wider smile on the driver’s face should be a giveaway.
Bentley Mulsanne Speed
Top speed 190mph
Acceleration 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds
Engine 6.75-litre turbocharged V8 generating 530bhp
Gearbox Eight-speed automatic
Price from £252,000
Watch the Bentley Mulsanne Speed in action here
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