Ever wondered how the other half live? Well, today we got to find out, during a short acquaintance with Bentley’s newest car, the Mulsanne. A moment of context is needed here. Bentley’s sales have climbed from almost nothing in the past 15 years, thanks to the smaller Continental GT. The recently revised coupe, beloved of footballers (and their wives) the land over, gave the comfortably well-off easier access to the "flying B" than any of the large barges Bentley produced throughout the previous 70 years of its existence. At about £100,000 the Conti GT’s combination of opulent luxury, comparative space, easy drive, power and badge cachet means they’ve flown out of the showroom.
The Mulsanne is the other, less well-known car in Bentley’s range. It's a car that, let’s just say, you’ll need to be doing rather better than the average Championship footballer to afford. It costs £225,000 - well, we’ve rounded that up, but when you’re spending that much, what’s a few grand between friends?
This is a car you buy if you own land. You know, half of Scotland amounts of land – that kind of thing. And whereas the average Continental GT buyer might have a Range Rover alongside it in the garage, the person who buys the Mulsanne is likely to have a couple of other Bentleys, possibly a Ferrari or two, a garage full of classic cars and a yacht.
So how does it feel to live on the other side? Simply, like you’re king of all you survey. The whole experience of climbing aboard the Mulsanne is rather odd. Your eye sees a vast, luxury saloon car, but you almost step up, rather than in, to it. The seating position is half-way to SUV and from the driver’s seat you have an ocean-going liner’s worth of bonnet spread in front of you, with that flying B badge standing proud at its end.
Try not to be overawed by the vast expanses of stitched leather and walnut veneer inlays, because the reality is - though opulent - the Mulsanne’s not that intimidating to get going in. Just use the knurled aluminium knob to adjust the steering wheel to your chosen position, stab and hold the starter knob until the twin-turbo V8 whirs into life and then nudge the, totally normal, automatic gear shifter back into drive.Yet we actually think that "D" for drive on the gear knob’s somewhat mis-placed. You don’t "drive" a Mulsanne, you command it.
And it's commanding you’ll feel when you first prod the throttle fully into the shag-pile carpet. With a 6.7 litre, twin-turbo V8 under it, that huge bonnet rises its nose into the air with some alacrity. Give it the beans and suddenly 2.6-tonnes of Bentley is hurtling you toward the horizon at a quite obscene pace. The whole experience is slightly surreal and rather unlike anything else you normally experience in a car.
But we didn’t think it was fair to test this car properly without experiencing it as many owners will – from the back seat. Here, it eats the competition alive. Not only is there more room than you’ll find in a typical airline’s business class, there are all kinds of olde-worlde ashtray pots, mirrors and tables surrounding you. Gentleman’s club might be the cliché but behind the slabs of walnut in the centre console and seat back, you’ll discover your own heating and seat adjustment controls. In the centre console, you get two jacks for head phones, a bunch of SD card slots, a 12V port and a CD/DVD slot. It might be olde-worlde in appearance, but if you want your own back seat office hub, the Mulsanne’s clearly the place to provide it. And because the core tech looks like it’s come from Audi, it works very well and looks rather modern.
You might even be able to balance your netbook on the walnut table if it’s small enough. And when you’re done working, the back-of-headrest screens allow you to watch DVDs, listen to separate radio stations and different music from Perkins up front. It’s just a pity you have to control it with a remote that – although artfully stored in the cubby between the front seats - feels like the kind of thing that comes with a supermarket brand plasma screen.
Still, we reckon all that room out back’s wasted. If you ever get the chance, get in the driver’s seat of a Mulsanne and simply squeeze that giant milled throttle into the carpet and hold it there - we dare you. Because as that B-emblazoned nose barrels you towards the horizon, you’ll feel like king of the world, and everyone should experience that once in their life, even if it’s just for a day.