The 2017 Bentley Mulsanne was recently announced at the Geneva Motor Show 2016. The current model will therefore cease production very soon. In order to celebrate the outgoing model, we felt an ambitious road trip was in order. Where better to take the British barge than the great British countryside!
The Mulsanne is a special car for Bentley. It sits at the very top of the Bentley product line. At its release in 2009, the Mulsanne also became the first independently designed Bentley flagship in nearly 80 years. Breaking a run of flagship models built upon re-engineered Rolls-Royce platforms.
When it comes to British countryside, there is really only one option; the vast Scottish Highlands. The route practically wrote itself, before we knew it, everything had been arranged and we had a Mulsanne ready in the driveway.
Our ride for the journey was a 2016 Bentley Mulsanne. As the flagship model in a rapidly expanding Bentley range, it is aimed at the top 5 percentile. Business moguls, Arabian royalty and A-list celebrities are counted among the Mulsanne’s clientele.
Our test car featured optional Magnetic grey paintwork with twin red fine lines running along the centreline. The Mulsanne does a pretty good job of standing out. If the upright front grille doesn’t turn heads, the bulging rear wheel arches almost certainly will.
All Mulsanne’s are fitted with a 6.75 litre twin-turbocharged V8 packing 505 bhp and 1020 Nm of torque. It is a large engine, less refined than the V12 units employed by Bentley’s competitors but every bit as charismatic. The power is put down to the rear wheels via ZF’s excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The Mulsanne had a comprehensive set of updates for the 2015 model year which added improved fuel economy figures thanks to a new combustion chamber with new inlet ports, injectors and spark plug positions. Cylinder deactivation helped to achieve greater efficiency and the latest version is said to output 10% of noxious gases compared to the original 1950’s design. That said, this is a full-fat V8 so there is no getting away from the typical economy figures.
The chassis and suspension setup includes a multi-link platform with double wishbones front and rear and an anti-roll bar. Damping is continuously controlled with four options; comfort, bentley, sport and custom. The air suspension system gives the Mulsanne that waft you expect from a car of the Mulsanne’s calibre.
Inside, the dash is the dominant feature. It is positioned with a sublime view of the Flying B at the very front of the car. As you move your eyes down the dash, you meet swathes of Redwood leather and Dark Stained Vavona veneers. The winged shape flannels the view down to the MMI system which is familiar VAG territory with a sat-nav and plenty of media connectivity. One drawback is that the Mulsanne does not have any USB connections, instead it uses the standardised VAG connection. Our test car did not come with the latest Apple Lightning connection so we had to use the one supplied with our 2016 Volkswagen Golf.
Our First Destination
The first leg of trip took us to Glasgow. Before we could relax at our destination, the Mulsanne had the enviable task of wafting us through 350 miles of uninspired British motorway. The Bentley is designed for this sort of driving. In Comfort mode with the air suspension flattening out the road surface and the cruise control handling the work, the drivers seat is, unsuprisingly, a relaxing place to be.
The same can also be said for the back. There is plenty of leg room and a fully adjustable seat. Our car featured the three seat rear rather than the two-seat layout. The middle seat would prove difficult to use in the real world as it hides the seat controls and a thin (but surprisingly stable) arm rest in the back. Our car came with a champagne fridge hidden behind the middle seat, complete with crystal flutes.
Tourists tend to forget that Glasgow is the third biggest city in United Kingdom and the largest in Scotland. It sits an hour away from Edinburgh which tends to hog most of the limelight. We were curious as to why Glasgow was often overlooked.
Glasgow actually turned out to be the better choice. Our first hotel was the stunning Blythswood Square Hotel which occupies a building previously used as the Royal Scottish Automobile Club headquarters. It sits very close to the centre of the city, a stones-throw from the popular shopping areas yet also close to the business districts. A perfect base for exploring Glasgow.
Inside, the decor makes the history of the building clear. The walls are adorned with memorabilia from its RSAC years, feature walls depict historic racing scenes, even the lampshades in the restaurant have a historic motoring theme. We felt right at home with the Bentley parked out front.
After a relaxing evening spent at a small Italian restaurant close to Blythswood Square and a good night’s sleep, we woke ready to tackle all that the Scottish Highlands could throw at us. The weather report had been particularly poor with snow predicted for some of the higher grounds and non-stop rain lower down. We had heard that some of the ski areas were still operating. Given that some of our destinations incorporated these locations, we were understandably nervous. Rear wheel drive, heavyweight sedans are not regular used as ski shuttles…
As is often the case, we woke to glorious sunshine pouring through our full-length windows. A quick jet wash to remove the road grime from the previous day and we were on our way. Thankfully, the weather continued to follow us on the road to Dumbarton and into the forrest-lined shores of Loch Lomand. The road at this point becomes narrow and winding. Lorries and coaches frequently squeeze past, making us feel quite nervous at times.
The Bentley is not the perfect match for these tight roads. Once you’ve covered a few miles in the Mulsanne though, you start to get used to the weight and size of it. The nervousness begins to dissipate. As beautiful as Loch Lomand is, we had heard of more exciting roads further on, so we pushed through, keen to find the promised open roads. We were not disappointed.
With the Loch behind us, what came next was truly sensational. The roads became more open and the scenery, much more dramatic. Snow capped peaks and green pastures lined the road side, the sort of imagery normally reserved for a postcard. A brief squirt of the accelerator took us past a slower caravan. A set of switchbacks took us up to a stunning vantage point. A position with views back to the Loch and on to the highlands-proper.
We were joined at our vantage point by a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the owner apparently off to catch a dinner reservation on the Isle of Skye. We would later cross paths with him on his return leg alongside Loch Lochy (what a name!). By now, the wind had picked up and clouds began to shroud the early-morning sunshine. A few drops of rain began to fell from the sky with intent. From inside the Bentley, this didn’t matter so much.
The rain held its ground for the time being Our next destination was made all the more enjoyable as a result. You cannot visit this part of the Highlands without dropping into the Etive valley. Most will remember it as the location used to film the iconic James Bond film “Skyfall”. The road that runs through is a sensational single track just off the A82; difficult to spot and even more difficult to navigate; GPS and 3G coverage were long-since lost. For those that persevere, the rewards are nothing short of spectacular. The road takes you through the heart of the valley, rising and falling; all the time building towards the crescendo at the very end on Loch Etive.
Along the way, we capture some stunning snapshots of the Mulsanne out in the wilderness. In sharp contrast to the rugged scenery, the Mulsanne glistens and shines. Further along the road, a break in the dense forest reveals a heard of deer. Unphased, by our presence, they go about their business as if we we didn’t exist. This deep into the valley, nature rarely meets human civilisation.
Eventually, the rain draws in and we beat a hasty retreat towards Fort William. The A82 is at its most sensational here as it meanders through a deep cut valley with quartzite cliffs encasing the tarmac. We take in as much as we can, pushing on to our next location at Loch Garry and eventually Loch Cluanie.
The road here forks off in two directions. Our ultimate destination would be Inverness. It seems perverse to set off in the opposite direction although we had some idea of the stunning views on the A87 towards the Isle of Skye. 10 miles down the road, wide open mountain roads allow us to put the Mulsanne to the test. Moving from corner to corner, in damp conditions, the Mulsanne sticks. It is no racer but the engineering prowess clearly shines through. In Sport mode the throttle response is instantaneous and the steering incredibly precise (for a car of this size).
Our Loch Cluanie destination eventually defeats us, the access road proving to be too difficult for the Mulsanne (and probably most 4×4’s too). We settle for a slightly less spectacular spot although the setting sun gives us a perfect set of conditions.
The road back towards Inverness runs adjacent to its namesake loch; Loch Ness. With one eye on the road and the other scouring the vast expanses of water for the legendary monster, we reflect upon our day in the Highlands. We have been fortunate enough to explore most parts of the UK in one capacity or another. It is safe to say that nothing compares to the Scottish Highlands. The views, the remoteness, the wildlife; it is difficult to imagine anywhere quite as awe inspiring. Similarly, the Bentley has been marvellous, eating up the miles with no complaints, providing huge amounts of comfort and entertainment for those who drove it – and its passengers!
At dinner that evening, Zaid informed us of a new technique he had recently discovered to test the service at top class restaurants. Needless to say our choice of restaurant failed with flying colours. 5-star, it was not! We left, ashamed our choice of restaurant had failed to mirror the Bentley’s high benchmark.
The plan for our third day in Scotland was to explore some of the mythical driving roads frequented by the motoring magazines. The Cairngorms was our destination, a range that sits on the Eastern side of the Highlands. Ultimately, we were keen to take a drive along the Old Military Road that leads to two of Scotland’s biggest ski centres; Lecht and Glenshee.
The road was built with great effort by the English military back in the 1600’s. The roads were vital to ensure that order was restored to the remote Scottish settlements – the British empire at its most tactical. Similar roads litter the highlands, some heavily maintained, others left to decay. The A939 also provides a perfect link between Inverness and our penultimate destination; Edinburgh. It would turn out to be perfect choice!
Leaving Inverness, the dual carriageway that leads to the Old Military Road undulates between forests and valleys. Average speed cameras line the route and so we place the Mulsanne on cruise control to avoid getting carried away. In convoy with the Hells Angels, the miles fly past. These roads are incredibly popular with motorists. The A9 runs addicted to the A939, through the western Cairngorms past Aviemore. We speculate that the bikers are headed in that direction.
Soon, the dual carriageway forks off and a nondescript right turn heralds the start of the Military Road. The first few miles give us another opportunity to sample the Mulsanne in Sport mode. With a fairly unobstructed view of the road ahead, the V8 pushes us from corner to corner while the dynamic dampers assist with transferred to weight. The Mulsanne isn’t the final word in performance, it was never built to be. Yet it still manages to set an enviable pace (emptying your bank account in the process!).
Settling into a groove, the scenery quickly becomes very dramatic with open road eventually giving way to steep mountain passes. This section of the A939 is normally the first closed when snowfall is predicted, it climbs to 2090 ft (637m) before the sharp descent into Ballater. We are in luck today as the gates are open.
At Lecht we meet up with a group of sports cars. It is Sunday and the owners are out for a tour of the Cairngorms. Together with this group of Aston Martin’s and Lotus, one thing becomes very clear; the British automotive industry is flourishing.
Towards Ballater, there is some navigation work to do as we leave the A939, pass through Balmoral and pick up the A93. There is time for a short stop-off at Braemer before we head towards our final high point, Glenshee Ski Centre. It’s easy to see why the Queen chooses the 50,000 acre Balmoral estate for her Scotland residence. The combination of unspoilt county side and remoteness are ideal. The Queen has also been known to enjoy the comfort of a Bentley from time to time.
The Mulsanne’s fuel economy took a turn for the worst at this point, registering a 13.5 mpg average as against a 22 mpg high during our motorway cruise. It is of little consequence as we were well aware we were reaching the end of the range. At Glenshee we stop to rest for a while, drinking in the fresh mountain air and reflecting on an incredible 2 days with the incredible Mulsanne.
Heading back to Edinburgh, the mountains eventually give way to motorway. With the Bentley back on cruise control, it isn’t long before we hit the Forth Road Bridge which runs parallel to the UNESCO World Heritage Forth Rail Bridge. A third bridge, the Queensferry Crossing is currently under construction and the view could not be more bizarre. Unfinished road ways hang from three pillars, waiting to be connected as work progresses.
As we get closer to the historic city centre and our overnight stop at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, the Mulsanne starts to feel at home. Wafting through the city streets, it gets plenty of attention. The Gumball 3000 is in town this weekend. With fans travelling far and wide to get a glimpse of their arrival, the Mulsanne gives them something to look at.
Ultimately, our overnight stop would allow us to follow some of the participants back towards London. The following morning the rain had well and truly set in. For the most part we had abandoned our plans to run with the Gumball and instead started back on a leisurely cruise. The further south we went, the better the weather became. We had been lucky.
The Replacement Model
As we have already mentioned, this particular Bentley Mulsanne is due for replacement. The natural question is, what more do you get with the new version? Largely, the new Mulsanne is all about giving the bruising limo a fresh new look. The most dramatic change is undoubtedly the new grille. Most will see this as the biggest change however, Bentley have also tinkered with the front wings and added fresh headlights.
Bentley have also reconfigured the Mulsanne’s suspension system with anti-vibratory suspension bushings and an active engine mount, similar to the Bentayga. The tyres have also been layered on the insides with foam, said to dampen road noise. The changes should give the Mulsanne improved ride comfort. We haven’t not driven it yet though so we can’t yet confirm the effect of the changes.
Another addition to the Mulsanne range is the extended wheelbase option. It gets 250mm of extra leg space and airline style reclining seats, something that will no doubt excite the sheik’s and corporate CEO’s as well as Bentley’s growing Chinese customer-base.
The Perfect Luxury Limousine?
Not far off. Inside, every surface is pure quality with a huge amount of leather and wood covering the areas both driver and passenger are likely to come into contact with. As a result, it is comfortable enough to manage long distance cruising with ease. We covered a total of 1,350 miles during our four-day trip, not once did we feel fatigued.
Some will prefer the quieter V12 engined rivals. For the avid petrolhead, the Mulsanne is the obvious choice though. It has that ability to channel a vintage saloon racer, with the pace and handling to rival much lighter sports cars. Be under no illusion though, the Mulsanne is not a racer. Its 2.5 tonne bulk renders that impossible.
What is clear is that the Mulsanne was the perfect choice for four passengers on a highland adventure. It was reliable, economic (relatively…) for our highway stints and provided miles of comfort. We can’t wait to drive the facelift version!