by Roger Biermann
This year, Bentley celebrates 100 years of automotive excellence. When you've had a century of experience, cars like the magnificent Mulsanne Speed shouldn't come as a great surprise, and yet they still do. The Speed - as the name dictates - is a more powerful version of the ultra-lavish Mulsanne, with its 6.75-liter V8 producing 530 horsepower and 811 lb-ft of torque. It will reach 60 mph in 4.8 seconds - nothing to worry a Mercedes-AMG S 63 or BMW M760i, but then again, the Mulsanne operates in a different league of esoteric luxury more comparable to the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Despite sportier touches like dark-tinted headlamps and unique Mulsanne Speed wheels, first-class luxury is still the order of the day - the exquisitely finished cabin, silky smooth ride, and vast range of personalization will attract the most elite clientele. Well, that and the price of well over $300,000. Still, as an expression of luxury motoring that spares no expense, the Mulsanne Speed is a fine achievement.
The Mulsanne Speed is largely unchanged going into the 2019 model year. However, to celebrate the marque's centenary, all Mulsanne Speeds built in 2019 receive unique badging and lighting elements.
More imposing than it is beautiful, the Mulsanne Speed makes a powerful statement. A vast stainless steel grille dominates the front with the distinctive rounded LED headlights on either side. To set it apart from the standard Mulsanne, the Speed gets 21-inch hand-finished alloy wheels, a dark tint finish applied to the exterior bright ware, rifled sports exhausts, and bespoke Speed badging. There are shades of Mercedes-Maybach at the back of the Mulsanne, but it otherwise cuts a striking and distinctive figure.
Bigger even than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Mulsanne Speed casts a considerable shadow. It is 219.5 inches long (over 12 inches lengthier than the S-Class), 86.9 inches wide (75.8 inches wide with the mirrors folded), and 60.08 inches in height. The wheelbase stretches to 128.6 inches. These dimensions go some way towards explaining the Mulsanne Speed's hefty curb weight of 5,919 pounds - that's over 1,000 lbs heavier than a Mercedes-Benz S 560.
The first sign of the depth of Bentley's customization options comes when choosing the Mulsanne Speed's exterior paint. There are 25 standard shades and nearly 100 optional colors to choose from. For instance, if you're after a classy and sinister dark shade, there are eight black colors to choose from alone, from Anthracite to Storm Grey by Mulliner. More exuberant options include Monaco Yellow and Magenta, shades that somehow seem to work on the stately sedan. Then, there are also dramatic duo-tones by Mulliner such as Black Sapphire (trunk, roof, and hood) over Blue Crystal (lower body). It's a truly mind-boggling array of choices but ensures that spotting another Mulsanne Speed exactly like yours is unlikely.
While the Mulsanne Speed may be faster and more powerful than the standard model, the brief for a car such as this remains similar - performance should, above all, be effortless. So even though the Speed's 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds is great rather than incredible, it's the manner with which the Bentley accelerates that is otherworldly. The 6.75-liter twin-turbo V8's outputs of 530 horsepower and 811 lb-ft of torque manage to overcome the Mulsanne's almost 6,000-pound heft by providing rapid, incredibly serene progress. Flat out, the rear-wheel-drive Mulsanne Speed will reach 190 mph. By comparison, the regular Mulsanne takes 5.1 seconds to hit 60 mph, so the Speed lives up to its name by outperforming its sibling, even if the difference is marginal. In the land of ultra-exclusive luxury sedans, the similarly priced Rolls-Royce Ghost has the same quoted 0-60 mph time as the Mulsanne Speed.
The Mulsanne Speed is fitted with a sublime 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V8 delivering 530 hp and a massive 811 lb-ft of torque. The automatic transmission is a ZF-sourced eight-speed unit. The extra power over the standard Mulsanne has been achieved by redesigning the combustion system, while both the compression ratio and variable valve timing system has been tweaked too. Despite the more sporting intentions of the Speed, this remains a smooth and beautifully refined powertrain. With all that torque available low down in the rev range, heavy throttle inputs aren't needed to make easy and swift progress from a standing start, while passing power is towering when you need it. According to a Bentley insider, the Mulsanne Speed's epic torque figure means that a three-speed auto would be sufficient, but this isn't the '80s so you get a smooth-shifting eight-speeder anyway. In S mode, the engine speed is kept above 2,000 rpm, another sign of how Bentley has worked a bit more driving enjoyment into the Mulsanne without compromising the luxury feel.
Don't be fooled into thinking that the Mulsanne Speed is a sports car. Its strength remains in isolating occupants from the outside world, and it does this magnificently well. The cabin is free from the squeaks and rattles you'd experience in lesser cars, the engine note disappears almost entirely at a cruise, and the air suspension with continuous damping control dispenses with bumps and changes in surface as if they didn't exist. It takes 400 hours to construct a Mulsanne, and when you're wafting along in near silence, you can understand why.
Get behind the wheel, however, and you can see that Bentley has done just enough to work some driver engagement into the Speed. A reworked suspension system has enhanced the Mulsanne's responses enough to make this a surprisingly engaging partner in the bends. You're always aware of the car's bulk, but in Sport mode, there's a pleasing weightiness to the steering and plenty of grip to exploit. Sport mode also disables the cylinder deactivation function for the quickest responses. Once you've had your fun, switch back to Comfort mode for one of the most relaxing driving experiences this side of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. What a Rolls never does, though, is involve the driver the way the Mulsanne Speed can.
Nearly 6,000 pounds, 6.75-liters of engine displacement, and 530 horsepower - the Mulsanne Speed's numbers don't bode well for fuel consumption. EPA rated estimates work out to 11/18/13 mpg city/highway/combined. This should see the Mulsanne Speed return a combined cruising range of around 330 miles on a full 25.4-gallon tank of gas.
The Bentley's interior represents some of the finest craftsmanship available in a production car. Premium grade hide, diamond-quilted seats in a 4+1 configuration, and metal switches strike all the right notes - simply sitting in one of the sumptuous seats and taking in your surroundings is an experience. Somehow, despite there being plenty of space for all occupants, the Mulsanne's interior still manages to feel warm and cocooning. Although an advanced infotainment system and a powerful audio system are fitted, the Mulsanne cabin never loses its old-school charm. The driving position is incredibly comfortable, and touches like the knurled gear lever and the alloy sport pedals are appreciated - they're part of the Mulliner Driving Specification which comes fitted standard to the Speed. Power-adjustable seats front and rear, rear-window privacy screens and four-zone climate control are among the standard amenities.
The Bentley can technically seat five occupants, although it is officially a 4+1 with a narrower rear center seat between the much more luxurious rear outboard seats. We imagine most owners would prefer to have the lavish rear armrest in use instead of the indignity of stuffing their beloved Mulsanne full of passengers. Seating is opulent wherever you sit and there's no problem with legroom or headroom. Reclining rear seats, power window shades, and even the ability to electrically lower the window on the opposite side of the car from your own rear seat ensures ultimate comfort. The driver, of course, also gets an electrically adjustable seat to find his or her optimum seating position. Large doors make ingress and egress easy.
A choice of 24 interior hide colors will have you spending an entire day playing around with Bentley's online configurator. Duo-tone color combinations are also available. Colors range from the more traditional dark Beluga or Camel to the exuberant and red-hued Hotspur. There's also an extensive range of veneers to choose from, including Dark Stained Burr Walnut, Liquid Amber, Olive Ash, Piano Black, and Piano Black with carbon fiber waistrail inlays.
No matter which colors you opt for, there's no denying the superb attention to detail and spectacular quality. Diamond-quilted leather seats, drilled alloy sports pedals, and a knurled gear lever are standard. Novel touches like the Bentley emblem embroidered into the headrests and an indented leather headlining add to the high-end feel. For even more luxury, you can option veneered picnic tables, Lambswool rugs front and rear, and Black or Ivory curtains. The possibilities are truly endless.
For such a giant sedan, the Mulsanne's trunk is surprisingly small. There's around 15 cubic feet of space back there, which lags behind much cheaper full-size luxury sedans like the BMW 7 Series. As expected, there is a powered trunk lid, and a super luxury car touch is that even the underside of the trunk lid is carpeted, so your Louis Vuitton luggage has no chance of getting scratched.
Interior storage space comprises beautifully trimmed door pockets with integrated cupholders, although we wouldn't want to risk spilling hot coffee on it. The front seats have map pockets, there's a center console, and a tiny, leather-lined compartment in the center of the dashboard seems specifically designed to hold a mobile phone.
There's nearly no limit to the available features you can fit to your Mulsanne Speed, but as standard you get four-zone automatic climate control, a power glass sunroof, soft-close doors, power-adjustable and heated seats front and rear (14-way adjustable in front and eight-way adjustable at the back), electric height adjustment for the front seat belts, a rearview camera, rain-sensing windshield wipers, ambient interior mood lighting, push-button start, park distance control, and power blinds for the rear side windows and rear window. As most Bentley buyers choose to do, you can customize your vehicle with a host of added-cost options. These include ventilated and massaging seats, an illuminated cocktail cabinet with a mini fridge, rear passenger footrests, and even up to four umbrellas.
The Mulsanne's standard infotainment system uses an eight-inch, high-resolution color touchscreen. The system features an internal 60GB hard drive with 20GB of storage capacity, as well as standard navigation, voice controls, a Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, and MP3 compatibility. Bluetooth and USB ports make it easy to connect mobile phones or tablets to the car's infotainment system. Two mobile apps - My Bentley and Smart Remote - provide navigation information and quick access to vehicle data. The apps are available for both Apple and Android devices. Acoustic glazing and second-to-none soundproofing allow occupants full access to the 14-speaker audio system's rich sound. The Bentley Theatre rear-seat entertainment system, meanwhile, is optional and adds two 10.4-inch tablets which are neatly integrated into the front seat backs - these tablets can be deployed at the touch of a button. The Naim for Bentley premium audio system is also an option, with this sound system boasting 20 speakers and 2,200-watts of power.
Low sales volumes make it difficult to assess the Mulsanne's reliability, but it's clear that this car has been built to an exceptionally high standard. While 2019 models have a clean record so far, there have been two recalls issued by the NHTSA for 2018 models - these were for a rear seat belt buckle which may detach and a rearview camera image which could be obstructed or delayed. The iconic 6.75-liter engine has been in production in some form since 1959 and, although significantly modified and refined since then, has proven itself as dependable in several Bentley and Rolls-Royce models.
Bentley's standard warranty is for three years - shorter than less expensive luxury sedans - but offers the advantage of no mileage limitation.
The Mulsanne Speed, like the majority of super expensive premium luxury sedans, has not been evaluated for crashworthiness by either the IIHS or NHTSA. In the unfortunate event of an accident, though, its strong structure and many standard safety features should do a good job of protecting occupants.
Although not all driver aids are standard, the Mulsanne is nevertheless equipped with all the primary safety features you'd reasonably expect. That means eight airbags, ABS with EBD, traction control, cruise control, daytime running lights, tire pressure monitoring, parking sensors, and a camera system are all standard. Blind-spot monitoring is standard but lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert are not available. Adaptive cruise control is an optional extra.
The Bentley Mulsanne Speed is a thoroughly unique prospect in the lofty ultra-premium segment it occupies with Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Maybach. Where these competitors are almost exclusively focused on luxury and comfort, the Mulsanne Speed has another layer to its personality - it can also entertain from behind the wheel. It's no sports car, of course, but we admire Bentley's commitment to engineer some joy into a super luxury sedan. It has also come at no expense to traditional Bentley attributes of exceptional craftsmanship, superlative comfort, and an almost unlimited level of customization. The cheaper Maybach has more advanced driver safety aids to its credit, but it still feels like a close relation to the more mainstream S-Class. The Rolls-Royce Ghost isn't as comfortable in the back seat, and there are also clear links to the BMW 7 Series, which is a problem at this price level. The Rolls-Royce Phantom is probably the Mulsanne Speed's best match for quality, status, and comfort, but it is even more expensive and doesn't offer much in the way of driver engagement. All of which means that the Bentley Mulsanne Speed is pretty much in a class of its own.
Ultimate exclusivity doesn't come cheaply, and you'll have to part with $335,600 for the privilege of driving away in a Bentley Mulsanne Speed - around $30,000 more expensive than the standard Mulsanne. This price excludes a tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $2,725. Of course, with the vast options list, precious few Mulsanne Speeds will leave the showroom at that base price - expect upwards of $400,000 once you've delved into Bentley's customization program.
There's only one variant of the Mulsanne Speed, the more powerful and driver-focused version of the standard Mulsanne. Power is derived from a 6.75-liter twin-turbo V8 with 530 hp and 811 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel-drive, a self-leveling air suspension, and a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission are standard.
The Mulsanne Speed is distinguished by 21-inch Mulsanne Speed alloy wheels, a dark tint stainless steel matrix grille, polished stainless steel treadplates, rifled exhaust tips, dark tint LED headlamps, and dark tint rear LED light clusters. The gorgeously finished interior is available in a choice of 24 hide colors and has Speed-style seats with diamond quilting. A knurled sports gear lever and drilled alloy sports pedals are also fitted. In front, the seats have 14-way power adjustment while the back has eight-way power adjustment - there's seat heating both front and rear. A camera system, blind-spot monitor, four-zone climate control, a 14-speaker audio system, and an eight-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system are all standard. Seat massaging and ventilation are on the options list along with a rear-seat entertainment system.
6.8-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Flex-fuel (FFV)
A raft of packages and individual options are available if money is no object. Starting with the packages, the Comfort Specification costs $5,155 and adds ventilated and massaging seats, rear passenger footrests, adjustable rear head restraints, and two loose cushions. Moving up a notch is the Speed Premier Specification for $7,130 - it includes 21-inch Mulsanne Speed wheels in a dark tint or polished finish, the Flying 'B' radiator mascot, and a veneered media drawer. The Entertainment Specification goes for a jaw-dropping $21,055 and packs in the Naim for Bentley audio system, twin 10.4-inch electrically deployable tablets for the back seats, and classy veneered picnic tables.
After that, the sky is the limit. If for any reason you're intending on taking your Mulsanne Speed to the track, you could specify carbon ceramic brakes for $18,385. The Flying 'B' radiator mascot is iconic, so you may want to tick that box at a cost of $3,535. Other standalone options include an LED approach lamp by Mulliner ($1,620), ventilated seats with massage ($3,785), a refrigerated bottle cooler with frosted glass and bespoke tumblers by Mulliner ($11,080), adaptive cruise control ($4,130), and black curtains with power side blinds ($7,360). If it isn't on the options list, Bentley will likely make a plan for you.
As there's just one Mulsanne Speed to choose from, your choice of model depends on how deeply you dig into the vast options list. Assuming that cost is a secondary concern, we'd spec our Mulsanne Speed with the Entertainment, Comfort and Premier Specifications. Our other favorite upgrades are the ventilated seats with message and the adaptive cruise control. Being a top-line Bentley, we'd also add on a few feel-good items we want but don't necessarily need, so we'd also go with the refrigerated bottle cooler with champagne flutes, because clearly, there'd be plenty to celebrate. The total? Around $390,000.
As special as the Bentley Mulsanne is, the Rolls-Royce Phantom is perhaps even more revered as the ultimate in sophisticated, excessive luxury motoring. In standard wheelbase form, the Phantom is over $100,000 more expensive than the Mulsanne Speed. It boasts a 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12 with 563 horsepower that whisks the Phantom down the road with utter poise and serenity. The exquisite cabin is even more remarkable than the Bentley's in some ways - for example, the starlight headliner is a typically Rolls touch that you won't find on any other car. There are also those unique rear-hinged coach doors that make exiting a Rolls a decidedly grand affair. Dynamically, the Mulsanne Speed is the more agile and involving car to drive, but the Phantom smothers imperfections and any hint of noise like nothing else. They're both the best of their breed, but choose the Rolls-Royce if you'll be doing less of the driving yourself.
For half the price of the Mulsanne Speed, you could drive away in a Mercedes-Maybach, itself a brilliant ultra-luxury sedan. The S 650 uses a 621-horsepower twin-turbo V12 and will haul the Maybach to 60 mph in even less time than the Mulsanne Speed. The Maybach benefits from Mercedes' many driver aids and, generally, is more advanced in terms of technology - dual screens dominate the expansive dashboard. You'll also find comparable refinement and comfort in the Maybach out on the open road. What you can't ignore is the Mulsanne Speed's charm and exclusivity, and here it leaves the Maybach for dead. After all, the German is still fundamentally an S-Class, just an even more opulent version of that car. A few styling tweaks can't conceal the resemblance, and these are the factors that come into play when shopping around for a sedan like this. The charming and achingly desirable Mulsanne Speed is the one we'd have.