Bentley has a brand-new crown jewel coming soon to dealerships as a 2017 model, and it will debut next week at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. An Extended Wheelbase version joins the base Mulsanne and the Speed, pushing the lineup to three for the first time.
Although Bentley officials take pride in the fact they are the largest producer of 12-cylinder engines in the world, the Mulsanne continues to soldier forth with the long-serving 6.75-liter V8. While this L-Series engine traces its roots all the way back to 1959, as evidenced by its cam-in-block overhead-valve design, it's been fully modernized with electronic controls and twin turbochargers. The result is 505 horsepower and 752 pound-feet of torque (or 530 hp and 811 lb-ft in the Speed), routed through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels.
This is the same engine that has powered flagship Bentleys since 2010, and it's effortlessly capable of pushing the Mulsanne from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds and all the way up to a top speed of 184 miles per hour. The upgraded Mulsanne Speed improves those figures to 4.8 seconds and 190 mph. That's plenty of performance for this kind of vehicle, weighing as it does nearly 6,000 pounds. With that kind of power and heft, a solid chassis is a must. Active engine mounts join new suspension bushings for 2017, and the air suspension system has been updated. Continuous Damping Control and a Drive Dynamics Control System with three factory and one custom setting are standard. Also new are tires codeveloped with Dunlop that have foam-filled cavities to reduce interior cabin noise.
Where the styling of the outgoing Mulsanne is smooth and stately, the new one is more angular and modern. At the front, the traditional upright grille remains, but it's over three inches wider than before, and is slatted with vertical vanes in polished stainless steel that are meant to recall Bentley classics from the 1930s. On either side of the imposing grille are two round headlights, which are placed on the same horizontal axis in an effort to eliminate the droopiness seen in the current Mulsanne. All four headlights are full LED units, with adaptive beams and independent washers. Lower grilles are outlined in chrome, and these join B-shaped vents embedded in either fender. The rear taillights are nicely detailed with light bars in a sort of open-B shape.
The Mulsanne's massive bodysides are as smooth as can be. This is completely by design. In fact, Wolfgang Dürheimer, Bentley chairman and CEO, points to this fluidity as a hallmark of Bentley's hand craftsmanship. "It always gives me great pleasure to look at the C-pillar of a Mulsanne, when you can't see where the seam is," he told us. The seam he refers to runs diagonally across the rearmost pillar of the sedan, and it exists because there's simply too much metal for a traditional single-piece stamping.
Looking at a Mulsanne, you wouldn't know such seams exist, and that's the point. The entire process of finishing the bodywork is done by hand. First, the aforementioned seam is brazed with bronze, after which it's sanded down using a steel rasp, then progressively finer sandpaper. The entire process is done by hand in the very same way all cars were finished before robots started assembling them. It can take as many as 90 hours to smooth the bodywork of the entire car, getting the various aluminum and steel stampings perfectly aligned. The end result is a shell that looks like it's hewn from one solid piece of metal, when in reality, there are some 600 individual stampings making up the bodywork.
Inside, the 2017 Bentley Mulsanne carries on this theme of old-world craftsmanship with fully modern results. On average, it takes 17 bull hides to swath the seats, door panels and nearly everything else inside that's not chrome or wood. There's no plastic inside the Mulsanne's interior. In addition to 24 shades of leather, there are numerous stitching options, seatbelt and wool rug choices, all of it available in colors that either match or contrast.
Massive stretches of solid wood cover the dash and the tops of the doors, finished in one of 13 different veneers. Nine of those veneers are wood, sustainably sourced from all over the world. Other options include piano black paint over solid wood, engine-turned aluminum, or a small range of stone finishes that look to our eyes like they belong as backsplashes in a designer kitchen. To each their own, of course, but the point is that there's practically no end to the options a Mulsanne buyer can choose from to personalize his or her luxury saloon.
In 2016, Bentley's outdated infotainment system hid behind a wood-covered flap. That's gone for 2017, an eight-inch touchscreen taking its place, augmented with a 60-gigabyte solid-state disk for media storage. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be supported. If you don't want to leave messy fingerprints on the LCD, there are redundant controls below in the center stack. A 2,200-watt audio system featuring 18 speakers and 19 channels is said to be the most powerful OEM system in the world.
A pair of 10.2-inch Android-powered tablets retract into the front seatbacks for rear-seat passengers, and they can be removed from their mounts. These tablets are unique to Bentley, and while they have a custom user interface, they retain access to the Google Play App Store. Front-facing cameras mean you can make video calls from the back seat using the onboard 4G wireless... at least when you're not enjoying a glass of champagne from the optional fridge between the two rear perches, which comes complete with a set of three (none for the driver, natch) crystal flutes custom designed by David Redmond. Or you could pop some bottles, call your friends, and remind them of your supreme opulence.
While the Speed is a carryover nameplate from 2016, the new version gets all of the same upgrades as the Signature. For those keeping track of such things, those 811 torques are than any other factory-built luxury saloon on the market. It also gets a recalibrated transmission with an S Mode for holding gears and keeping the turbochargers spooled, and the suspension and steering are tuned for more feedback and control.
The Extended Wheelbase is exactly that, with nearly 10 extra inches added to the rear passenger compartment. That's the Mulsanne designed for passengers, not drivers, and you can read more about this brand-new model right here.
Pricing has not yet been announced, but we'd expect it to stay a little north of $300,000. We've always enjoyed spending time in the Mulsanne, and the updates for the 2017 model year make the latest model Bentley's best yet. It's certainly a proper flagship, and we can't wait for an equally proper spin behind the wheel.