When the announcement came down that Bentley was dropping their flagship Arnage sedan, the future of the segment was uncertain, but a new model has been unveiled to replace it. That replacement, the 2011 Mulsanne, adopts the name of a luxury sedan from the company which was produced between 1980 and 1992, but the 2011 model is all new.
The name Mulsanne is a throwback to Bentley’s racing days. In the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, there is a straightaway named the Mulsanne Straight which is where most cars achieve their highest speeds. With a name like that, the Mulsanne needs a powerful engine, and it got one: a 6.75-liter V8. The old Mulsanne also had a V8 of the same size, but the extra 20 years of engineering knowledge puts this new V8 on a level of its own. Affixed with twin turbochargers, the new V8 pumps out 505 horsepower and a near-ridiculous 752 lb-ft of torque. This power is funneled to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
In order to provide a framework that can handle such power, Bentley has opted to use a modified version of the chassis for the upcoming Audi A8 (Volkswagen, which owns Audi, bought Bentley and its sister brand Rolls-Royce in 1998). A mixture of high-strength steel and lightweight aluminum, this chassis design allows for a sweeping wheelbase and minimal torsional twisting. Match those characteristics to a sporty suspension, and you wind up with a long luxury car that can really carve up the corners.
But, let’s be realistic; Bentley’s aren’t made for fun cruises on twisty mountain roads. They’re made for luxury and style. As for style, the Mulsanne looks a bit mundane, almost deceptively so. Its blunt front end and the gradual curve of the sidelines make the car look traditional, but the elements above that arcing sideline, namely the hood and roof, incorporate more complex geometry that adds a bit of depth to an otherwise classic (and boring) design.
On the inside, you get exactly what you’d expect from a Bentley: luxury, and lots of it. There’s copious amounts of leather, chrome and other expensive materials. The effect is not overdone, however, and the Mulsanne manages that fine balance between opulence and comfortable practicality.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Mulsanne, though, is its historical context. In its 90 years of existence, the 2011 Mulsanne will be the first car entirely designed and manufactured at Bentley’s complex in Crewe, England. Also, it will be the first Bentley since the 1930s that doesn’t share component architecture with a Rolls-Royce model (at least not yet). However, that will mainly be a selling point only for die-hard (and very rich) Bentley enthusiasts. In fact, the nature of the car is best summed up by one small factoid: Bentley has completed all production design on the car and it could technically go on sale tomorrow, but they’re waiting until mid-2010 to launch the model to try to avoid the effects of the economic recession on luxury brand buyers. And considering the car’s $300,000 price tag, you can’t really blame them.