When the Bentley Mulsanne ends production in late April, passing the position of Bentley flagship to the all-new Flying Spur, a decade as the pinnacle luxury sedan in the world will draw to a close.
Development work on the Mulsanne began in 2005, with the first design concepts put to paper in the Bentley Design studio. The car was to be all-new from the wheels up – an exterior design crafted by hand in Bentley’s own body shop, a new development of the iconic twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V8 engine, all new electrical architecture and an entirely new chassis, housed in a modern design inside and out, inspired by the great Bentleys of the past. Under the positioning statement of ‘The Grand Bentley’ – but referred to internally as Project Kimberley – the Mulsanne launched in 2009. The Mulsanne’s global debut was at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance that year, revealing the redefinition of the luxury Grand Touring sedan.
A sweeping, muscular design was sculpted in a steel monocoque and aluminium doors, fenders and bonnet. The car’s elegant form was created using an advanced process known as Superforming, in which aluminium panels are heated to 500°C and then forced into shape using air pressure.
Developing 512 PS (505 bhp) and 1,020 Nm (752 lb.ft) of torque, the 6.75-litre V8 engine delivered a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 secs (0-100 km/h in 5.3 secs) and a top speed of 184 mph (296 km/h). For the first time, the engine included cam phasing, cylinder deactivation and a torque curve that peaked from 1,750 rpm – only just above the idle speed of most modern automotive engines. Every major component - from the forged crankshaft to the pistons to the connecting rods - was redesigned to be lighter and stronger, reducing internal loads and friction for even better engine response.
Offered in over 100 paint colours, and with 24 hide colours and nine veneer species to choose from, the new Mulsanne gave the customer a level of choice previously unheard of in the automotive sector.
The Mulsanne is handcrafted from the ground up in Crewe, with its over 400-hour production journey beginning in the Body in White workshop. Working by hand and by eye, master metal workers expertly complete 5,800 individual welds.
Where the roof flows into the rear haunch through the deep D-pillar, a dedicated team brazes the joint by hand until it is totally imperceptible. It takes a human touch to achieve, and once painted is completely invisible to the eye – looking and feeling as though it were hewn from a solid piece of metal.
The sculpted nature of the Mulsanne’s body means that the paint must be applied in different depths to appear even, which is why each one is hand-sprayed. After lacquering, each car is fine-sanded before being polished with lamb's wool for 12 hours to achieve an appearance so reflective it's termed the ‘Bentley Mirror Finish’ – and is the industry benchmark. This was complemented by solid stainless steel brightware, polished by hand to a flawless finish and unique in the automotive industry.
Opening the door of the Bentley flagship reveals a foundation of solid walnut, cherry or oak visibly running through the door waistrails and overlaid with a choice of different veneers. The final selection process occurs at Crewe, where the veneer is chosen by the craftsperson who will ultimately bring it to life. Only the most highly ‘figured’ sections – parts with naturally decorative marks – are chosen, before being mirror matched and applied to the solid wood substrate.
Of the 400 hours it takes to build a Mulsanne, around 150 are dedicated to creating the sumptuous leather interior – before additional options are considered - stitched, shaped and finished entirely by hand. The contrast stitching alone takes 37 hours to complete
2012 – Mulliner Driving Specifcation
Following a successful media launch in Scotland before two strong years of sales, the first upgrades for the Mulsanne were launched in 2012. Bentley unveiled a highly distinctive and sporting interpretation of the Mulsanne at the Geneva Show in 2012, with the new Mulsanne Mulliner Driving Specification. A range of striking design features including unique 21-inch alloy wheels, Bentley Flying ‘B’ wing vents and a diamond-quilted leather trimmed cabin were matched with new driver-selectable, sports-tuned suspension and steering, underscoring the performance credentials of the Mulsanne. At the same time, Bentley also announced the introduction of two new options for the Mulsanne range: a large tilt-opening, tinted glass sunroof and an exquisitely designed, electrically operated bottle cooler complete with hand-blown and hand-cut lead crystal champagne flutes.
2014 – Grand Convertible Concept – The World’s Most Elegant Convertible
The ultimate expression of British automotive luxury was imagined with the Bentley Grand Convertible, the most sophisticated open-top concept yet created by Bentley. Iconic yet understated in style and fashioned entirely by hand from the very finest materials, this unrivalled flagship of luxury represents the ultimate in powerful, sensuous roofless motoring. The rear tonneau itself provided the most significant example of Bentley craftsmanship at its finest. Replete with book-matched, mirror-finished and dark-stained Burr Walnut, the tonneau featured the largest piece of wood veneer ever applied to a Bentley. While the Grand Convertible only ever appeared as a concept, the lessons learned in crafting it continued to influence the development of the Mulsanne family.
2015 – The World’s Fastest Ultra-Luxury Driving Experience
2015 saw Bentley bring the fastest ultra-luxury driving experience to life, with the launch of the new Mulsanne Speed. An uprated engine delivered 537 PS (530 bhp / 395 kW) and 1,100 Nm (811 lb.ft), along with selectable driver-focused sports suspension and steering.
The reengineered powertrain, still featuring Bentley’s mighty 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8, propelled the Mulsanne Speed to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds (0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds) and on to a top speed of 190 mph (305 km/h). In modern Bentley tradition, the extra performance was matched by markedly improved efficiency; a 13% gain meant a range extended by 50 miles (80 km) to 368 miles (593 km).
New and contemporary styling features defined the Mulsanne Speed as a statement in quintessential British luxury. On-board technology and connectivity were discreetly integrated beneath the finest materials, created with unrivalled craftsmanship and exquisite handcrafted details. A dark tint finish was applied to the exterior stainless steel matrix grilles, in a process unique in the automotive industry, with the radiator grille, lower bumper grilles and wing vents all featuring this exquisite treatment that was matched by dark tint headlights and taillights.
The Mulsanne Speed also introduced Bentley’s first ever directional style wheel, with a design handed for the right or left side of the car. The 21" wheels, available in painted, polished and dark tint with machined accent finishes, were individually machined from solid forged blanks, before being perfected by hand.
2016 – The Mulsanne Grand Limousine by Mulliner
Designed and built by hand for a private customer, the Mulsanne Grand Limousine by Mulliner is a rare example of a modern coachbuilt car. Its creation involved extending the wheelbase and body of the Mulsanne by 1,000 mm, as well as adding 79 mm in headroom in the rear, to create a passenger experience like no other. Unlike traditional ‘stretched’ limousines, the additions had been carefully designed to preserve the Mulsanne’s effortless lines and aesthetic purity. The result was the longest manufacturer-built limousine in the world, its shape adapted beautifully to the length of its wheelbase.
The Mulsanne Grand Limousine was designed around the need for four seats of equal comfort. Their arrangement, inspired by luxury private aviation, features two opposing pairs of seats in the rear cabin, allowing passengers to talk face-to-face.
A custom heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system was designed and built by Bentley Mulliner, specifically for the Mulsanne Grand Limousine. With two discrete zones, it enabled each rear passenger to adjust the settings to their personal requirements.
There were many more bespoke digital features, including handcrafted docking stations for charging Apple iPads and an intercom system for communication with the driver. The interior division between the front seats and the rear featured electrochromic ‘smart glass’, the first time this technology had been implemented in a Bentley. At the touch of a button, the entire panel could be switched from transparent to opaque, for complete privacy.
2016 – A New Mulsanne and The Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase
An all-new Mulsanne family was debuted at Geneva in 2016. For the first time, the Mulsanne family now comprised of three distinct models, all with their own unique abilities and attributes. The Mulsanne, Mulsanne Speed and Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase all shared Bentley’s unrivalled levels of attention to detail and craftsmanship, while at the same time catering for the needs of individual customers.
The new Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase was developed with the rear-seat passenger in mind. An additional 250 mm of rear legroom, airline-style extending leg-rests and a rear compartment sunroof combine to create the most relaxing automotive environment in the world.
A suite of elegantly executed styling revisions marked the new Mulsanne out from its predecessor. The entire front-end style of the car (forward of the A pillar) was completely redesigned. The fenders, bonnet, radiator shell, grilles, lights – and bumpers fore and aft – were all updated, giving the car a more modern and integrated appearance. The new, imposing front end was defined by a large stainless steel vertical-vane grille, 80 mm wider than before, that celebrated the great models of the past, such as the 8 Litre of 1930, Embiricos and R-Type Continental. Through these vertical vanes the Bentley matrix grille is visible. All-new headlamps automatically adjusted their beam pattern between four distinct modes, depending on driving conditions.
On the inside, the new Mulsanne also boasted redesigned seats, new door trims and armrests, and unique glass switchgear. The new Mulsanne featured a completely new infotainment system, boasting class-leading navigation technology. It also featured a selection of on-board infotainment systems that raised the bar for audio and visual entertainment on the move.
Rear-seat passengers benefitted from the introduction of the Bentley Entertainment Tablet – a pair of 10.2” Android devices (with 4G, WiFi and Bluetooth) seamlessly integrated into the backs of the front seats. With typically exquisite attention to detail, a single touch of a button engaged a beautifully weighted mechanism, smoothly deploying the screens from their stowed positions. Internet browsing is via the car’s 4G WiFi system, permitting access to internet radio and local or streamed video.
The Mulsanne’s prodigious power and torque were complemented by all-new chassis hardware including active engine mounts and suspension bushes. To further enhance the trademark hushed ride, Bentley integrated the latest noise absorption technology into the Mulsanne’s tyres. This advanced foam architecture reduces interior cabin noise by up to 4 dBA and provides an unmatched level of ride refinement.
2019 - The Mulsanne W.O. Edition – a Centenary Celebration
The Mulsanne W.O. Edition by Mulliner paid homage to the founding father of the company and incorporates a genuine piece of Bentley history in every car. Inside each of the 100 limited edition Mulsannes, a slice of the original crankshaft taken from W.O. Bentley’s personal 8 Litre car decades ago – the last model he designed for Bentley Motors back in 1930 – is displayed.
The Mulsanne W.O. Edition could be specified in any of the three-model Mulsanne range, based on customer preference. Key features included an interior cut from Heritage Hide reflecting the patina of vintage cars, elegant Beluga black wheels, and a stunning cocktail cabinet or bottle cooler featuring a slice of W.O.’s own 8 Litre crankshaft set into the armrest.
All were quickly sold.
2020 - Mulsanne 6.75 Edition – A Fitting Tribute
The exquisite Mulsanne 6.75 Edition by Mulliner, restricted to just 30 unique examples, represents a fitting send-off for this masterpiece of British automotive engineering and craftsmanship. The car is inspired by – and takes its name from - the legendary 6¾-litre engine, which this year celebrates its 60th year in continuous production.
Subtle references to the 6¾-litre V8 are evident across the car, including ‘organ stop’ ventilation controls being capped by a miniature version of the engine oil cap. A unique 6.75 Edition motif is stitched into the seats, and recreated in chrome badging for the exterior and the engine bay. The same logo is projected by the LED Welcome Lamps. The faces of the clock and minor gauges will feature schematic cutaway drawings of the engine itself.