Extended Wheelbase costs from £275,000 before options; dual tone paint is £14,000

Extended Wheelbase costs from £275,000 before options; 'dual tone' paint is £14,000

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If luxury is increasingly defined by levels of tranquillity, lounging space and a feeling of being in control, then Bentley surely has a bright future. The Mulsanne, its oldest model, is also at the top of the tree when it comes to pricing. And for those who wish to indulge themselves with the biggest, most expensive definition of rolling luxury, there is the 5.8m long Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase.

Bentley would probably say that its XXL-sized limousine has no true competitors. The Rolls-Royce Phantom and Mercedes-Maybach S-Class/Pullman will likely be considered by anyone who wants a Mulsanne EW though. In truth, the Bentley is for a different kind of customer. The Volkswagen-owned company takes a great amount of pride in its motor racing heritage and tends to engineer its vehicles for those who like the dynamics to be on the sharper side. The extended Mulsanne seems on the face of it to be incompatible with that philosophy. It isn't though. Yes, the car's strongpoint is to be a super-luxury cocoon from the outside world. It succeeds at this, with levels of silence which are extraordinary. The chauffeur too will be enjoying this car but for a variety of different reasons.

Nothing about any Mulsanne is ordinary. It's impossible to lock it and walk away without stealing even the briefest of over the shoulder glances. One of very few downsides to ownership would be the constant attention. People recognise the B on the boot and atop the grille surround and want to ask you the price and what it's like to drive. And then usually the size of the engine, followed by a smile and "I bet it's not cheap to run". Well yes, there is that. Filling the 80 litre tank is something you'll be doing fairly often if the car is driven shall we say, 'enthusiastically'. But will Bentley owners do that? And more importantly, the Mulsanne EW is more than likely to be refilled by a driver who isn't necessarily the owner.

Aside from the 18.8mpg Combined average, most of this car's numbers are big. Kerb weight is 2,730kg (6,019 lb), CO2 is 342g/km, engine capacity is 6,752cc, power is 377kW (512PS) and torque is a truck-like 1,020Nm. This engine is of course Euro 6 compliant but its origins go back a long way, as pushrods rather than overhead camshafts show. That's another reason why maximum power is delivered at a relaxed 4,000rpm. This is the same basic engine as was fitted to the Arnage (Bentley still calls it a 6¾-litre V8) although it has been updated with cylinder deactivation.

Even with the throttle pushed hard against the firewall, there is no roar from the V8, some of which is due to the presence of two turbochargers. The way the eight-speed torque converter transmission has been tweaked to shift almost silently is equally masterful.

The first proper corner brings a surprise with it. That being a lack of nervousness and wobble. For such an enormous car, and one with so much thick glass and steel way above the waistline, its ability to stay fairly flat through even a sharpish bend seems miraculous. You have to remind yourself that the Mulsanne from which the Extended Wheelbase is derived, really is a nine-year old car, and also one which uses an architecture which debuted with the 1998 Arnage.

It is to Bentley engineers' credit that this beautiful behemoth somehow feels about half its size and weight. Much of the reason has to be the steering system, which is surprisingly free of play. It's a Servotronic set-up, ZF also supplying the transmission. The suspension comprises double wishbones at the front and a multi-link arrangement with self-levelling for the back end.

To truly appreciate how big this car is, note first that the EW's wheelbase is 3,516mm. Then compare that measurement to 3,395mm, which is the length of a Kei car, the biggest selling category of vehicle in Japan. At 6,499mm, a Maybach Pullman might be lengthier (and its wheelbase is 4,418mm) but just imagine having to park one.

The 5,825mm Mulsanne EW is just about OK on British roads, although the width can be an issue sometimes. And don't think about visiting the supermarket unless you want a lot of dirty looks for having occupied four spaces, two of which are necessary for the length and the others to prevent being doored. I left it until late one evening, honest.

Every trip, even one to buy groceries, is an event. That starts with the door, which, even though it is skinned in aluminium, has a satisfying heaviness to it. The front wings and bonnet are also constructed from the same material. It is impossible to tell, no matter how hard you look, that the boot lid isn't metal, such is the quality of the paintwork. It's moulded from a composite (SMC). You can choose from 25 exterior colours as well as "almost 100 optional, bespoke" alternatives, to quote Bentley's official information.

The range of optional equipment is astounding, and the car as tested was priced at GBP356,040 thanks to additions which added up to GBP81,040. As well as the two-tone paint, there was 'hand cross stitching in Portland' (GBP3,615), 'Mulliner Driving Specification with painted wheel' (GBP13,925), 'Comfort Specification - Extended Wheelbase (GBP10,760), 'Bentley wing badge and chrome inlay strip to waist rails' (GBP2,205') and so on. Not forgetting a 'refrigered bottle cooler with frosted glass and bespoke crystal champagne flutes' (GBP8,225). The last of these is especially elegant, as it's hidden behind an armrest. Press a button and a glass door silently slides away to reveal three glasses as well as the mini-fridge.

Up front, the view out is imposing. No matter where you look, it's the softest leather and usually too, highly polished timber on seemingly almost every surface. The air vents are metal, not plastic, and the speedometer reads to 200mph with the needle swinging anti-clockwise. Top speed? That's claimed to be 184mph (296km/h) with Bentley quoting a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds. Due to how quiet the car is, it doesn't feel that rapid but given the available torque and power, it most likely is.

History, and the future

The standard length Mulsanne was first seen as a world premiere at Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August 2009. There were various minor changes to spec in the years which followed but it wasn't until the 2014 Paris motor show that another derivative, the Speed, was revealed. It has 1,100Nm of torque and 395kW (537PS) of power.

A facelifted range entered showrooms during the second half of 2016 after a public premiere at that year's Geneva motor show. In addition to the Mulsanne and Mulsanne Speed, this was when we first saw the Extended Wheelbase as well as the stretched Mulliner limousine. The last of these four is 79mm taller and a metre lengthier than the Mulsanne. There probably won't be any further changes to the range, as a successor model series is now only a year, possibly two, away.

The next Mulsanne will almost certainly share an architecture with the new Continental GT, so that means the Volkswagen Group's MSB as developed by Porsche with modifications by Bentley. This features much aluminium in its construction and also allows for electrification.

It's strange to think of any Bentley with a hybrid or PHEV powertrain yet if the marque is to remain successful, it must draw from the vast engineering resources available via its owner. Customers might not necessarily want a fully electric model (yet) but they do need to make sure that the statement being made in owning any Bentley isn't incompatible with environmental concerns. The new Bentayga Hybrid - which is actually a PHEV - attests to that.

It would be wonderful to think that Bentley will be able to keep hand-building its magnificent 16v 6.8-litre V8, each engine carrying a plaque which identifies the individual who made it. If not, then the Mulsanne will be remembered as the last model to be so powered. And if the next car is to be instead fitted with the W12 which Bentley Motors also makes at its Pyms Lane works in Crewe, then that's something to instead get excited about.