All luxury is not created equal.
You can spend $150,000 on a luxury car. It will be a top-of-the-line flagship stretched sedan from a reputable German company. It will have night vision and radar and massaging seats and footrests and, yes, a powerful engine. It will be all the car you could ever need and — in purely quantifiable terms — it will be as good as any car in the history of automobiles.
Why then, it’s only natural to wonder, would you choose to drop more than double that on a luxury car from Bentley?
The British company’s new flagship is called the Mulsanne Speed. “Speed” because it’s a faster than the “Signature” Mulsanne. Top speed is up to 305 km/h from a paltry 296, and the dash from 0-100 km/h happens 0.4 seconds faster. This is a high-performance limo, a car meant to be driven in, but also to drive.
Some facts: The steering wheel takes one person five hours to cover with leather. It takes 15 hides to upholster the cabin. The champagne flutes that accompany the in-built fridge were designed to fit neatly in the cup holders; they will not fit an XL soda cup, not that you’d ever try. The book-matched wood trim in each car comes from a single tree.
It’s a strange feeling at first: the serenity of speed.
We can confirm the leather is indeed exceptionally soft and well stitched.
Impressive as all this is, none of it adequately justifies a Bentley. At least not on paper. So, Bentley gave us the keys and a chauffeur in the hopes that we might discover the reason for ourselves.
They also gave us access to an empty airport deep in the heart of the Florida Everglades. The 3.2-kilometre long runway was built in 1968 as a hub for supersonic jet travel. The ’72 Oil Crisis put an end to that dream. But so large and powerful is the Mulsanne Speed that lining it up on the centerline of the runway feels somehow appropriate.
There’s no drama as the “six and three quarter litre” V8 engine propels the Mulsanne forward: 100 km/h comes up in 4.9 seconds, and we arrive at 160 km/h just six seconds later. Oddly, there’s no mighty shove, not even a sound. In fact, there’s hardly any wind noise until over 140, and then only a feint rumble from the engine.
As we streak down the runway, the lustrous paint on the front hood reflects the clouds so that they appear to be hanging upside down. It’s quite beautiful.
Typically, with speed comes drama — engine roar, g-forces, wind noise — but not so in the Mulsanne. It’s a strange feeling at first: the serenity of speed.
Departing the airport for Miami, we poured ourselves some champagne from the in-built cooler between the two rear seats, as our chauffeur whisked us back to the hotel.
The motorized tray-tables, with built-in iPad, fold away at the push of a button. The navigation screen disappears behind a solid hunk of wood. All pieces of technology can be removed from sight. What’s left is an atmosphere not unlike a cigar room. It is the polar opposite of the blinding technology inside that $150,000 German sedan.
For the first time, possibly ever, it’s relaxing to be stuck in rush hour. And that feeling doesn’t disappear if you’re the one doing the driving yourself (although, of course, the champagne necessarily must). You tend not to think about accelerating, braking, steering: it happens easily. The outside recedes; looking out the thick glass windows is like putting the world on mute. Calm takes over. Like a jet once it reaches cruising altitude, the Mulsanne is completely peaceful at speed.
And this, of course, is why you choose a Bentley.