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  3. Goodbye, Bentley Mulsanne: One Final Drive

We take Bentley’s flagship for one last tour—and discover a whole new side.

BEVERLY HILLS, California—Welcome to a story that turned out nothing like I had planned.

The premise was simple: A final tour of The Finer Things in the Mulsanne, Bentley’s discontinued-for-2020 flagship. My wife Robin and I would cruise through Beverly Hills, have an agreeable dinner on the Pacific coast, and spend the night at the Hotel Bel Air, a rarified enclave where the rich-and-famous go to hide. I’d wax lyrical about old-school luxury, then we’d wolf down an overpriced breakfast and skulk home to the blue-collar reality of the San Fernando Valley—an easy-to-execute story about old-school luxury in a car few gearheads will miss.

It didn’t go down like that.

Actually, it did, all except the agreeable dinner and the part about not missing the Mulsanne. Turns out this gearhead is really going to miss it. Dated though it may be, the Bentley Mulsanne is an utterly magnificent car in ways I never imagined. I’m a fool for taking ten years to figure that out.

The 2020 Bentley Mulsanne Isn’t What I Thought It Was

The epiphany happened on the way back from dinner as we cruised the curvy section of Sunset Boulevard. The story was about done; Robin and I had spent the day wafting about Los Angeles’ ritziest zip codes, enjoying the softness and the silence of the Mulsanne. We’d been briefed by hotel staff on why celebs spend mega-bucks to hide away at the Hotel Bel Air, then spent a lazy afternoon between the hotel’s gardens and our room while Renz, our intrepid photographer, snapped away at the Mulsanne’s details.

But now, here, late in the evening on the mostly deserted boulevard, the Bentley was revealing a different side of its personality. Robin even noticed it from the passenger seat: Poise. Grip. Aggression. I started incrementally cranking up my speed and the Mulsanne was eager to attack the turns.

This was not a welcome development, because it jammed a wedge into my narrative. My luxury-themed premise wasn’t wrong; I stand convinced the Mulsanne is the finest thing on wheels. It’s old money vs. new, Hotel Bel Air vs. the Beverly Hills Hotel. These two hotels have the same owner, but as Alexa McMahon, Hotel Bel Air’s guest relations manager, explained to me, “The Beverly Hills Hotel is where stars go when they want to be seen. Hotel Bel Air is where they come when they don’t want to be seen.”

It’s like that with the Mulsanne. You buy a Continental GT or a Bentayga because you want the world to know you have a Bentley. You buy a Mulsanne when you’re too rich to care what anyone thinks.

2020 Mulsanne: The Last All-Bentley Bentley?

One could argue that the Mulsanne is the last pure Bentley; in fact, it’s one of the only pure Bentleys. Introduced as a 2011 model, the Mulsanne was the third car to be released after VW Group’s 1998 purchase of the brand. But while the watershed Continental GT of 2003 and the follow-on Continental Flying Spur shared a platform with the VW Phaeton and Audi A8, the Mulsanne didn’t. Nor did it share bones with any Rolls-Royce product, as Bentley cars had been doing since the 1930s. Sure, there’s some behind-the-scenes VW-Audi content, but for the most part, the Mulsanne was the first all-Bentley Bentley since the 1931 8-Litre. It may well be the last.

The Mulsanne’s arrival convinced me I had chosen the right premise for this story. Luxury cars are all about presence, and nothing presents like a Mulsanne—something you cannot appreciate until you have all 18-plus feet and three tons of it sitting in front of you. Huge 21-inch wheels mask its true size, but the Mulsanne casts a noon-time shadow nearly as big as the new Suburban. The hood—sorry, bonnet—looks long enough to bridge the Atlantic.

Inside, the Mulsanne is nine kinds of lovely. You’ll catch just a whiff of its age in some of the fixtures, like the small infotainment touch-screen, the jumble of large-print buttons, and the lack of a charging pad. But you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the finery: Hand-stitched leather, hand-finished wood, and real metal everywhere. Sure, you can look at the stereo controls and think, “Well, that’s a bit dated.” But then you turn the dials, and they move with the precision of a McIntosh amplifier. Some things transcend time.

One of those things is the engine. The famed “6¾ Litre” V-8 is the last of the L-Series engines that Bentley and Rolls-Royce first employed in 1959, and it is—I suppose I should get used to writing was—hand-built at the Crewe factory. In its latest and last iteration, the 6.75 boasts variable valve timing and two turbochargers. Installed in the Mulsanne Speed, it delivers 530 horsepower and a staggering eight hundred eleven lb-ft of torque. That’s 155 lb-ft more than a supercharged Challenger Hellcat.

True, the engine has only two valves per cylinder, a single cam in the block, and it doesn’t rev past 4,500 rpm—but it doesn’t need to. On paper, torque peaks at a mere 1,750 rpm; in reality, once the tach swings (backwards) past 1,500, you have all the thrust you’ll ever want. The 6.75 will pull smoothly and evenly right to redline, with a muted roar unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

Driving the 2020 Bentley Mulsanne Among the Beautiful People

Robin, the Bentley and I rolled into the shopping district of Beverly Hills, where BMWs might as well be Chevrolets and brightly-painted Lamborghinis, Bentleys, and Rolls-Royces are common sights. They draw all the eyeballs you’d expect, but the Mulsanne flies under the radar. People look, they know it’s a Bentley (can you mistake those big headlights or the “B” pattern taillights?), but they don’t seem to know which Bentley. I glance at the tourists lined up at the Gucci store to buy $400 wallets and wonder—would they be surprised to learn this understated sedan costs twice as much as a Bentayga? But the answer, I know, is irrelevant: Unlike the other high-dollar motors trolling Rodeo Drive, the owner of a Mulsanne doesn’t need you to know how much they paid.

But I know how much they paid—$338,325 base and just shy of $370,000 for the Mulsanne as you see it here—and it puts things in perspective. I see a Mercedes-Maybach S650, resplendent in $12,000 Obsidian Black paint, and as the driver gazes back I realize: He has that because he can’t afford one of these. For the price of this Mulsanne, you could buy a twelve-cylinder BMW M760i with every conceivable option, and get back enough change for a nicely-equipped Aston-Martin Vantage Roadster. I don’t want to use the phrase “eff you money”, because I’m looking to emphasize the dignity of my subject, but if the Louboutin fits…

For the first time in my twenty-three years as an Angeleno, I feel not a twinge of self-consciousness as we wheel through the gates of Bel Air. Created in 1922, and technically part of the City of Los Angeles, Bel Air is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the country, with housing prices seven and a half times the national average. It’s home to the Chartwell Estate, which was on track to become the most expensive home in the United States with a $350 million asking price. (It was eventually dropped to $195 million and sold for a mere one-fifty.) The lack of sidewalks in Bel Air reminds us that casual visitors are not welcome.

Mulsanne in Bel Air: Leaving Reality Behind

The Hotel Bel Air first opened in 1946 as an enclave-within-an-enclave, and its pink stucco façade has been greeting royalty—primarily of the Hollywood type—ever since. Behind the valet portico, guests cross a covered bridge over a small swan lake (yes, it’s populated by swans) and from there, the Bel Air’s shaded gardens and Spanish Colonial architecture isolate them from the outside world.

Everything I see reminds me of the Mulsanne: Pedigree-grade luxury with an overlay of modernity. Bentleys are best bought bespoke, and likewise the Hotel Bel Air largely serves a known clientele, people who need only call and give their name. The Hotel Bel Air staff knows them, knows their favorite room and how it should be set up. Only a handful of guests are people like Robin and me, tourists in a lifestyle they can never afford. Two nights in our king-with-a-patio room, plus breakfast and taxes, costs more than my monthly Los Angeles rent. Robin and I are guests of the hotel, but most of the other bourgeois who make this pilgrimage have saved up for a once-in-a-lifetime stay, and the Hotel Bel Air staff, like the Mulsanne, makes them feel like they belong. Cross the bridge and real life takes a hiatus, your worries banished outside pink walls guarded by swans.

Robin and I stroll the grounds and enjoy the gardens before heading off to dinner, a brief real-life foray at an oceanside restaurant that once again proves true the old adage that a good view goes hand-in-hand with bad food. We skip dessert and come outside to find the Bentley parked right at the door—not because of its pedigree, but because the valet has been unable to find a spot where it will fit.

We take a moonlit cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway, opening the windows and letting the sea air seep into the Bentley’s rarefied interior. We turn inland on Sunset Boulevard, headed for the hotel, and it is here that my narrative goes off the rails as I discover that my luxury yacht is actually a speedboat.

I realize now I must hustle through the rest of our story: Ice cream on the patio, comfy night, and a simple egg-and-bacon breakfast that blows our mediocre sea-side dinner right into the Pacific. (There is no star-spotting, because the elite eat in their rooms.) My time in the Mulsanne is limited, and now I have another drive to take, one that doesn’t fit anywhere into my story: A run through my favorite canyon curves. I drop Robin off at home (she gets car-sick—a fine situation for an autojourno’s spouse, no?) and make a beeline for Malibu.

The 2020 Bentley Mulsanne is So Much More Than a Luxury Car

The Mulsanne is incredible, and I say that in the sense that it really does defy belief. How can a car be so posh—so comfy, so soft, and so quiet that you can enjoy the shhhhhk of the leather steering wheel sliding through your fingers—and yet so good in the curves? Air springs, in and of themselves, are good, but not this good. The Mulsanne has a rare characteristic: It feels like it belongs in the curves. It likes being thrown around. I’ve yet to meet a non-AMG Mercedes that feels so happy out here, and compared to the Mulsanne, the Rolls-Royce Ghost—allegedly the driver’s Roller sedan—feels like a hippo dancing ballet. The spirit of W. O. Bentley is alive and well in this car. And to think I nearly missed it, all so I could write a story about a trip to a nice hotel!

And so the 2020 Mulsanne is gone with no successor. In its place is the Bentley Flying Spur W12, a car that is more modern, more sensible, and no less captivating. Trimmer, cleaner, and smarter than the Mulsanne, it’s everything a modern Bentley ought to be, and as a fan of the brand, I don’t say that lightly. I’m no longer at the Hotel Bel Air, so I must face reality: It was time for the Mulsanne to go, and it couldn’t leave without wrecking one last story idea.

There may never be another car—let alone another Bentley—like the Mulsanne, and I miss it already.

2020 Bentley Mulsanne Speed Pros

  • As luxurious as anyone can possibly stand…
  • But also really, really rewarding to drive in the curves
  • Cars don’t get much more exclusive than this

2020 Bentley Mulsanne Speed Cons

  • Astronomical price
  • Your window to buy a new one is about to close
2020 Bentley Mulsanne Speed specs
ON SALE Now (but not for much longer!)
PRICE $338,325/$368,865 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 6.8 liter twin-turbo OHV 16-valve V-8/530 hp @ 4,200 rpm, 811 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 10/16 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H 219.5 x 75.8 x 59.9 in
WHEELBASE 128.6 in
WEIGHT 6,041 lb
0-60 MPH 5.0 sec
TOP SPEED 190 mph

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