How Mulsanne Speed became a Bentley for the big occasion
The Bentley Mulsanne Speed
It is only natural to expect awe-filled comments about the prowess and panache of the latest Bentley Mulsanne Speed.
Yet this wasn't that sort of test drive. It was more a sampling of potential and enjoying the luxury that coincides with the expectations of those willing to pay so much for the privilege.
The Speed is, no matter what way you look at it, an 'ultra' luxury saloon with some extraordinary figures behind it. You wouldn't have to be told it can do 100kmh in 4.8 seconds from a standing start if you were beside me in this giant of a car.
Nor would you be surprised to hear the 530bhp 6,752cc V8 petrol can push this giant to an outrageously illegal top speed of 305kmh, should you risk incarceration in attempting to verify it.
And then there is the one truly awesome figure: a compelling 811 lb-ft/1100Nm of torque (pulling power) at 1,750rpm.
It was just outrageously muscular but - here's the secret - was so quiet about it. The front gives the game away, though. It's where you get a clue about what lies beneath - especially in the Ghost White pearlescence of my test car. It's really 'coming at you'.
But the thing you don't notice at tick-along speeds is the power, because this wasn't even cruising on its 21ins Speed alloys at motorway limits. Yet, when awoken and prodded, the acceleration was remarkable for such a large car.
The cabin is an interesting blend of understated opulence and obvious space; hand-stitched upholstery, champagne glasses in their special slot in the back of the middle row (more anon), brunel hide, piano black veneer. The entertainment package alone costs £21,565 and includes iPad picnic tables, an embracing audio system, rear-seat entertainment, wifi hotspot, universal plug-in and play media player. We also enjoyed the Speed Premier pack (£10,190) because it included ventilated seats and massage. And, as a driver, I loved the side view camera (£920), always a help in negotiating tight space with a big car.
There was also a TV tuner, DAB radio, adaptive cruise control, etc but we barely noticed the deep-pile Wilton carpet mats (£1,085) such was the level of luxury overall.
Of course it all costs - a lot. The car on test starts at stg£252,000. Options came to stg£62,820; total cost: €314,820. As a rule of thumb you can nearly double the sterling price for down here when exchange rate, VRT, VAT, etc are taken into account. Emissions of 342g/km mean road tax is €2,350 a year.
There is a 'non-Speed' Mulsanne too which starts at €269,950. However, you still have to add VRT at the highest 36pc rate and VAT - and allow for the exchange rate.
For all its wonders I had a couple of criticisms. The auto gearbox was grand but it took me a long time to be happy with finding Reverse. It was far too easy to slip into Park or Drive. And I asked myself if the excellent Flying Spur wouldn't be a far less expensive option, though it has to be pointed out that the Speed is the flagship.
As well as that, believe it or not for such a large car, I tested the lower lumbars with by having to crouch a fair bit to get into the back.
Others had no such problem. Especially the ladies. You see, I was to be 'chauffeur' for a special 'hen party' occasion for a dear friend of my daughter's. And that's when the Mulsanne lit up the evening for us. We won't forget that raucously joyful journey to town for a while.
You should have seen our friend's face when I pulled up to collect her - in the Speed instead of the expected taxi. It was speechless surprise. She and her joyful entourage leapt aboard, the champagne glasses came out, the bubbles were poured and the celebrations, like the Speed, seamlessly went up several gears. We drew our share of stares.
The Speed certainly spun its charm. It will go down in our history as the 'half-million euro' car that whisked some of the funniest/happiest girls on the planet to their special night out.
Which is fitting, really, because it is that sort of car: memorable, powerful, fast and fun.