Test Drive: 2016 Bentley Mulsanne Speed

mj-618_348_test-drive-2016-bentley-mulsanne-speed
 Courtesy Bentley Motors

It’s a misty Sunday morning in Texas Hill Country, and Austin‘s damp, twisty roads are relatively empty — the perfect conditions to push the boundaries of the Bentley Mulsanne Speed for the day. Cresting a moderate climb in pavement, we stomp the brakes, and the hulking sedan comes to an impressively abrupt standstill.

“That’s a big bull.”

He’s a mere 10 feet from the driver’s side window, and he offers up a quizzical stare. We can’t help but think he’s wondering why Bentley opted to build a Speed version of their passenger-centric flagship coach. Until a few hours ago, we’d be right with him. Like its main competitor, the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Bentley’s Mulsanne walks a fine-line of drive-or-be-driven buyer positioning. Cozy up in its rear quarters, and the extravagance is boundless. This particular example is replete with an automated, frosted glass door which hides itself between the rear seats, revealing a refrigerated compartment specifically designed for clutching a bottle of bubbly and two flutes. The option’s $11,000 price tag is play-money when compared to the pair of $28,000 robotic iPad workstations that, at the press of a button, fluidly emerge from the front seatbacks. To be fair, they do come packaged with a wireless router and WiFi access. (The iPads, however, are on you.) Massage seats are clearly a no-brainer, and when compiled with the rest of the cabin’s opulence, beg the question: “Why would anyone ever want to drive this car?”

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The answer resides under the Speed’s elongated front bonnet: a reengineered version of Bentley’s 6.75-liter twin-turbo V-8, first made famous in an offering of the brand’s second generation Continental GT. On ignition, the engine barely pushes a burble through the exhaust, and is whisper-soft at idle — lest you forget the Mulsanne’s urbane roots. Its rating of 530 horsepower is adequate for a car this size, but in the grand scheme of things doesn’t invoke any “Keep Calm”-type quips. The torque, however, is what quickly gets this gentleman unhinged. Its 811 lb-ft hit low, hit hard, and rocket the Mulsanne Speed from 0- 60 mph in a venerable 4.8 seconds, up to 190 mph before topping out. Further complementing the behind-the-wheel experience is a drive mode selector, which Bentley has cheekily dubbed the “Charisma Wheel.” Up to the point of our run-in, we had spent the majority of time dialed in to its Sport setting, which seemed to tighten the steering and suspension in a manner that waxed on enjoyment with hardly a detectable wane in ride comfort.

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The bottom line: In less than a day, a car we admittedly first thought of as a bit absurd had earned our respect, and proved itself downright fun to drive. From the custom, darkened signature grille, to the model-specific directional wheels, this latest offering from Bentley is 5,977 pounds of do-whatever-the-hell-you-want. Just fair warning: It’s tough to do anything but stare.

[From $335,600; bentleymotors.com]