NEW YORK—Normally, one of the best jobs in the world has to be Bentley's US president and COO. That is, unless you are Christophe Georges on a Thursday morning in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and your company's new car petulantly refuses to come off the car carrier.
Such was the case as Georges, who works out of Bentley's Boston office, stood before a gathering of automotive media to make the Northeast introduction of the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne, the latest entry to the ultra-high luxury segment that is populated solely by the likes of Rolls Royce and Maybach.
"The challenge for me is I was supposed to show you a new car," Georges said. "This is only the seventh car made. These things are going to happen."
Miscues aside, the Mulsanne is a fine compilation of craftsmanship. "This car is totally consistent with our values, Bentley's DNA," he said. "This is our interpretation of the best car in the world."
Coming off of sales of 10,000 worldwide in 2007, Georges said sales dropped to 7,609 in 2008, which has lead to belt tightening and 10 percent reductions in salary. Sales might hit the 5,000 mark by the end of 2009.
Approximately 700 models will be made annually. Pricing will be announced by mid-November, but Georges did say it would cost more than the Arnage, the model it replaces, that boasts a window sticker starting at $270,000. Orders will be taken once pricing is announced with delivery of the first models to the US expected in the third quarter of 2010.
Underneath the hood sits a 6.75-liter (or six and three-quarter liter, in Bentley speak) V-8 rated at 503 horsepower and an eye-popping 752 lb.-ft. of torque that reaches its peak at a low 1,800 rpm. The pushrod engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic drive-by-wire transmission that can be shifted from the steering wheel, a first for Bentley.
Even the ultra-rich want to conserve fuel. The V-8 has variable displacement technology (just like the pedestrian Hemi 5.7-liter V-8 found in Chryslers everywhere) that will shut off four cylinders when not needed. Bentley promises a seamless engagement of the full eight cylinders when needed. In spite of this fuel-efficient technology, the Mulsanne will still come with a gas-guzzler tax.
The Mulsanne's D-pillars are testament to the building done by hand. More than two dozen man hours are invested in putting them together because it is sheet metal work that, at this point, can only be done by skilled craftsmen. It's a marvel to inspect this car and see no visible weld spots or seams.
With ultra-high luxury comes the expectation of the latest technology and the Mulsanne does not disappoint. It has a multimedia system with a 40 GB hard drive that runs the satellite navigation, audio/video, personal data, telephone, and Bluetooth connectivity.
The dash has an 8-inch multimedia screen that sits behind an electrically operated veneered door. Below it is a leather-lined MP3-player storage drawer.
Not just any cow makes the cut when it comes to Bentley leather. According to spokesman David Reuter, the cows live in colder climes to reduce the insect bites that could mar their hides. They're also free-range bovines because it wouldn't do to have Bessie brush against an electric fence.
Bessie also may not want to stand too close to a finished Mulsanne or she faces hearing loss. The Mulsanne, which could arguably be called the ultimate in refinement, will come with an optional 2,200-watt sound system with 20 speakers. Its nearest competitor among manufacturer installed equipment will be a 1,200-watt sound system from Jaguar. Bentley says its system delivers unparalleled sound quality but it seems as if some ear drums could bleed blue if this system is ever cranked up to its full potential. One wonders how the Mulsanne's windows will survive the aural onslaught.
It seems almost impossible, but the Mulsanne has almost 40 percent more wood than the Arnage. Attention to detail is seen in the "ring of wood" waistrail in the passenger compartment with an unbroken panel of wood gracing the Mulsanne's dashboard.
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