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Christmas cruisin' in a Bentley Mulsanne

Posted by Bill Griffith  December 20, 2010 04:47 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

RYE BEACH, N.H. — We swung the Bentley Mulsanne into the driveway outside the pro shop behind the Abenaqui Country Club on a sunny but unseasonably cold and windy December afternoon. Christmas definitely was in the air, from the sleigh and reindeer outside the clubhouse to the golf wear and equipment in the pro shop.

Pam Sheerin, proprietor and co-owner of the shop, ran out to us, saying, "Ohh, is my husband sending me this as a Christmas present? Are you going to put a bow on it?"

We had to let Pam down gently. Jim Sheerin, the PGA Master Golf Professional at the club, had nothing to do with this car. In truth, we were looking for an ideal spot to photograph this spectacular vehicle.

The Mulsanne is the new flagship of the Bentley line, replacing the Arnage. (Any time people asked me what I'd buy if I hit the lottery, "the Arnage" was my answer.) We were told our test ride was one of the first Mulsannes to arrive in the United States. It also came with a low-key warning.

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"We had two [press vehicles]," said Bentley representative Valentine O'Connor, "but the other one was backed into in a parking lot. When we asked the factory to send us the parts, they said they couldn't because it was a hand-built pre-production model. As far as I know, that car got sent back to the factory."

That would be in Crewe, England. The first year's production schedule at that factory — approximately 800 cars — has been sold out in advance, and the cars are just beginning to arrive at dealers.

After a day of joyriding we understand why, despite our "test" vehicle's sticker price of $330,195. We figure that's about 16 of the Honda Accords we tested the prior week. About the only thing it doesn't come with is a chauffeur.

Because of Ms. O'Connor's warning, we flinched every time someone started to perform one of the moves you encounter in daily driving. That would including backing out of your driveway in front of us, stopping suddenly before putting on your blinker and turning, or changing lanes without warning (or looking).

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There's no way in this space of listing all the amenities that the Mulsanne offers, but let it be said that Mrs. G's front passenger seat had a 12-way electrical adjustment, including lumbar support and massage functions, two memory positions, an easy entry/exit feature, and adjustable heating.

The truth is that this isn't about what the Mulsanne has but rather how it's built.

"If anything looks like stainless steel, it is stainless steel," says Ms. O'Connor.

She isn't kidding. From the headlights, stunning in design and breathtaking in function (and that's before you try the high beams) to the trunk, everything is first class. Not only is the trunk [boot in BentleySpeak] finished with leather-trimmed carpeting but the underside of the lid has similar carpeted trim.

On the road, the Mulsanne is a dream. The 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 produces 505 horsepower and 752 lb.-ft. of torque. That power is fed through an eight-speed automatic transmission and produces a 0-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds. The suspension has three main settings — sport, Bentley, and comfort — to adjust ride and steering feedback, plus a custom setting that allows for mixing any combination of the two. We could feel noticeable differences in steering, ride height and softness in changing settings. For the record, the "Bentley" setting seemed just right for daily driving.

"Bring some of your favorite CDs to test the sound system," Ms. O'Connor had advised.

My five-year old iPod's 40-year old songs had never sounded better than when through the optional ($7,415) 20-speaker, 2200-watt Naim audio system. I heard parts of the music I'd never before experienced.

At first glance, the Bentley is a bit overwhelming. Claudia Hull, a paradigm of taste and class as owner of Joseph's Winter Street Café in Newburyport, described the Bentley's exterior as big and somewhat intimidating. Once inside, her tone changed. Not only is this about as nice as you can imagine, she said, but the back seat is every bit as welcoming as the front.

Mrs. G, who once got "trapped" in the back of a mockup of the Mulsanne when it was introduced at the Boston Harbor Hotel last spring, would agree.

"I really like the way this car caters to the rear-seat passenger. The seat reclines, has heat controls, and has separate audio controls."

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The interior features a 360-degree ring of wood plus leather seats and trim that feels and smells like leather "used to," the result of Bentley reviving traditional tanning processes so the leather will retain that vintage smell. It's also fashioned with wonderful hand stitching, something that struck a chord in our visit to Abenaqui. Sheerin happens to be a needlework designer whose creations have been on display at the White House.

These Bentleys, it seems, attract first-class company.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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