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Wednesday 29th August 2012


BENTLEY MULSANNE ON TRACK

Why on earth would you want to drive a Mulsanne on a track? Because Mulsanne buyers do, apparently


Bentley goes out of its way to serve its customers: that's why many of them are buyers for life. Want to sample the Mulsanne and see where it's built? Certainly, sir. Get a train to Crewe and our man will meet you there, opening the car's rear door to a cabin full of splendid wood, leather, massaging seats and Sky News on the TV.

Ultimate track day weapon? Er, just maybe
Ultimate track day weapon? Er, just maybe
So if Bentley will, by invite or dealer recommendation, lay on a Mulsanne, what else will it do? Why, whatever, within reason, you want...

And so, the next morning, we set out for the high-speed trek along the A5 to Anglesey, where we were to spend an hour hooning Bentley's most expensive car. Marvellous. "We normally lay on a helicopter," I was told. After an evening in the back, though, I was eager to get up front.

Anti-downsizing
The drive across served as a reminder for the Mulsanne's gloriously anti-downsized power delivery, its weighty and serene ride, its surprising accuracy and agility. The cabin remains impeccable, the at-speed silence glorious, the sheer drama beguiling.

2.5 tonnes of Bentley, versus physics
2.5 tonnes of Bentley, versus physics
Would all this carry through onto the track? After all, surely the Mulsanne is named after a straight rather than a corner for a reason? That, I was to find out - but only after being captivated by a jewel of a circuit. I'd not been to Anglesey before, but within just a few minutes I'd seen enough to fall in love with the place.

And a feel little jumpy, following warnings about the sharpness of Rocket, falling off the circuit after Peel and falling into the sea if I got Church wrong. The Mulsanne is not a circuit car. But then I remembered I was meant to be pretending to buy one of these. I was the customer and I bally well wanted to drive it on a circuit. I'd best man up and become a Bentley Boy for the morning.

Initially timid Aucock seeks inspiration...
Initially timid Aucock seeks inspiration...
Bentley Boys in town
It's strange, sitting in the pitlane, helmet on, in a Mulsanne. You can't hear a single mechanical murmur. Only the position of the rev counter, at 2 o'clock, saves your embarrassment. All the better for hearing the instructor, whose much-needed advice will help save a £300,000 off. Which ESP mode would I like to start with, he asked. Very bold, I thought. Very confident. I wasn't. Full on, please.

And so out we wafted. But I simply couldn't switch out of chauffeur mode. The wheel was shuffled, the throttle was caressed, braking was early and linear. Most unusual, I thought. Until I came upon Rocket, nearly outbraked myself and only just avoided stacking the Mulsanne before completing a single full circuit. The Bentley leaned, its nose drove on, it felt momentarily like the boats crossing the sea in the distance.

...and taps into the Bentley Boys spirit
...and taps into the Bentley Boys spirit
Concentrate, Aucock. What to do? Why, do what Sir Jackie Stewart implores from his Principles: slow down to speed up. This is a heavy car - 2,585kg's worth. You can't hustle through corners. Nor will you get it particularly sideways on a circuit so twisting, even if you did have the skill to exploit 752lb ft of torque. You can go very fast, but you may find slowing down a challenge.

Easy does it
A few more laps and I have it cracked. On track a badly-driven Mulsanne is a rolling, understeering frustration, quite apart from how it feels on the road. Do it right instead. Brake early, acknowledge the weight transfer by turning in early and slowly, set it up for every twist with the fingertip steering, gently hold it there and then go on the power gradually and confidently. Never boot, jar or snatch a Mulsanne but instead coax and think it round.

Suddenly it makes sense, up to a point
Suddenly it makes sense, up to a point
It becomes accurate and responsive, weight transfer aiding the mechanical sophistication of the platform with positive and firm attitude in and through corners. Understeer is avoided with patience, while even the brakes are spared if you don't stand on them. It still rolls, but crucially, it's controlled. The Mulsanne will thus run for more laps and deliver more satisfaction in one session than you'd ever expect.

The marketing people won't like the analogy but think of it like truck racing. They do the impossible but only by being driven in a very distinct, balanced, almost classical way. The Mulsanne is the same. You won't get a modern F1 car experience from it but if you're a fan of F1 cars from the 1960s, its dynamics may well delight.

No problem going fast, stopping an issue
No problem going fast, stopping an issue
Delaying the inevitable
After eight laps, physics take over. The brakes start to go soft and vibrate. One cooldown lap later (even this was faster than my first) and I'm back in the pits. More silence. Until I step down and out, pull off the helmet - and duck. Someone throwing pebbles at me? Nope, that's the metallic ticking of brakes and exhausts. What a wonderful racket.

Bentley later tells me I've done exactly what many customers demand: driven to a remote, picturesque circuit, conducted some spirited laps, then driven back. Even with a stable of cars it's often the Bentley rather than the Ferrari or Lambo that they take on the European driving tour.

Seems I wasn't humoured after all. This is how it is, even down to one of the 25 Bentley drivers on hand to teach me how to best conduct a Mulsanne on track. Unlikely? Not at all. Bentley's simply far too polite to tell me otherwise.


BENTLEY MULSANNE
Engine:
'six and three-quarter litres' V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 512@4,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 752@1,750rpm
0-62mph: 5.3 sec
Top speed: 184mph
Weight: 2,585kg
MPG: Like it matters
CO2: See above
Price: If you have to ask...