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The Bentley Mulsanne Speed: chauffeurs need not apply

The Bentley Mulsanne was already one of the best cars to be driven in. With the Speed version, you'll want to get behind the wheel, too

Most press-fleet cars are delivered to directly from the manufacturer’s depot – driven over by middle-age men and given a quick jet wash at the local garage before they're dropped off. I get a piece of paper stuffed into my hand or a touch-phone screen to sign – and then I’m on my way.

Not so with Bentley. With Bentley, the car is brought on a trailer – delivered in pristine condition as if I'd bought it, rather than just borrowing it for the weekend. A British racing green leather folder is flourished, and my signature requested. (Best handwriting, naturally.)

And this is just a hint of what the Bentley experience is all about: quality, attention to detail and the feeling that what you are encountering is something rather special.

With the Mulsanne, the first thing you notice is the sheer size of the car – its has real presence. It’s a shade over 5.5 metres long and approaching two metres in width – so roughly the same size as my first flat.

If you’ve never driven a car of this size, it can all feel rather unnerving at first. However, once you get a few miles under your belt, the Mulsanne is actually a surprisingly easy car to punt around town. The long bonnet stretches out in front of you and, near as damn it, the edges of the bonnet are roughly the edge of the car. There’s very little overhang in front of the 21-inch front wheels, so the big Bentley is simple to place on the road.

There are three versions available. There’s the Mulsanne in normal or long wheelbase – and then there’s the one I had: the Speed version, which is more driver focussed. The previous two, especially the long-wheelbase model, are aimed at folk who prefer to be driven. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Zero-60mph in the Speed takes a staggering 4.9 seconds – staggering because this car has a gross weight north of three tonnes

All models are powered by the same twin-turbocharged 6752cc V8 petrol engine, although the Speed version adds 25bhp to the other cars’ 'standard' 505bhp. Power goes to the rear wheels via a silky smooth eight-speed automatic ’box. Zero-60mph in the Speed takes a staggering 4.9 seconds – staggering because this car has a gross weight north of three tonnes. The top speed is 190mph.

We may as well get this bit out of the way – you’ll manage around 28mpg if you’re on a long steady cruise, which isn’t bad actually, but realistically you’ll be hovering around top teens. To help with economy, when you ease off, the engine management system shuts down four cylinders so that, in effect, your speed is maintained by a V4. So it's big and clever.

Once you get used to the size, the Mulsanne is terrific to drive. The Speed version comes with fully automatic air suspension, which means you soak up lumps and bumps around town and then, when you hit the quicker stuff, the suspension actually lowers slightly to help with cornering stability.

Too many big cars feel cumbersome and don’t really encourage you to push on. That’s not the case with the Bentley Mulsanne Speed. Chauffeurs need not apply.

There is a visceral thrill to powering the Mulsanne along. The way the bonnet rises and falls is testament to seemingly endless torque – and how hard the suspension is working to keep all those horses in check. You can change gears using paddles but the auto ’box is so seamless there’s little reason why you would.

There are various driver modes which allow you to switch from Comfort (a huge understatement) to Sport – but the best one is ‘Bentley’ which sharpens everything in terms of steering feel, throttle response and suspension, but still maintains the brand’s signature whoosh.

When you climb into the driver’s seat of the Bentley Mulsanne Speed, you are in for a treat

As for the interior, I shan’t list what you get as standard because you get everything you would expect in a car of this type and price. All you need to know is that when you climb into the driver’s seat of the Bentley Mulsanne Speed, you are in for a treat. The quilted leather seats are not only fantastic to sit on, they’re also wonderful to look at. The dials are slightly retro; the switchgear has a lovely cushioned feel. Overall, the build quality is peerless.

The exterior has some dark tints to ensure that the Speed looks a tad more menacing than the other Mulsanne models, but otherwise it’s unchanged.

The options list is where you can have some fun and let your imagination run wild. In terms of personalisation, for example, there are more than 100 exterior colours, 11 veneers, 24 hide colours and 13 duo-tone options.

Why not have a refrigerated bottle cooler with frosted glass and bespoke crystal champagne flutes? They’re hidden behind the centre rear armrest. Pull down the armrest, press a button and a glass door slides down to reveal your bottles and glasses. Or why not press a button on the front seat backs to deploy a pair of 10.4-inch entertainment tablets?

Actually, Bentley will do just about anything (within reason) to provide you with a totally unique car.

As luxury driver’s cars go, the Bentley Mulsanne Speed is difficult to beat. If you prefer to sit in the front rather than be driven in the back, it’s the one for you.

For more info, see Bentley.

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