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CNET On Cars: On the road: 2012 Bentley Mulsanne

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CNET On Cars: On the road: 2012 Bentley Mulsanne

8:24 /

Bentley's top of the line is the coolest tech den on wheels. Take a ride in the Bentley Mulsanne, the most expensive car we have ever reviewed.

The Bentley Mulsanne, named for a turn on the Lamont racecourse, kind of a cheeky thing for a car that is some 16 feet long, some 3 tons of girth, some 700 foot pounds of torque. This, in many ways, is the ultimate Bentley, and ours has some of the most trick tech you'll find in any backseat on Earth. Let's drive this 2012 Mulsanne in Check the Tech. Now, the Mulsanne is a far less known Bentley compared to the Continental GT, which is in every RAMP video and CEO's driveway from coast to coast and around the globe. This guy is a rarer bird, but has some similar athletic lines, including this very coupe-like D-pillar back here, and also, this kind of powerful haunch-line back here, which is a Bentley signature. They call it the power line or something. Spottable in thousands of yards away by its very evocative giant dual headlights, reaching back to the look of Bentley's in WO's days. And the fenders and quarter panels, with all these complicated creases and shapes, are largely one piece. It is a nice aluminum forming on this car. Now, Bentley can be used as a car you drive, but they can also be a car which you are driven. That's where the backseat comes in. Phenomenal. Let's go to what you may think is your usual picnic table, even Jaguars have these. But it's not just a picnic table that is powered, but if you push this button on the corner, we have the optional integrated iPad with the wireless keyboard, pretty sleek. And of course, the iPad here is 3G, so it's got its own connection, but that's part of the theme where this is primarily clever fitment more than technology. Now, the other interesting piece of technology in this car lives in the center console. We don't have all the goodies, but we do have our own climate system, our own reclining massage seats, and you can get a cooler back here. Basically a champagne fridge with a frosted glass front door that has the bottles canted in such a way that a partly consumed bottle won't spill. CHP is gonna love that. And you've also got a remote here so you can run the front-hand unit. I can change the channels. I can change the volume. I can drive the first row people nuts. And this isn't even all the toys folks. If you get the theater option, you end up with a 15.6-inch center display that shows up here, and all of that ties into the car system and to a Mac mini they have mounted in the trunk, and it's connected wirelessly. And if that's not enough, everywhere you look, here and in the front, nice cast metal polished ashtrays. This is another world. And before we examined the usual technology in this Bentley, let's examine the textile technology. As they like to say, "Everything that looks like something in this car is what it looks like;" leather obviously is leather. Polished steel, this is actually polished steel. These are quite glass covers on some of these buttons. They're cool. They are glass, and even these little poles here for the vents, they feel if they are pulling some kind of a valve back there to open the air, but they're actually not. They're just electric switches, but they damp into them to feel like they're pulling a valve in an older car. Now, we get to the real hardcore tech by pushing the screen button and 007 asked, "You get a peek-a-boo screen." Many of you will recognize that as a slightly older Audi interface, 8-inch screen, non-touch. You've got a knob to turn here. You've got a little mushroom button in the middle. You can move around. It's just a little bit too fussy for my taste. Four buttons around here that correspond to 4 menus in the corner of the screen, and then of course, your dedicated buttons around it. All the major media sources though are without apology. You've got everything you'd want in this car, Bluetooth streaming, AM, FM with HD radio, switchable satellite radio. Over here, you've got your option for, let's see, a 6-disc CD, 2 SD cards, and then if you wanna hook up other options, here in this nicely lacquered-lined tray, you've got one of these little pink tails that goes to the Audi media interface, and this one, for example, for iOS devices, older iOS devices of course. Plays DVDs as well when you're parked, and you've got good Medatag information while streaming at least on my Android 4.0.4 device on our day of shooting. We have the optional Naim Audio system, high-end English stuff. Gives us 20 speakers around the cabin, 20 to 100 watts of power. However, the problem with high-end audio systems that really are high resolution is they make low-res sources sound even crappier, and we're gonna use satellite radio. Rear camera is good, nothing cutting edge here though. It gives you some trajectory. It gives you distance, and you can also change it up to be for either alignment of parking. Oh, by the way, check out the tech. Notice anything odd about it? The red line. 4500 rpm, what is this thing? A UPS truck? That's the kind of grunt they have built into that motor. It's not about thrashing it; it's about low-end torque from the get go. And nestled here in the bow of our Mulsanne is one hell of an engine: 6.75-liter, twin-turbo V8, doing 505 horsepower and 752 foot pounds of torque. That's enough for 3 normal cars. You've gotta have that though because this guy weighs damn near 6000 pounds; yet, it gets to 60 in a sprightly 5.1 seconds. The downside is the mpg, 11/18. There is a gas guzzler tax as you might imagine, and I think we're averaging about 7 in the real world. Another interesting note about these, these guys are all hand-built. All Steve Brown put this one together. Hopefully, he had a fireproof apron because when this car is running, you can't touch anything north of the doors. If you hit a pedestrian, I'm not sure you're gonna kill him or cook him. Oh, by the way, this car has cylinder deactivation. It can shut a few of them now when cruising to save gas. Imagine what it would consume if it didn't. This is a nice place to be. Driving this car is not so much driving even when you are at the wheel as much as it is being transported. You're so separate from the world and the road, which has its ups and down. It has massive power, of course, but you've gotta unbury yourself from so many gears in this automatic. Even when it's in sport mode like I have it now, it always feels pretty not ready to run. And this car purposes quite a bit as you get the power on forever. The hood is rearing up and dropping down, which is kind of a real old school thing. That said, it feels light on its feet for the kind of car that it is. Now, what this car is really about is about changing the very nature, about getting from here to there. The way you know it in other cars is completely different in this car. You almost arrive energized from the experience of driving, and I'm not making that up. And I must also say Bentley has had a really nice job of making a cohesive design language across this cabin. This is a consistency of quality feel throughout. For this price, they'd better be. So in sum, it's a car that transports you more than being about driving. It doesn't do a whole lot for me as a driver's [unk] that's asking a lot of it. This car wants to be used as a motor car, not a sports car. Okay, we're gonna price this guy. You better sit down. Base is $345, $320; gas guzzler tax $3700; destination $25.95. To get the iPads on those powered picnic tables with keyboards and a wireless hotspot as well, add $33.6, or really go CNET's style and step it up to what they call the theater spec. That includes the whole iPad package, but also the big dropdown center screen with that champagne fridge, a 64-gig iPod Touch, and a Mac mini in the trunk that lives in its own electric power drawer, wireless keyboard and mouse, that raises the option total to $58,000, and now you're somewhere north of 409.

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