Leading the way of this new ultraluxury land yacht is the Spirit of Ecsta...wait, that's not right. This is a Bentley, not a Rolls.
It's fairly obvious that the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne is a shot across the bow of the Rolls-Royce Phantom, so let's see how the upstart stacks up.
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Interestingly, the boxy Bentley is remarkably similar the to Rolls in profile. It has a similar long hood and snub-nose aesthetic, albeit a bit more curvaceous and modern.
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The one place that the Bentley unarguably trounces the Rolls is in the engine room. The Mulsanne's 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V8 outputs 505-horsepower and a massive 752 pound-feet of torque, substantially more than the Phantom's naturally aspirated V12's 453 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of twist.
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Just fore of the that engine is the Bentley's front end, which looks a bit bug-eyed and slack-jawed for my tastes. I would argue that the Rolls is a more handsome car.
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LED lighting elements
The Mulsanne's headlamp clusters feature LED daytime running lamps and turn signals.
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Like the Phantom, the Mulsanne's doors feature servos to pull them tight, so there's no need to slam them. Unlike the Rolls' suicide coach doors, all of the Bentley's doors open the conventional way.
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The Bentley's steering wheel is thicker than the Rolls' superthin tiller, which--along with the paddle shifters for the eight-speed automatic transmission--makes it feel more like a drivers car.
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Instrument cluster LCD
Between the inverted speedometer and tachometer is a small color-LCD. If you've ever driven a teched-up Audi or VW equipped, this will be immediately familiar.
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The Bentley's dash is covered in wood veneer, leather, and polished metal. Glossy plastic buttons seem far too high-class for greasy journalist fingers. Meanwhile, the 8-inch LCD screen hides behind a motorized faceplate.
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Here's a feature that we love. In the center of the dash is a leather-lined MP3 player drawer. Inside this drawer is what appears to be a Audi's proprietary Music Interface connection, which features dongles for iPod sync cable, USB pigtail, or auxiliary analog input.
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While we're happy that we don't need to reach to connect our iPods, users who swap CDs often may be disappointed. The Mulsanne relocates the rest of its media inputs to the glove compartment, way on the other side of the cab. Here we find a single DVD slot, a six-disc CD changer, two SD card slots for media, and a SIM card slot.
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The Mulsanne's interface and controller appear to be reskinned versions of Audi's new MMI interface, which is much better than the Phantom's reskinned old-iDrive system. Bentley's navigation system is based on a 40 GB hard drive, which should offer storage for ripped audio.
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If you were wondering why the Bentley had a SIM card slot in its glove box, it's because the Mulsanne can be equipped with a wired handset. The system also features Bluetooth wireless and hands-free calling, if you don't want your car to have its own phone number.
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The Mulsanne manages to match the Phantom in gross displays of opulence.
We weren't able to thoroughly test this preproduction model, but it appears that the Bentley will beat the Rolls as a tech car, with its superior MMI-based system.
Finally, the Mulsanne quite obviously outmuscles the Phantom with its forced induction engine.