Bentley is one of those legendary manufacturers which manages to appeal to two extremes of the age spectrum – the young, hip, trendy urbanites and the older, discerning, traditional nobility. Think Soho and Sandringham, or Bangsar and Bukit Tunku, if you like. It’s trickier than you think, for you’re talking about a whole generation gap spanning several decades. How do you pander to both tastes, without losing the loyalty of either?
Of course, prominent figures of Hollywood, MTV and the Premier League have collectively helped to put the marque on the map for the younger generation, although so few of the young can ever afford these cars. Those who can are right up there with royalty, the landed gentry and the old rich, and just as important where the market is concerned, because the two share a common factor – money. Lots and lots of it.
The Crewe crew recognises this, and has duly responded. Its Continental series, comprising the GT, GTC and four-door Flying Spur, is the entry-level range, targeted towards the younger clientele. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the better seller, and set to be even more so now with the introduction of the new twin-turbocharged 4.0 litre V8 that joins the familiar 6.0 litre W12 on the powerplant menu. For once, you can have a choice of engines for your Conti.
At the same time, Bentley has stayed true to its more traditional customer base with its Mulsanne, still powered by the venerable 6.75 (‘the six and three-quarter’) litre V8. This engine and variations of it have served numerous Rolls-Royce and Bentley models since 1968, slowly evolving over the years.
In conjunction with the recent opening of the World of Bentley exhibition at Pavilion KL a while back, some members of the press got the golden opportunity for a test drive; accompanied, of course, by some of the Bentley staff. We were to drive from Pavilion to Cyberview Lodge in Cyberjaya, and then swap cars for the return journey. I sampled the jaw-dropping, top-dropping Continental GTC, powered by the new V8, as well as the stunning Mulsanne flagship, in an attempt to ascertain the extent of success of Bentley’s traditional/modern compromise.
Or the extent of excess, more like. Approaching them in the metal gives you a sense of just how majestic the two cars are to behold. There’s that huge grille and lashings of chrome trim – to say you’re aware of their presence is a big understatement. If anything, Bentley’s new quad-headlamp design (two bigger ones and two smaller), first seen on the facelifted Continental GT, actually draws attention to the bigger headlamps, making the cars look even more imposing.
Their sheer size is something else. The GTC measures nearly two metres wide and 4.8 metres from head to tail. The Mulsanne is about as wide but stretches over 5.5 metres long.
With regards to the interior, both cars are quite similar. As you’d expect, a sea of polished wood and sumptuous leather greets you. There is meticulous detail in the stitching along the dashboards, centre consoles and the inside rim of their steering wheels. Such nice places to be in; like sitting in a quiet, comfortable corner in the pub.
‘Bulls-eyes’ stare at you from behind the veneer – yes, that’s what Bentley calls its signature air-conditioning vents. The airflow apertures are controlled by what appears to be elaborate coat hooks – push in to close, pull out to open. Cue another Bentley colloquialism: ‘organ stops.’ It’s a surprisingly ergonomic method, as opposed to the common scroll wheel you’ll find in most cars, although in our kind of climate we’re more likely to have them fully open all the time anyway.
The dashboard in both cars extend a good distance away from the rakish windscreens, and the thick door panels and centre console enclose you in – some might call it claustrophobic, but I think more on the cosy side. The Mulsanne has an altogether more airy cabin, but then it’s a bigger car, with considerably less sporting intentions. This particular GTC had especially bright-coloured wood trim, which I didn’t think was very contemporary or sporting, seeing as this is the ‘young’ Bentley, but clearly there is no accounting for taste. In any case, customisation options are endless. I’m sure one could replace those wood slabs with lashings of carbon fibre, if one desired.
I kept an eye out for traces of Volkswagen in both cars, but try as I did, interior stalks and switchgear were of a quality so high that they could only have been handcrafted by people who knew what they were doing.
Both cars are driven through an eight-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles – although on the GTC I found them rather awkwardly placed as they protruded from the column rather than being mounted behind the wheel as in the less-sporting Mulsanne (ironically). It would’ve been alright if they were close to the wheel, but they were a little bit of a stretch for my fingers. This also makes changing gear in mid-corner inconvenient.
Right, enough of beating around the suspension bush. How are the two cars like to drive? Around town, you’re constantly aware of their immense size, but not their bulk – steering is relatively light at low speeds and very precise. Both seem to glide over potholes and bumps effortlessly – this is despite the GTC’s low-profile tyres. The eight-speed gearbox’s changes are almost imperceptible, with the only indication of a shift being the slight plunge of the rev counter needle and the gear number on the instrument panel display.
You were going to ask about cylinder deactivation and how apparent the transition is from four to eight cylinders? What cylinder deactivation?
There’s always a sense that you’re driving something very special, emphasised of course by the thousands of stares you get from pedestrians and other motorists. Once you’ve gotten over the initial stage-fright, you settle down quickly, helped by the fact that both cars are really quite easy and comfortable to drive.
The fact that all-round visibility is good works to the same effect. They don’t feel at all highly strung, when you consider the fact that they’re 300 km/h cars. Where most supercars would be fragile, nervy and straining at the leash, these two just keep quiet, calm and genteel until you give their long-travel accelerator pedals a good prod.
And when you do, you finally see for yourself the difference between the GTC and the Mulsanne. Both have about 500 hp at their disposal, but the former’s acceleration is that little bit more immediate, more brutal, but far from savage. Its exhaust note is also raspier, albeit still somewhat muted. The Mulsanne’s nose pitches and dives more under hard acceleration and braking, but all the same, the rate at which both cars gather speed is nothing short of impressive. The way they gather speed tells you they were designed to transport their occupants in serene comfort, across many miles, in very, very little time indeed.
Step into the Mulsanne from the GTC and you instantly turn from brash Monaco playboy to Old Etonian gentleman. This is a Bentley of the old school. With that Flying B mascot punctuating the edge of that mile-long bonnet, I found myself subconsciously conducting this motor-carriage with more dignity and aplomb. I found this the best way to enjoy the Mulsanne, rather than caning it like a hooligan. After all, it was so stately and whisper-quiet I just wanted to waft along.
In fact, while the GTC is certainly more dynamic than its bigger brother; turning in sharper and sooner (due to its smaller, lighter engine in the nose), both are not what you’d call agile. But maybe that’s because you get so used to the comfort, once it unsettles ever so slightly, you do notice it, even though grip levels are high and body roll is minimal. The Mulsanne tips the scales at nearly 2.6 tonnes, the GTC nearly 2.5 – they’re probably still the best-handling ocean liners around.
Brakes require a bit of a shove and pedal travel is long, but once you get used to the extra effort needed you find you can moderate the amount of braking more easily. They are by no means ineffective – stamp on them and you come to a straight, controlled, reassuring halt.
Where refinement is concerned, you simply cannot fault a Bentley. Wind noise is almost non-existent, and this is despite the GTC having a soft top. Both cars are planted and assuring at speed. As a result, you really don’t feel you’re going all that fast at all. Until you notice you’re passing other cars far too easily, glance at the speedo and get the shock of your life. It’s like being sealed off from the outside world – much like the very people who own such cars, really.
I only spent a couple of hours or so with the cars, so regrettably I didn’t manage to play very much with the in-car gadgets, enjoy top-down motoring in the GTC (it was raining when I drove it) or ride in the back of the Mulsanne.
Nevertheless, I’ll conclude as simply as I can: one is a modern Bentley, and one is a traditional Bentley, but both are undoubtedly Bentleys through and through. They are thoroughly refined and polished products. Remember, the company is 93 years old, and I think that says it all.
How much? RM1.7 million for the Continental GTC and RM2.4 million for the Mulsanne? Erm… I’m sorry, I haven’t got any change.