Some perfunctory internet research on the subject of high-end refrigerators has revealed the £13,650 Sub-Zero ICBB142S/S/TH to be a veritable Rolls-Royce of domestic cooling appliances. It offers 682 litres of interior space and uses a “microbiological air- purification system” developed by Nasa to slow decomposition and eliminate pongs.
The Bentley of refrigerators, however, costs £8,225 and offers space only for a couple of bottles of champagne and a quartet of crystal flutes. It can be found between the back seats of the Flying B’s latest flagship, the almost preposterously powerful Mulsanne Speed (from £252,000, fridge extra), which is the most recent arrival in the refined world of high-speed, ultra-luxury automobiles.
The sector is nothing new, of course. Back in 1966, Mercedes-Benz engineer Erich Waxenberger borrowed the mighty 6.3-litre V8 engine from the firm’s vast 600 limousine (as favoured by high-profile individuals, ranging from Coco Chanel to Pol Pot) and shoehorned it into the slightly less vast 300SEL to create what instantly became the fastest four-door sedan of the era. With a top speed of 142mph and a zero-to-60 time of little more than six seconds, it was, according to a tester at America’s Road & Track magazine, as quick as a Porsche, as comfortable as a Jaguar and as fine‑handling as a Ferrari.
But things have come on a bit since then, meaning the specification of the Mulsanne Speed makes the old Benz seem rather pedestrian. Boasting 530bhp from its twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V8 engine, it has almost double the power and, with a lorry-like 1,100 newton metres available at a lowly 1,750rpm, double the torque as well.
The Mulsanne Speed will also scorch to 60mph in 4.8 seconds and, despite having the inevitable weight problem (2,685kg), it handles well enough for Bentley to have encouraged me and a few other hacks to attempt to wrong-foot it by driving as fast as possible around Florida’s Everglades Jetport, built in the days when supersonic commercial aircraft were mistakenly believed to represent the future but never used for the purpose. Like the aircraft, we failed.
And while the Mulsanne Speed might itself fall a long way short of being supersonic, it does offer a claimed top speed of 190mph – which few owner-drivers are likely to achieve, and which even fewer passengers are likely to encourage their chauffeurs to attempt.
It’s a number that’s important to Bentley, however, because its cars have traditionally enjoyed a sporting edge over those of its counterpart, Rolls-Royce, which are usually perceived as being more luxurious. Indeed, the new Mulsanne’s “Speed” nomenclature harks right back to WO Bentley’s famous Speed Six, launched in 1928 as a souped-up version of the standard six‑and‑a‑half litre.
But now the lines between the sportiness of a Bentley and the cosseting interior of a Rolls are becoming as blurred as the sight of a Mulsanne Speed at full chat. The latter’s Ghost Series II, for example (featured in last month’s How To Spend It and on Howtospendit.com), is as superbly appointed as might be expected, but also remarkably rapid – and while the Mulsanne Speed lives up to expectations by going like a rocket, it also redefines the meaning of “luxury sports saloon”.
The fact is, there’s a power struggle going on – and not just in terms of what’s under the bonnets of these cars, but what’s going on inside the cabins too. The expectations of buyers, you see, have never been greater, and it only takes a deficient specification sheet to lose a sale. As a result, the Mulsanne Speed (visually marked out from the standard Mulsanne by special dark-tinted exterior fittings) is about as fully loaded and high-tech as it’s currently possible for a car relying solely on internal combustion to be.
That mighty engine, for example, seamlessly switches from eight to four cylinders to save fuel during town driving or when taken gently up to around 70mph, returning to full power only when needed or at higher speeds. Then there is the “multimode” driving system, which, at the turn of a dial, changes the car’s character to one of “comfort”, “sport”, “Bentley” (somewhere between the two) or “custom”, allowing suspension and steering systems to be tailored to the driver’s mood.
Inside, a fully optioned Mulsanne Speed reveals itself to be nothing short of a high-speed infotainment centre: alongside the standard 60GB on-board hard drive (20GB of which is dedicated to storing music and films) are wireless internet connection, electric tables with tailor-made recesses for iPads and keyboards, and a 20-speaker, 2,200-watt Naim for Bentley audio set-up.
Also on the “extras” list are dual 8in screens mounted on the rear of the front-seat headrests, Bluetooth headphones, airline-style winged seating and – should you really wish to feel at home – electric curtains and scatter cushions designed to complement your choice of interior from the 24 available hide colours and 10 veneers. And I’ve already mentioned the fridge, which comes complete with a power-operated frosted-glass door.
But tick all those boxes and throw in a few more extras, such as massage seats (£2,675), a veneered iPod drawer (£460), deep-pile Wilton floor mats (£1,085), a couple of in-boot umbrellas (£155) and a Flying B radiator mascot (yes, it’s an optional extra at a cheeky £2,495), and the final bill for your Mulsanne Speed will have accelerated to a very luxurious £330,000-plus.
What you’ll drive off in, however, is one of the most exquisitely built automobiles on the planet – not to mention one that might even be cooler than a Sub-Zero ICBB142S/S/TH.