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belle ou moucheBucking industry convention, Bentley chose not to unveil its glitzy new flagship at an auto show, instead taking it to this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where many attendees can afford to buy one on sight. But no one was allowed in the car, and very few details were provided. Now, however, at the Frankfurt auto show, we have been given much more information and access to the car itself, and we can say wholeheartedly that it is a worthy and thoroughly modern replacement for the grand old Arnage. My, What Big Eyes You Have! Bentley describes the Mulsanne's design as a “unique fusion of sportiness, coachbuilt elegance, and solidity.” Six inches longer than the Arnage but similar in height and width, the Mulsanne is indeed flagship-sized. The most dominant aspect of the big Arnage's design is the pair of “highly prominent” Gatling-gun headlamps—some nine inches in diameter—flanked by smaller ancillary lights, an arrangement that recalls some Bentley grand sedans of the past. The “matrix” grille is huge and cliff-like, while the lower air intake spans the width of the car and features matching mesh. It is, as intended, unmistakably a Bentley, with a nod to the present in the form of an octet of Audi-like LED driving lights. Oh, and not to be outdone by Rolls-Royce, a “Flying B” radiator mascot is available as an option—and is retractable, of course. Moving down the body and around the back, one encounters plenty of pretty surface detailing but exactly no surprises. It's easy to pick out cues from the Arnage (the chrome latticework around the windows), the Brooklands (C-pillar, taillamps) and the Continental Flying Spur. The body side rises over the rear fender, keeping the rear, which elegantly slopes down to the rear bumper and its pancake-flat twin exhaust tips, from looking droopy in spite of its long overhang. The base wheels are 20 inches in diameter, and two 21-inch variants are optional, the latter wrapped in 265/40 series Pirelli P Zeros like the ones found on Bentley's Speed variants. Customers will be able to select from no fewer than 114 colors, including some “unusual heritage” colors, satin and pearlescent finishes, and two-tone combos. Of course, they can always mix up a batch of your favorite color should you not find what you're looking for in the Bentley palette. Visually, the new Mulsanne is not nearly as gauche as the Rolls-Royce Phantom with which it will compete in the marketplace. Nor, however, is it as dull as the Maybach 57. “We wanted it to be the driver's choice” in its segment, said Dirk van Breackel, who spoke to us during a private unveiling the night before the Concours. He cites the slim windows and “almost coupe-like roofline” as elements that say, “I'm a driver's car.” His words, not ours. “Unstressed” V-8 Performance Whether the Mulsanne truly is the “driver's choice” in a segment where many owners don't drive themselves remains to be seen. Certainly, the engine will be key to this, and in true Bentley fashion, it's the familiar twin-turbocharged 6.75-liter V-8. For use in the Mulsanne, Bentley saw fit to bump output a touch to 506 hp and a whopping 752 lb-ft of torque (up from 500 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque in the Arnage Final Series); the mill mates to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. Thus equipped, we imagine that the Mulsanne will indeed deliver “the effortless wave of torque for which Bentley is renowned,” which was the company's stated goal. The installation of the tried-and-true V-8 also “guaranteed the immense power and unstressed performance that are the hallmarks of a flagship Bentley.” With that kind of torque, the Mulsanne probably would be unstressed pulling a 160-car freight train. For what it's worth, Bentley has thrown a small bone to the environment by fitting variable cam phasing to the big eight, as well as—clutch pearls!—variable displacement. That's right, whenever possible, only half the cylinders will be summoned for duty in order to save gas. Still, we shudder to think of the Mulsanne's real-world fuel economy. The chassis, however, is all-new, according to Bentley, and is both stiffer and lighter than those of any Arnage, although Bentley declined to say how much the new car weighs. A new Drive Dynamics Control system is operated via a rotary switch on the console to select between Sport, Comfort, and “Bentley” modes, the latter presumably producing a ride smooth enough that the VIP in back may spread clotted cream upon his crumpets with absolutely no risk of spillage. Splendiferous Interior Arguably the most important part of any luxury car is its interior, and the Mulsanne's is both loaded with modern technology and lined in traditional luxury. Bentley estimates that 170 man-hours of work will go into the interior of each Mulsanne, including the fitment of “bull's-eye” air registers and a “waist rail” of book-faced wood trim that can be had bleached or unbleached and picture-framed or cross-banded. Certain switches are rendered in glass, and the carpets are wool, of course. The multiple hides that pad the rest of the interior are available in 24 standard colors, or as with the exterior paint, something custom. A traditional tanning process has been brought back in order to match the rich, worn-leather smell evocative of vintage Bentleys. Mixed into all that decadence is an eight-inch center control screen (behind a retractable veneer) from which the hard-drive-based navitainment system is managed. A Naim for Bentley premium audio system is available as an option, complete with 20 speakers, eight DSP modes, and—get this—a 2200-watt in-car amplifier. If that doesn't make the Mulsanne the choice among rap stars, nothing will. Coming to a Country Club Near You in Late 2010 The first deliveries of the Mulsanne will commence in Europe in the middle of 2010, and examples will land on U.S. shores in the fall of next year. The first Mulsanne model will be just like this one, i.e. of a standard wheelbase, although long-wheelbase and hopped-up Speed versions will probably end up being part of the portfolio, as will Brooklands-esque coupe and Azure-like convertible models sometime down the road. All will be built at a new manufacturing facility where “traditional” metalworking skills will be used extensively throughout the build process, which Bentley claims will take no fewer than nine weeks. Peasants that we are, we had to ask about the price. “It will be priced at the pinnacle of the ultra-luxury segment,” said a Bentley insider. It won't be the most expensive in the segment, our source said, but it will be more than the Arnage, which exited the market priced between $225K and $264K. “We want to be above where the [Rolls-Royce] Ghost is but not as expensive as Phantom,” he added. That would put it right around $300K—got a trust fund we can borrow?