Bentley’s flagship, the Mulsanne, is the sort of car that seems very much of another era here in 2020. It’s an old-school four-door designed as much for the person in the back seat as the driver in front — a sedan that weighs more than a Chevy Suburban, powered by a naturally-aspirated V8 whose roots date back six decades that drives more like a diesel than the gas-powered engine it is.
As the most expensive car in the lineup and the choice of those most dignified customers of the Flying B, it sells in handfuls every year; only around 500 or so move out the door globally, mostly in China and the United States. Such figures make it seem hopelessly outdated; still, such giant saloons (as they call sedans in the UK) have been a staple of the Bentley lineup for ages. Surely the brand wouldn’t let it die without a replacement?
Well, yes and no. The Mulsanne’s fate has been sealed for a while now; 2020 is its final year of production. But instead of replacing it with, say, a new sedan based on the Continental GT / Flying Spur platform, it seems all but assured Bentley will be swapping in an SUV as its new top-of-the-line flagship model.
That’s the word from Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark, who alluded to such in not one but three recent interviews. The basic line was the same through all three of them, be it with Car and Driver, CAR, or Top Gear: It’s not worth the development cost to build a new flagship sedan that sells in such limited numbers, but with the crossover market showing no signs of cooling, a bigger, more luxurious version of the Bentayga seems an obvious fit to replace it at the top of the Bentley lineup — a market the company has no intention of ceding to Rolls-Royce.
“Our ambition is to fill that price space for sure,” Hallmark said to C/D. “SUVs were 47 percent of our sales last year. If you look at the segment below us, it’s about 50 percent. So the clear indication is that both premium-car buyers and luxury-car buyers now see SUVs as being far more attractive.
His comments to CAR elaborated on the point. “About 90 per cent of [Mulsanne] sales are in the US and China,” Hallmark said. “It’s older buyers in the US and Europe versus younger buyers in China. But they would mostly rather have SUVs.”
That said, the new flagship seems likely to carry on at least one piece of the Mulsanne tradition, albeit in an unusual way. Hallmarks’ comments to C/D suggest that the new super-Bentayga will also be powered by a V8 engine; the CEO said, somewhat dishearteningly, that the 12-cylinder motor currently found in the Flying Spur and Continental GT is on its way out. Considering Bentley is in the early stages of some aggressive moves to become more sustainable and the existence of a plug-in hybrid / twin-turbo V8 powertrain combo at sister brand Porsche, it seems quite likely the new range-topper will use a PHEV V8 system.
So there you have it: after more than half a century of placing an elegant, old-fashioned sedan atop its lineup, the next Bentley flagship seems likely to be a plug-in hybrid SUV. That, we suppose, is the price of progress.
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