Bentley Rolls Out $285,000 Luxury Beast

Bentley, seeking to reaffirm its place in the luxury-car market, unveils the Mulsanne.
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BOSTON (TheStreet) --Bentley's new flagship, the $285,000 Mulsanne, has teased U.S. car enthusiasts for a year.

The slow rollout has been bookended by previews at the famed Pebble Beach

Concours d'Elegance

, both last year and with a return engagement later this month. In between, the Mulsanne has been on a 37-city dealer tour across the U.S. and Canada.

The Bentley Mulsanne, the new flagship of the luxury carmaker, will be available this fall following a 37-city preview tour across the U.S.

U.S. buyers will finally get a chance to own the Mulsanne this fall if they can handle the price tag -- not to mention its hand-assembled, 505-horsepower, 6.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 engine.

The Mulsanne is an important car for Bentley. It's inspired by what is considered company founder W.O. Bentley's crowning achievement in 1930, the 8 Litre. Promotional materials cite this as the "last big Bentley that was designed, engineered and built from the ground up by Bentley engineers -- until now."

Nearly 80 years later, the Mulsanne harkens back to that original engineering while adding modern flourishes at its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Crewe, England.

"It creates a new benchmark in the marketplace," says Christophe Georges, chief operating officer of Bentley Motors. "We started with a sheet of paper where the engineers put all that they know about Bentley and used all their skill and competencies to create something unique above everything else in the marketplace, while capturing the old essence in terms of craftsmanship."

Buyers will get more than just horsepower. Each Mulsanne takes nine weeks to custom build, with a palette of 114 paint colors to choose from. Buyers can also select from 21 carpet colors, nine wood veneers and 24 interior leather hides, all of which are tanned using a process Bentley claims will retain its distinctive scent.

Bentley's heritage-inspired dials are brought up to date with iPod and MP3 connectivity, Bluetooth and a premium audio system option that adds a 20-channel, 2,200-watt experience.

The new Bentley flagship is also an unabashed challenge to one-time owner

Rolls-Royce

. Since 1998, Bentley has been owned by

Volkswagen Group

. Bentley has, until now, built an impressive line of muscular luxury cars, including the Continental GT.

Bentley's Georges shies away from assessing the Mulsanne's impact on competitors.

"In our marketspace, it is difficult to speak about competitors because what we offer is unique," he says. "Of course we compete in the same market in terms of price point, but you might as well say we compete with art. Luxury is all about dreams. It is all about having something you are dreaming about."

Herb Chambers, owner of

Bentley Boston

, has already purchased his own Mulsanne and eagerly awaits its delivery.

The chief executive officer of the

Herb Chambers Cos.

, a group of 46 car dealerships in Greater Boston, isn't concerned that the shaky economy will damp the demand for a new Bentley.

"Our luxury sales are up dramatically since the first of the year," he says. "We have a lot of traffic coming into our dealership, and we think the luxury-car business may be about to explode. There are people who have the money. They just need to feel good about spending it."

-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.

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