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Motoring: Wheels of fortune

New tyres this week for my 1999 Discovery. The last lot, General Grabbers, lasted 30,000 miles. Their Michelin predecessors (bought and fitted at Costco, 20 per cent off) did 37,000 miles. I doubt the new £88 Cooper Discoverers will achieve that but I’ll be disappointed if they don’t reach 30,000.

13 November 2010

12:00 AM

13 November 2010

12:00 AM

New tyres this week for my 1999 Discovery. The last lot, General Grabbers, lasted 30,000 miles. Their Michelin predecessors (bought and fitted at Costco, 20 per cent off) did 37,000 miles. I doubt the new £88 Cooper Discoverers will achieve that but I’ll be disappointed if they don’t reach 30,000.

New tyres this week for my 1999 Discovery. The last lot, General Grabbers, lasted 30,000 miles. Their Michelin predecessors (bought and fitted at Costco, 20 per cent off) did 37,000 miles. I doubt the new £88 Cooper Discoverers will achieve that but I’ll be disappointed if they don’t reach 30,000.

I was speaking thus while admiring a neighbour’s newish Audi Q7. Admiring rather than envying, having discovered that his front tyres cost £400 each and lasted 6,000 miles. The dealership told him that some achieve only half that. He’s now had to replace the rears too and, having calculated that his high annual mileage means he’ll spend about £6,000 a year on tyres alone, he’ll replace the Audi next.

It’s the kind of figure they don’t volunteer when you’re buying a new car, and most of us don’t think to ask. It certainly didn’t occur to me to interrogate the new 2.5-tonne Bentley Mulsanne’s mammoth 265/45/ZR 20s (there’s a 21-inch option) at its Scottish launch last month. But if you’re paying £220,000 for the company flagship and need to know tyre life, you can’t afford it.


I worried about the Mulsanne before ever seeing it. It succeeds the Arnage, my favourite and the most traditional of modern Bentleys. I feared that they’d either abandon the upright, big-bonnet tradition in favour of a squashed fag-packet, like the new mini-Range Rover, or they’d be criticised for seeking only to replicate the past. Happily, I was wrong.

The first Bentley to greet us outside the Aldourie Castle hotel on the banks of Loch Ness (magnificent — but you take it all or nothing and it costs a heap of tyres) looked very like a 1930 8-litre. Surely this couldn’t be the Mulsanne? An astonishing decision by Bentley chairman Dr Paefgen, I thought, a courageous but doomed reassertion of eternal automotive verities which no other car man would dare attempt. Wrong again: it didn’t just look like an 8, it was, and it was W.O. Bentley’s own. They took us in it and it was wonderful, with better forward visibility for rear passengers than any modern car.

But there is a connection with the Mulsannes that flanked it: not only in the Mulsanne’s aspiration to be ‘the best car in its class’ as W.O. sought for his 8, but in the uplift you get on entering a well-appointed, beautifully finished carriage. The Mulsanne is not square, of course, but you sit tall in it and both engines produce the famous Bentley tidal wave of torque. When you get behind the wheel, however, all likenesses fade.

Gratifyingly, the Mulsanne uses Bentley’s everlasting 6.75 V8, re-engineered beyond recognition with a new camshaft, 15 per cent improvements in economy and emissions and an eight-speed gearbox, with paddle-shift. Each engine takes 30 hours to build (the car’s interior takes 170) and there are about 80 ECUs (black boxes). Outside, the styling recalls the Arnage without resembling it. The aluminium front wings are ‘superformed’ using aerospace technology, then hand-braised and finished, while at the back the swage line flattens into powerful haunches which mate seamlessly with the rear pillars. I particularly liked the crease running down the centre of the bonnet, which makes it an even better bonnet to follow than on other Bentleys.

Although ‘follow’ is hardly the word for what happens when you find 752lb ft torque at 1,750 revs. That’s where this car parts from all its predecessors. In looks it does what Dr Paefgen and his team no doubt wanted — recalling the traditional while being modern — but in power, poise, handling and overall dynamics it is wholly contemporary. In fact, the dynamics are almost futuristic, easily outperforming any other large luxury saloon I’ve driven. It does what no Arnage ever did and I have it on good authority that 130mph on those winding Scottish roads feels like 60mph.

They’ll make only about 800 a year, of which 30 per cent will go to the US. So if you want one you’d better not wait. Just don’t ask about the tyres.


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