Bentley. The name alone conjures, alternately, images of elegant serenity and brashly overt consumption. But the 2011 Mulsanne, for all its in-your-face luxury, is every inch the elegant, refined, and elementally Bentley sedan.

In fact, it's the most "Bentley" Bentley since 1928. Why is that? Because it's the first Bentley designed from the ground up to exist exclusively as a Bentley since 1928. Over the past 82 years, corporate partnerships have seen every Bentley built share a platform with one marque or another. Not so with the Mulsanne.

That uniqueness means Bentley has focused its efforts to produce a car that truly characterizes the brand, and according to John Voelcker's first drive review from the hills of Scotland, it does so brilliantly. Built in Crewe, hand-crafted by skilled technicians, and larger than life, the Mulsanne is, according to Stuart McCullough, Bentley's board member for sales and marketing, "a big, heavy car, and unashamedly so."

Adjectives like "stately" and "dominant" pervade the marketing lingo of the Mulsanne, and for good reason. Unlike the "new money" cars it competes with, the Mulsanne is understated despite its richness, combining hand-crafted woods, leathers and metals with a behemoth 505-horsepower 6.75-liter V-8 that conveys a force-of-nature 752 pound-feet of torque while remaining sedately quiet.

Limited to 800 units per year at full production and priced from $285,000, plus a $2,595 delivery fee, the Mulsanne isn't exactly an "Everyman" sort of luxury sedan, but it certainly deserves a place on our short list of the year's best luxury and performance vehicles to buy, or as we call it, Motor Authority's Best Car to Buy 2011. Look forward to closer looks at each of the nominees for our inaugural award every day this week.


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