New Bentley Bacalar 2021 review

We find out if the new Bentley Bacalar is as special as its price tag suggests

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

Verdict

As an introduction to Bentley’s new coachbuilding era with its historic Mulliner brand, the Bacalar is the ultimate incarnation of its big-selling Continental GTC and a fine example of what it is capable of producing. Expensive and exclusive it might be, but it’s craftsmanship at its very best. 

Bentley’s sales are on the rise, with the Continental GT, Flying Spur and Bentayga all enjoying a post-pandemic sales boom that will continue when the company’s range of new hybrid models join the line-up and further broaden appeal.

But, a successful range of series production cars can only add to the profits so much. When you operate in the luxury car space you need to offer something even more bespoke than your regular offerings to keep your customers interested and their disposable income in your bank account rather than a rival’s. Which is where Bentley’s Mulliner coachbuilding arm comes in. 

There are three pillars to the set-up: Classic, which focuses on reconditioning customer’s existing cars and building continuation cars of previous classics, such as the recent Blower project. Mulliner Collections will produce limited-edition ranges of existing models and then there is the coachbuilding division, which will produce bespoke, limited run cars such as the Bacalar

Based on the W12-engined Continental GTC, the Bacalar has been imagined as a limited run of 12 cars, allowing its designers to explore and experiment with new materials, surface detailing and design languages that might be a little strong for production cars. 

To this end every panel of the Bacalar’s body is new and either fabricated from aluminium (the rear canopy and deck) or carbon fibre (everything else), with the new tooling required to do so going some way to explain the £1.5 million price. 

It also suggests that Bentley wouldn’t go to these lengths if the Bacalar was to be a one-off project from Mulliner… Overall, there are 750 new parts used to construct each Bacalar, more than 40 of which are manufactured from carbon fibre. 

While the exterior styling is striking, the interior is a delight of details, with bespoke materials used throughout. The cabin is decked in 5000-year old riverbed wood; its open-pore finish is something to behold, rendering all other wood finishes redundant in terms of quality and tactility. 

Wool replaces the leather on the seats, gold and bronze detailing much of the control surfaces. Cocooned in the Bacalar’s strictly two-seater cockpit, you’re a world away from the normality of the day-to-day. 

Beneath the Bacalar’s body the W12 Continental GTC’s powertrain has been enhanced rather than overhauled. A rewriting of the ECU map has released an additional 25bhp resulting in an output of 650bhp and 900Nm. The eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is untouched, the three-chamber air suspension has been re-calibrated to suit the shift in weight distribution and the marginal 30kg weight reduction. As a result, expect the Bacalar to easily surpass the standard W12 Continental GTC’s 3.8-second 0-62mph time.

Other technical changes include the fitment of a carbon fibre tub where the rear seats once were and the roof mechanism lived. As a result, not only is there somewhere to store your bespoke luggage, but the rear of the Bacalar has more torsional stiffness than a regular GTC. Bentley has also fitted the four-wheel steering system that will make its debut on the new Continental GT Speed. 

Bedford Autodrome is an unlikely destination to drive a car such as the Bacalar, but this is a rather costly ‘car zero’ development model and Bentley would rather we didn’t expose it to the rough and tumble of a British road just yet. Not that Mulliner has skimped on the car’s development. It has been subjected to all tests and simulations that every new Bentley goes through, including over 10,000km of road testing and a climatic chamber test that meant it had to endure temperatures from -10 to +80 degrees and 80 per cent humidity, despite the Bacalar having no roof - not even a shower cap to protect its interior. 

There’s little buffeting when you’re hustling the Bacalar, if anything it’s more refined than a GTC with its roof open, which demonstrates the time Mulliner spent in the wind tunnel was well spent. Along Bedford’s back straight the stability is rock solid even when you are travelling at over double the UK’s motorway speed limit. 

The standard cast iron brakes manage the performance and weight well (Mulliner shaved 30kg from the 2,400kg-plus GTC), but we’d expect carbon ceramics to be standard at this price. What we didn’t expect was such a large, heavy car to be this agile.

Enhanced by the new four-wheel steering, the Bacalar is sharper, more precise and more agile than the Conti GT on which it’s based. As a result it feels much more together as a car, its dynamics more in sync and its balance more natural and instinctive. If any of the twelve owners find themselves away from a boulevard and on a more testing stretch of road they won’t feel all at sea. 

The Bacalar is more than just a reskinning of a regular Bentley model, it’s a thoroughly precise and exact piece of design and engineering. Costly, yes, but even after a few miles you can enjoy where every penny has been spent.

Model: Bentley Bacalar
Price:£1.5 million (plus VAT)
Engine:6.0-litre twin-turbo W12
Power/torque: 650bhp/900Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph: Less than 3.8 seconds (est.)
Top speed: More than 200mph
Economy/CO2: N/A
On sale: Sold out

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