2021 Bentley Bacalar review

What car do you buy when you can have it all?

2021 Bentley Bacalar review
Gallery25
9.0/10Score

Things we like

  • The ultimate in both indulgence and excess
  • Impressively rapid
  • Comfy

Not so much

  • So rare you're unlikely to ever see one let alone drive one
  • Crazy price

As The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted – and the $2.9 million Bentley Mulliner Bacalar proves – the very rich are different from you and me. You’d think launching one of the most extravagant Bentleys ever made during a global pandemic would be a disaster. But all 12 of the 12-cylinder, 320km/h Bacalars were quickly snapped up shortly after the ultra-luxe barchetta’s virtual launch in March last year. What’s more, not a single customer has since cancelled their order. Crisis? What crisis?

In simple terms the Bacalar is a Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible wrapped in unique carbon fibre and aluminium panels by Bentley Mulliner, the company’s in-house coachbuilding, customisation and classic car operation. That means it has the 485kW, 900Nm version of the recently refreshed 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 under the bonnet, driving all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch that’s been tweaked to deliver faster shifts. The GT Speed hardware also means the Bacalar gets that car’s rear-axle steering system, along with its electronic rear differential and quicker steering calibration.

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Mulliner, which traces its origins to a saddlery business founded in the 1500s, became a coachbuilder in the 1760s, and has been a part of Bentley since 1959, has used both traditional hand-crafting methods and state-of-the-moment manufacturing technique to create the Bacalar’s arresting exterior and plush interior. More than 750 of the car’s components are new, including 40 carbon-fibre parts and almost 100 individual 3D-printed components.

The Bacalar’s exterior design riffs on the EXP 100 GT coupe concept revealed in 2019 to celebrate Bentley’s 100th anniversary. The forms and details have been toned down, but the essential vocabulary remains. Up front is a similarly dramatic interpretation of the Bentley grille, unique oval headlights with light bars that extend into the front guards, and a front splitter that looks as if it is supported by buttresses under the lights that extend outwards to the front corners of the car. At the rear, the unique tail-lights sit in a deeply notched vee section above a fascia designed to visually enhance the car’s overall width.

Though it shares key hard points with the GT Speed Convertible – wheelbase, dash-to-axle, cowl height – the Bacalar is 50mm longer overall, with most of the extra length behind the rear wheels, and 43mm wider, the rear quarter panels pumped out to accommodate a 20mm increase in the rear track. The door handles, needed because they contain the hardware for the keyless entry system, are the only recognisable exterior parts from the regular GT. Even the windscreen is unique, 41mm shallower than the standard Convertible. The Bacalar’s bespoke 22-inch alloy wheels are a complex design, each wheel taking a whole day to paint and polish, making it more labour intensive than prepping a Bugatti Chiron wheel, says Bentley Mulliner coachbuilding project leader Omar Sheikh.

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"Few Bacalar owners are ever likely to pinball it from apex to apex"

The essential hardware in the cabin is shared with the Continental GT, but the Mulliner makeover includes unique door and centre console trims, and a host of other unique details, right down to the knurling on the bullseye vents, and the quilt pattern on the two seats that, according to Bentley, requires precisely 148,199 stitches per seat to complete. Behind them, under the aero humps extending towards the rear of the car, is room for two specially designed bags by Italian luxury luggage maker Schedoni. The Bacalar also debuts a new veneer called Riverwood, made from 5000-year-old trees that have been preserved in peat bogs, lakes and rivers in the Fenlands of East Anglia – of course it does...

It might look dramatically different, but the way the Bacalar goes down the road is initially familiar. That muscular W12 delivers Bentley’s trademark surge of weapons-grade thrust all the way to 6000rpm, a muted snarl from the exhaust echoing in the slipstream. And the ride has the same measured cadence as the Continental GT, the calm heft of the body motions artfully modulated by the air suspension and steadied by the 48V anti-roll system.

Turn into a corner, though, and the Bacalar suddenly feels a very different sort of Bentley, lighter on its feet than you expect, with a more alert and responsive front end. It’s not really that much lighter – despite all that carbon fibre and aluminium and the lack of a roof, the Bacalar weighs a mere 30kg less than a GT Speed Convertible. Yes, the steering is quicker, but all the magic comes from the back axle, courtesy of the rear-steer system and the electronic rear diff, both of which are supported by a new carbon fibre tub that adds even more stiffness to the Continental GT’s already impressively rigid structure.

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Want to tuck the nose in tighter? Lift off and the Bacalar will begin to rotate gracefully. You then need to be a little patient with the throttle otherwise the nose will push wide – this is still a big, heavy car and the laws of physics are immutable. But once you get past the clipping point and open the steering, pull the trigger and the big Bentley grunts, grips, and fires down the road.
The factory claims a 0-100km/h time of about 3.8 seconds. The Bacalar feels every bit that quick, effortlessly whisking past 160km/h on even the shortest straight.

Of course, few, if any, of the 12 well-heeled Bacalar owners are ever likely to pinball it from apex to apex with their hair on fire. No, this Bentley will do its best work wafting through the luxury hotspots dotted around Australia, cosying up to the kerb outside the best hotels and restaurants. For them, the Bentley Mulliner Bacalar is not so much a car to drive as it is a car to be seen driving.

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2021 Bentley Bacalar specs

Engine: 5998cc W12, DOHC, 48v, twin-turbo
Power: 485kW @ 5000rpm
Torque: 900Nm @ 1350rpm
0-100km/h: 3.8sec (claimed)
Weight: 2300kg (est.)
Price: $2.9m

9.0/10Score

Things we like

  • The ultimate in both indulgence and excess
  • Impressively rapid
  • Comfy

Not so much

  • So rare you're unlikely to ever see one let alone drive one
  • Crazy price

 

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Angus Mackenzie
Journalist

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