Bentley Mulsanne

Price: £220,000
Top speed: 184mph 0-60mph 5.1 seconds
Consumption: 16.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 393g/km
Best for: Everything except fuel consumption
Also worth considering? Maybach, Rolls-Royce Ghost, Rolls-Royce Phantom

Bentley's magnificent Mulsanne is in many respects exactly what you'd expect. The latest "Grand Bentley" is a showcase for the company's best craft skills, and its 6¾ litre engine shares its architecture with the V8s that have powered cars from Bentley and Rolls-Royce for half a century. That fact reminds us that when those former sister brands, now competitors, separated over a decade ago, most of their shared DNA – the factory, the people, the designs – stayed with Bentley in Crewe. The Mulsanne's handsome styling is pretty much what you'd expect, too. It would probably be too staid for Bentley's higher-selling continental models; for this more expensive car, it is just right.

But take a closer look at the Mulsanne's body, and it goes a bit Roald Dahl on you. Not so much a Tale of the Unexpected, though – more a Tail of the Unexpected. Because the boot-lid isn't a steel affair upon which men with hammers have lavished weeks of effort, but is instead made of a modern composite material. Bentley refuses to spoil the Mulsanne's lines with an external antenna for the satellite navigation system, so it lurks beneath the boot-lid. The composite skin allows the signal to penetrate.

And that gives a clue to this car's other side. As well as representing the pinnacle of British wood-and-leathery, it is full of the latest technology and an outstanding driving machine as well. Bentley's finest doesn't, as the old cliché has it, shrink around you – thanks in part to its deliciously precise steering, it never feels unwieldy in the first place. Flick the Mulsanne hard from left to right and back again on a roundabout and you will find that 2.6 tonnes and 5.6 metres of craftsmanship and fine engineering can change direction as easily as the best cars with only half the mass. The Mulsanne's V8 may be related to past designs, but it is really a new engine, so extensive was the development work devoted to enhancing low-end torque and providing a new smoothness and crispness of response.

The best car in the world? Perhaps, although I suspect that such an unqualified title can now only responsibly be conferred on something that consumes fewer of the planet's resources, even if this wonderful Bentley is likely to be cherished for ever, rather than discarded after a mere decade of use. Call it instead the finest example of the car-maker's art on sale today, and you won't be too wide of the mark.