► New Bentley Flying Spur driven
► A versatile part-luxury limousine...
► ... Part 200mph-plus sports saloon
The new Bentley Flying Spur isn’t so much an evolutionary improvement on the old model, as a giant leap forward. As with its closely related sister car, the comely two-door Continental GT, it rides on a brand-new platform (also shared with the Porsche Panamera), has a heavily improved W-configuration 12-cylinder engine, and is leagues ahead of the old model in performance, comfort, style and driver appeal.
Although in concept – a thirsty 12-cylinder luxury saloon – the new Flying Spur seems about as future-facing as the Flying Scotsman, it is peppered with cutting-edge technology. Of note is a 48-volt electrically controlled suspension designed to quell body roll on tight or fast corners yet allow suppleness at low speed or when the road surface is bad. The Continental GT shares the same technology. We also find big three-chamber air springs which can cosset when comfort is demanded and offer firmness when thrills are desired. Some of the air volume is automatically shut off when you want performance, not pampering.
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Other 21st century tech includes Top View Camera, self-parking and night vision infrared which can see 300 metres ahead. Active heating allows you to pre-heat your car from your phone. All-wheel electric steering allows the big car to pivot like a much smaller one and to give a tidy 11.05-metre turning circle. It also helps high-speed stability. The body is superformed aluminium, which sharpens cut lines and improves surfacing.
Even the 12-cylinder powerplant, on the face of it more Roaring Twenties than 2020s, bristles with electro-gadgets. These include cylinder deactivation (so it can run as a more miserly six-cylinder when cruising gently), high-pressure direct fuel injection and advanced software engine management to improve throttle response and fuel economy (which is 15% better than the old Spur). Although, as the big Bentley still averages under 20mpg, any eco virtue signalling should be carefully managed.
What’s it like to drive?
If BMW launched a cross between its M5 sports saloon and its Rolls-Royce division’s Phantom limo, it would be a car much like the new Flying Spur. Which makes the new Spur, yours for £168,300, a quite extraordinary blend of opulence and performance.
It can waft along in quietness and comfort, complete with pillow-soft rear seat head cushions, limo-like rear legroom and five different seat massage settings for the back benchers. There is even a fridge between the 14-way adjustable rear seats. And naturally the cabin is an oasis of hand-stitched leather, finely burnished wood veneers and intricately diamond knurled brightwork – not to mention configurable mood lighting. It's a fine car to be chauffeured in.
Leave the wide three-laners or the city streets, and head onto a winding A- or B-road, and you soon discover it’s an entertaining car to drive, too. Select the Sport setting and your 2.4 tonne, 209-inch long limo quickly swaps out of its tuxedo into a tracksuit. You’re in a fiery sports saloon that can hit 60mph from rest in just 3.7 seconds, and zings around hairpins and along twisty roads with more sure-footedness and speed than any big hefty saloon has any right. OK it’s not quite BMW M5 nimble, but it's more-or-less M5 fast and accelerative. It can max at 207mph, making it the world’s fastest saloon. The enormous torque on tap means instant thrust is on tap any speed, any time.
The secret to its sports transmogrification is mostly that clever 48-volt electrically adjusted suspension, which can serve up suppleness one second and sports car satisfaction the next. Plus, the 6.0-litre twin-turbo 626bhp 12-cylinder engine, eight-speed paddle shift twin-clutch auto-shifting ’box, and that chassis architecture shared with the coupe Continental GT (and latest Panamera) clearly doesn’t hurt. The four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering also aid winding road composure. The 4wd is rear-biased to help handling.
There’s even a Launch mode for those limo owners who want to drive like Lewis...
Any dynamic downsides?
On the motorway or in town, there is no quieter or more refined car than a Flying Spur, except Rolls-Royce’s double-the-money Phantom. It’s eerily silent and composed. Naturally, the luxury toys – massaging and multi-adjust seats, a three-way rotating central display (from touchscreen, to classic analogue, to plain wood veneer finish) and fluted leather seats – all help. Plus, the rear touchscreens, which adjust everything from the blinds to raising and lowering the Flying B mascot on the car’s prow, add a modern twist.
On the winding stuff, it’s astonishingly good for a car of this size and bulk. But you’re always aware there’s a lot of weight in the nose, and the new electric steering is not the most feelsome – though the steering wheel itself is small and has a nice sports-style chunky leather rim. The upcoming lighter and cheaper V8 version, on sale from 2020, will almost certainly play the sports saloon role even more convincingly.
Verdict: Bentley Flying Spur review
The lumpy-looking old Flying Spur W12 was Bentley’s least appealing car. This new version is probably Bentley’s best. It’s as good to drive as the two-door Continental GT W12. And yet it is more refined and considerably more spacious than that fine two-door Bentley. It’s also rather more polished and comfortable than the pricier if more bespoke Mulsanne saloon.
No big limousine today can simultaneously play the high-performance saloon with such conviction. To pamper so richly and yet simultaneously serve up such performance is an astonishing technical achievement. And so very true to Bentley’s rich heritage.
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