Bentley's latest Flying Spur saloon diverges from its Continental origins. Jonathan Crouch explains.
Aware that there was a yawning gulf between the old Continental Flying Spur and the bespoke Mulsanne saloon cars, Bentley has closed the gap with this latest, more upmarket Flying Spur model.
The Bentley Flying Spur. That's a Continental GT coupe with four doors and a boot. Some added legroom and an additional measure of frumpiness, right? In the past, that could indeed be the accusation, but the latest generation model sees key distinctions appear between the Continental and the latest Flying Spur. Bentley realised that there seemed little in the way of common DNA between the beautiful hand-crafted Mulsanne saloon and the next four-door in the line up, the Continental Flying Spur. One was from the old school, the other very different in feel, using many parts of ill-disguised Volkswagen Group origins. That changes with the latest Flying Spur. The Continental tag is ditched and Bentley has gone to great lengths to change the look and feel of the car as well. First shown at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, the Flying Spur now suddenly has the gravitas and presence its predecessor never fully possessed.
Bentley were a little stung by criticism that the old Continental Flying Spur wasn't as refined as perhaps it could have been. There were few complaints about the W12 engine, but the amount of road, wind and suspension noise entering the cabin didn't really chime with the expected magic carpet ride. This latest Flying Spur sets out to rectify that. A more rigid body helps Bentley's engineers to isolate and suppress vibrations and unwanted noise. Extra soundproofing, acoustic glass, a revised exhaust and improved door seals all chip away at the decibel count. The 19-inch tyres feature more generous sidewalls to improve ride comfort and both the air suspension's compression and the anti-roll bars are a good deal softer. Corner the car harder, however and the spring stiffness increases and the driver can also choose from four suspension settings. Under the bonnet, many still prefer the renowned 6.0-litre, twin turbo W12 engine, now coupled to a ZF eight-speed transmission. Developing 552bhp in standard W12 form or 600bhp in top GT Speed guise, the Flying Spur features more power than any other Bentley four-door in history. A 14 per cent improvement in the power-to-weight ratio over the outgoing model results in a sprint to 60mph of just 4.9 seconds in the standard version, which goes on to a top-speed of 194mph. In the modern Bentley tradition, power is delivered to the road via all-wheel drive with a 40:60 rear-biased torque split. As an alternative, buyers can choose a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with 500bhp, powering the car to sixty in 4.9s en route to 183mph.
Bentley's styling team has worked to give the Flying Spur its own look and feel that's notably distinct not only from its predecessor but also from the Continental GT coupe. The shape is at the same time both more athletic in its stance and more distinguished in its detailing. Sharp feature lines complement muscular rear haunches, while LED day-time running lights, dipped headlights and tail lights complement the front and rear profiles. The interior designers have created a luxurious, spacious cabin that dresses advanced acoustic and electronic technologies in exquisite hand-crafted leather hides and wood veneers. How different is it to what's gone before? Only the sun visors, grab handles, armrests and some front console and controls have been carried over from the outgoing car. The focus on improving comfort and sound isolation, especially in the rear seats, is helped by seating which can be adjusted in 14 different directions, not to mention heated and cooled. You can even specify the Flying Spur in four-seat or five-seat configurations. As you might well expect, the materials quality just cannot be faulted, although possibly with one exception. The gawky manual gear paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, one of the old car's most unappealing interior features, have unaccountably been retained.
Prices for the W12 model start at around £135,000, but you'll need over £150,000 for the W12 GT Speed version. The Flying Spur features touch-screen infotainment, mobile connectivity including Wi-Fi, a Rear Seat Entertainment suite and a new bespoke hand-held Touch Screen Remote which allows rear-cabin occupants to control an extensive range of features from the comfort of their seat. An eight-channel, eight-speaker audio system with Balanced Mode Radiators provide high sound clarity, with the 1100W Naim for Bentley premium system available as an option. Customers wishing to personalise the car still further can choose to include the Mulliner Driving Specification. This includes five additional hides, expanding the number of available shades to 17, and five further wood veneers. Bentley's traditional diamond quilting is incorporated on the seats and door panels, together with an indented leather headlining and embroidered Bentley wings to the headrests. Drilled alloy foot pedals, a knurled sports gear lever, jewel filler cap and 21" two-piece five-spoke alloy wheels in painted or polished finish complete the Mulliner suite of options.
Although efficiency has improved (by 13 per cent, it's claimed), you'll still need deep pockets to run a Flying Spur. The W12 model's combined fuel economy figure of 19.2mpg on the combined cycle looks a little profligate as does the emissions figure of 343g/km. The V8 variant of course does much better and offers a range of 520 miles thanks to a highly efficient engine that includes cylinder deactivation, intelligent thermal management and electrical recuperation. Residual values are another area where the big Bentley might well cause a sting. Yes, it's a model that looks to be in strong initial demand but there aren't too many 12-cylinder saloon cars that subsequently hold up well in terms of depreciation.
The Flying Spur looks likely to shrug off its reputation as the nearly car of the Bentley range. It always seemed to be the car you bought if your lifestyle no longer fitted the rakish Continental GT coupe but you couldn't run to a Mulsanne. No longer. The latest car asserts its own identity far more forcefully and the styling is a good deal more confident than its predecessor. There's an appealing mix of old school and cutting-edge technology about the latest Flying Spur and although it is a more ostentatious and extrovert car than before, the market for these vehicles increasingly demands just such a personality. Some may miss the subtlety of the old Conti Flying Spur but it's a brave new world and Bentley need to play to the right crowd.
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