Bentley's latest Flying Spur saloon diverges from its Continental origins. Jonathan Crouch explains.
Ten Second Review
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.
Design and Build
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.
Market and Model
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.
Cost of Ownership
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.
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
While the Continental GT coupe was an instant success, the limousine that was developed from this platform has had a lower profile thus far in the UK. Why this is remains open to question. Anyone who has had the privilege of driving, or being driven in, the Flying Spur will realise that this is an incredible car for the money and features more 'proper' Bentley ingredients than at first seem apparent. The best thing about its low key introduction is that used examples are now starting to appear at very tempting prices.
(4dr saloon 6.0 petrol [Mulliner Driving Specification] )
For about six month after its introduction, the Bentley Continental GT was the must-have car but fashions change, the fickle moved on to the Aston Vantage and we were left with a car that embodied some solid Bentley virtues. The longer wheelbase Continental Flying Spur debuted in June 2005, the badge harking back to a 1957 model hailed at the time as one of the most powerful and elegant saloons ever created. Much has changed at Bentley in the intervening years, the most momentous event being the company's immersion into the Volkswagen empire. Although Bentley would like to stress otherwise, much of the design and engineering of the contemporary Flying Spur is common to other Volkswagen Group products. There are elements of Phaeton DNA about the cabin and the W12 engine is shared - albeit less a turbocharger - with the range-topping Audi A8 and Phaeton models. It still looked good value when compared to the range-topping Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series models though.
A number of incremental changes were made for the 2007 model year Flying Spur. The standard-fit satellite navigation system was upgraded to a DVD-based system and incorporated post code-entry programming. The Flying Spur also featured an integrated Bluetooth remote SIM access profile (rSAP) telephone system as standard. A revised 19-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheel design became standard fitment, enhancing the car's sporting credentials. For customers who wanted to go still further, a Mulliner Driving Specification package was announced that comprised 20-inch 2-piece, 7-spoke alloy sports wheels with 275/35 R20 sport tyres, drilled alloy sports foot pedals and footrest, a sporting gear lever finished in knurled chrome and hide, a diamond quilted and indented hide to seat facings, front and rear doors, an embroidered 'Bentley' marque emblem on the head rests, indented hide headlining and dark-stained Burr Walnut or Piano Black veneer fascia trims.
What You Get
Powered by a 6.0-litre twin turbocharged W12 engine good for 552bhp, with four wheel drive and a paddle operated gearbox, the Continental Flying Spur's gearbox differs from that in the GT coupe insofar as it is happier surfing along on the engine's vast reserves of torque rather than flipping down a ratio or two when the throttle pedal is pressed. The six-speed ZF transmission can be left in full auto mode or can be manipulated manually with either the stubby gear lever or the wheel-mounted paddles. The trouble with the paddle shift is that there seems to be so much torque available in so many gears that it's easy to get slightly lost in the box, gratuitously changing gear in an attempt to catch the car out. It rarely happens.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the commonality of components with some Volkswagen group products would detract from the bespoke feel of the Flying Spur, but even when compared with the £145,000 Mercedes S65 AMG, the Bentley feels by far the more special product. The perception of quality is just leagues ahead of the big Benz, the Bentley not only acing the Mercedes in terms of ergonomics, but also making so much of its operation delightful and surprising. Sit inside the two cars and you'd never guess the Bentley was a whole Volkswagen Touareg V6 less in price.
The cabin is probably the best place to take in the Continental Flying Spur as the exterior isn't particularly striking. Rather than being an afterthought, the saloon was designed alongside the coupe model and a full foot has been grafted into the wheelbase to ensure rear seat occupants never run the risk of deep vein thrombosis. The lines are dignified without being notably distinguished although the rear end looks a little bland.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
All too often, prestige cars often work out less reliable than mainstream fare. The Bentley Continental Flying Spur is the exception. Most of the oily bits have been tried and tested elsewhere and have yet to throw up any serious issues, while the interior build quality is virtually without peer. The tender loving care that Bentley owners lavish on their cars means that the Flying Spur is a solid used buy. Strangely, one of the few 'faults' that has been mentioned is the fact that darker coloured paint finishes can go rather 'swirly' through over polishing! Also look for alloy wheels that have been kerbed and pay attention to differential tyre wear on all four wheels.
(approx based on a 2005 Continental Flying Spur excluding VAT) Parts for the Flying Spur vary in price wildly. Those which are common to Volkswagen group products like the Phaeton aren't horrifically expensive with a starter motor retailing at £159. The Bentley-specific bits are eye-wateringly dear though. A replacement windscreen with rain sensor is £1,285 while a headlamp unit is £925.
On the Road
Some may say the Flying Spur lacks the aggression of the big hitting Germans, instead majoring on discretion and understatement but some of the detailing could have been a tad sharper. What are objectively undeniable are the aerodynamic benefits of that slippery body shape. A rear diffuser zeroes lift at the rear, maintaining stability at the high speeds the Flying Spur is capable of. Unlike many powerful saloons, the Bentley is not limited to a 155mph maximum and if you can find the right conditions, it will keep accelerating until 195mph shows on the analogue display panel. Although flogging it off the line may seem rather uncouth, the Flying Spur will notch the sprint to 60mph in 4.9 seconds and will hit 100mph in 11 seconds. That's Porsche 911 Carrera S quick from a car that tips the scales at nearly two and a half tonnes.
Getting a car of this class and quality for less than £100,000 seems almost unjust. Few cars have genuine half million mile potential but this is clearly one of them. Looked after correctly, the Continental Flying Spur will serve up years of discreet luxury driving. One suspects that in playing the styling rather low key, Bentley have wisely built durability into the car's lines as well as its engineering. There may be more extrovert claims on your cash but few will last the long run quite as well as this Bentley.