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First drive: Bentley Flying Spur. Image by Bentley.

First drive: Bentley Flying Spur
Third-generation Bentley Flying Spur arrives; is utterly marvellous in every key regard.

 



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Bentley Flying Spur

5 5 5 5 5

There was a cheeky moment during Bentley's press conference on this latest Flying Spur saloon when it posited the idea that the third-generation model might be the (get ready for the capitals...) 'Best Car In The World'. A ridiculous notion, on something costing 168,300? Well, not as much as you might at first think...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Bentley Flying Spur W12
Pricing: Flying Spur from 168,300
Engine: 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: four-door luxury supersaloon
CO2 emissions: 337g/km (VED Band Over 255: 2,135 first 12 months, then 465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 19.1mpg
Top speed: 207mph
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Power: 635hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 900Nm at 1,350-4,500rpm
Boot space: 420 litres

What's this?

A car which is going to give the closely related Continental GT a very serious headache. It's the third iteration - in modern terms, at least - of the Bentley Flying Spur and it continues where its immediate predecessor left off, by dropping the formerly held 'Continental' moniker to ensure customers are aware the Spur is a model that can stand proudly alone in its own right.

Of course, it shares a lot with its Continental siblings, such as the same platform (something it has in common with the Porsche Panamera) only stretched a bit to accommodate more doors, and the same monster W12 engine with the 635hp/900Nm outputs. Indeed, clamber aboard the Spur's exquisitely appointed cabin and you'll recognise the most splendid Bentley Rotating Display, the same classy instrument cluster and similar sorts of thoroughly magnificent fixtures, fittings and materials.

So what are the key differences? Well, the Spur is the practical one. It has an extra pair of doors and a whopping wheelbase of 3,194mm, set in the midriff of a body that's 5,316mm from prow to stern, which allows for much more human-carrying capacity than that offered by the strictly 2+2 Conti twins. It has a 420-litre boot, which is a little way off something more compact and prosaic like a BMW M5 Competition, but which nevertheless should be able to take a great deal of luggage for grand touring duties. And it's a little bit more expensive, as a result: with a starting ticket of 168,300, it's only 9,200 more than a, ahem, 'boggo'-spec Conti GT Coupe.

Oh, and it's prettier, too. Yep, we said it; there's just something about the proportionality of the Flying Spur that suits this modern Bentley styling so well. Details that you'll never tire of drinking in come thick and fast: there's the huge radiator grille, which should serve as a stern note to BMW's 'stylists' that large intakes at the front do not have to be a strain on the eyes; there's the smoothed-off rear end, with light clusters which are now discrete from those fitted to the Contis, and a visual sensation that the whole rear end of the car is no longer sagging; there are the wonderfully underplayed haunches, a Bentley styling theme, which just give definition to a side profile that is, in all honesty, nothing short of gorgeous as three-box saloons go; and then there are the (optional) 22-inch wheels, which fill the arches perfectly and which give the car its imperious presence, without it coming off as gauche. You can stand staring at this thing for hours from all angles and you'll not once find a clunking aspect on it.

Moving inside the Flying Spur, special attention must be paid to the rear seats. Everything back here is as plush and superbly appointed as you could possibly wish it could be, which immediately makes you wonder how Crewe could possibly top it with a supposedly superior Mulsanne, and yet it's a bit of cutting-edge tech which stops the show. The little screen that is mounted on the back of the transmission tunnel looks, at first glance, like it is fixed solidly in place; it's so flush and tight that you couldn't possibly imagine it is removable. But removable it is: press the little 'eject' logo and the thing glides out silently to greet you, before you pop it off its magnetised mounts and revel in the sheer weight and heft of it. From this, you can control all manner of things inside the car, most pertinently the Bentley Rear-Seat Entertainment screens, but it even manages other details. So, if you want, you can raise and lower the retractable 'Winged B' bonnet ornament at the front of the Flying Spur. Outside and in, this car is a masterpiece, it really is.

How does it drive?

It is majestic. The Flying Spur has to balance being a 'sports sedan' - no mean feat when you tip the scales at 2,437kg without so much as a driver aboard - with being a 'luxury long-distance cruise liner', which are difficult characteristics to reconcile. And while it is clearly tilted more towards the 'opulent' end of the scale than the 'razor-sharp' bit, it is nevertheless so frighteningly good at both disciplines that you kind of wonder if this 'Best Car In The World' thing really does have legs.

Take the handling. The clever 48-volt electrical stuff is crammed into the Flying Spur, so it has four-wheel steering for maximum agility, it has powered anti-roll bars to keep its palatial body in check during harder cornering, and it has Continuous Damper Control with three-chamber air suspension to ensure that it can cover a broad spectrum of manners, from 'comfortable cruiser' to 'epic wheel control'. Throw in Bentley's typically excellent steering, a monster set of brakes (which will eventually fade, but only if you repeatedly hammer onto them from big speeds time and time again), that brutal W12 engine and the seamless yet whipcrack-smart gearbox, and what you have is a supersaloon that defies belief.

Sure, you're always acutely aware of its physical size (and its inherent expense), and it can't entirely shrug off its considerable mass despite all the clever electrickery, and there are certain roads (big, open sweepers at high pace) that suit it better than others (tight mountain passes with endless switchbacks and hairpins), but there's never really a moment where you think you've beaten the onboard systems. Or, put another way, the limits of what the Flying Spur can do are phenomenally high. It's a proper riot to have it steaming along a challenging road, where you'll soon forget about rotating dashboards, and Winged Bs going up and down, and fancy little touchscreens in the hands of rear-seat passengers, because you'll be too engrossed in the dynamic messages the Bentley is feeding back to you. It resists understeer heroically. It'll even thump into mild oversteer if you send enough of the torque rearwards with injudicious throttle openings at just the right moment. And it will display balance, grip, deftness and involvement like no top-end luxury car we've ever experienced before. Case in point: so much fun were we having in the Flying Spur that we pretty much emptied its leviathan fuel tank in the space of 150 (mainly) hard-driven miles.

It's almost needless to say that the W12 delivers faultlessly repeatable haymaker punch, because we've experienced this 6.0-litre gem of an engine enough times in various Bentleys now to know what it's game is; thus, perhaps the best revelation here is that, in the Flying Spur, it sounds the best it has ever done, with a rich, throaty growl seeping its way into the cabin as you spin the engine out to its redline. OK, a V8 model would still sound better again, but to say the W12 has no acoustic rewards would be a lie.

And yet, for all this road-holding splendour, the Spur completely seals the deal with its refinement, which is second-to-none. The only things which can match it that we've driven recently are the Rolls-Royces Phantom VIII and Cullinan, both of which cost a quarter-of-a-million quid and more before options. The ride quality is sensational in either Bentley or Comfort modes, there's simply no road or wind noise allowed into the cabin at cruising speeds, and the W12 itself dies away to a gentle background susurration when you need it to. Driving to the south of France and back in one of these for a holiday wouldn't just be something you'd do on a whim; you'd happily consider it an essential, because the Flying Spur's comfort levels know no bounds.

Do we dislike anything about it all? Hmm. Tricky. Erm... the paddle shifts seem a bit Audi-ish, even though they have beautifully tactile backing on them to make them feel like quality items. And, er... bear with us, we're thinking... well, saloon cars are always trumped by their estate brethren, aren't they? So would a Flying Spur wagon get closer to that mythical realm of automotive perfection? Hard to say. But we're in a win-win situation, because: a) if Bentley does such a thing, we'll be over the moon with delight; and b) the four-door Spur is pretty damned spectacularly amazing as it is.

Verdict

If this was a Shooting Brake estate, with a really nice, 600-litre-plus boot, do you know what? We'd be happy with Bentley laying claim to that grandiose title of 'Best Car In The World'. Because, as it is, the third-generation Flying Spur gets mighty, mighty close to the target anyway. Apart from being expensive to buy and run, which is only fitting for a car of this exalted calibre, it is in most other regards close to faultless. And unquestionably the greatest road-going contrivance Bentley makes right now.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 16 Oct 2019









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2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.

2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.2019 Bentley Flying Spur W12. Image by Bentley.








 

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