First drive: Bentley Flying Spur
Need something a cut above your average S Class? Head this way sir...
The new Flying Spur. The last version was a four-door version of the Continental GT, but this one moves things on by dropping the Conti bit from its name - just ‘Flying Spur' will do this time - to become a distinct model in the range. It's still roughly related to the new Conti, but the similarities, both mechanical and visual, are far greater than before. It's not as grand and expensive as the enormous Mulsanne, but Bentley reckons its still a cut above your average (and high-volume) S Class or 7 Series.
The last Spur was too big to be sporty, and not gracious enough to be a proper GT. Essentially just a stretched version of the Conti coupe, its proportions never quite worked. So you'll notice this one comes with a much braver face. Big, wide grilles. Bold lines. Deeper creases. A longer, lower boot. Wing vents shaped like a Flying B. The idea was to give it a stronger identity of its own, and although you'll make your own mind up on the styling, we're inclined to deem it a success. It certainly has the sort of presence and attitude the last car lacked.
Is it different inside?
Yes. Again, there's some common ground with the new Conti in here, but big changes are in the back. Firstly you'll have to choose between two individual rear seats, or a bench with three. Then you'll wonder whether to spec the rear entertainment package. Please do. Because then you'll have 10-inch screens with WiFi and a pop-out touchscreen controller. It's about the size of a smartphone and controls everything from the changing the TV channel to the heated/cooled/massaged rear seats, and even streams dashboard dials to keep an eye on speed and satnav maps. Also go for the fold-down picnic tables. And the fridge behind the central armrest. And the whopping 1100w Naim stereo. The cooler and stereo amps take a decent chomp out of the bootspace, but you can still slide a couple of slim golf bags in the space left behind.
So it's more of a limo now?
With all those options ticked, yes. The Flying Spur's pitch has undoubtedly changed. The last one tried to be a driver's car, which was a bit too ambitious for a heavy four-door. This one is a little more relaxed. It still has air-suspension but the springs are 10-13 per cent softer than before. The suspension bushes are 25-38 per cent softer. And it now has acoustic double-glazing, double seals and a quieter exhaust so it's less boomy in the back. But none of these things turn it into a big softie. It's just more cultured now. Perhaps not as serene as a Rolls, but certainly very well-mannered.
What if you want to drive really fast?
You'll be most pleased with the 616bhp, 6-litre twin-turbo W12, which makes this the most powerful Bentley saloon ever (including the Mulsanne). Nought to 100kph takes 4.3 seconds, and is dispatched with ruthless commitment. It's 50kg lighter but 4 per cent stiffer than before. The front track (the distance between the wheels across the axle) is 2cm more than before and 3.5cm greater at the rear, giving it a more solid stance. The suspension has four modes: comfort at one end, sport at the other. Full comfy mode relaxes things enough without becoming squishy. Full sport tightens things up without becoming harsh. Small-ish changes, but somehow they make this Spur feel more balanced, more deliberate. This certainly never feels like a 2.3-tonne car, which is perhaps its greatest dynamic achievement.
Anything else I should look at for this money?
For an entry-level car, the Spur lives between the priciest S Class and the cheapest Rolls Ghost. But it fills this space with absolute confidence. This, ultimately, is a mostly hand-made Bentley, and it feels special enough to command such a price (especially in Mulliner spec). The S Class - especially the new one - might be a better out-and-out limo, but it's not as genteel or exclusive as a Spur. A Ghost might be more imperious, but you could buy a decent hot hatch or two with the price difference. If you'd have asked us a few years ago, we'd have told you to save for a Roller. Now? We'd think much harder. This is one properly cultured car...