Handsome and well proportioned, dynamic breadth, interior design
Hybrid version plugs a gap but isn’t the full ticket
What is it?
Well firstly, rather handsome. Check out the proportions: the sense that the front wheels have been pulled forward, the windscreen sloping back in sympathy, the way it sits on its wheels. In profile it’s a bloody good bit of design. We've never been able to say that about a Flying Spur before.
Well, not since the badge first appeared on a four-door back in 1957. It was an element of design director Arthur Taylor Johnstone’s heraldic crest that gave the car its name. The plate came back in 2005, adorning a saloon version of the first generation Continental GT. It wasn’t a looker, yet Bentley sold 37,000 of them. The trouble was that the last-generation Flying Spur, even after it was facelifted in 2013, was a car for the driven, not the driver. It both looked and felt too nose heavy. Better to sit in the back.
Is this now a car for the driver then?
Rather. Particularly if you choose the ‘entry-level’ V8. This isn’t ‘entry-level’ like you get at Dacia, the bumpers blackened and stereo yanked out. This is a skinnier, sharper and only mildly less powerful car than the top-rung W12. The power plays are 542bhp for the V8 and 626bhp for the W12. Both are twin turbo units, the W12 getting you to 62mph 0.3secs faster (3.8secs).
Isn’t there a third engine?
There is, a hybrid 3.0-litre V6, which puts a 134bhp electric motor between engine and gearbox. Same total system power as the V8, and same price, too (£155,500). It’s not a great hybrid though – small battery, not enough range, very slow to charge. Bentley says it’ll do 30 miles on electric at up to 84mph. Not both at the same time, that’s for sure. The reality is more like 20 miles, and charging the 14.1kWh takes a minimum of two hours. It’s AC charging only.
How’s the tech underneath?
Whichever model you choose, it’s longer and wider than before while lighter, too. Crucially, the axles are now 130mm further apart, the chassis (all-new and all-aluminium, so too the bodywork) features an optional 48-volt electric system that manages an active anti-roll bar and four-wheel steering. The four-wheel-drive system is more rear-biased, the gearbox is not a regular automatic but an eight-speeder with twin clutches.
It’s just a much more dynamic car than before. Rear steer, more torque at the back axle, the driver sat further back in an elongated wheelbase and a top speed of 207mph if you’ve gone full-fat W12. It even has launch control.
Jeepers. The limo is as quick as the Continental GT…
Correct. It’s not much heavier and most of these features (bar the rear-steer) are lifted from the current Continental GT coupe. But beyond that you get the feeling Bentley has thought long and hard about how and where to position this car. To turn it into something owners will be as happy to be seen driving as being driven. That’s a clever strategy and should give it more far-reaching global appeal, but also set it aside from both the regular chauffeur driven stuff (who these days would buy an S-Class to drive themselves?).
It’s a deeply clever car this, bridging the gap between the driver and the driven more comprehensively than any other luxury saloon. The German brands may be more affordable, but they’re also more generic, hard to distinguish from each other, shorn of presence. Cars for the destination, not the journey.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
Enjoy driving? This is perhaps the most compelling four-door saloon Bentley’s built since the anachronistic Arnage. It uses technology very effectively but doesn’t allow it to dominate. The hybrid doesn’t quite have the road manners of the more effortless V8 and W12, but it’s a useful urban dodge for the wealthy and in other areas this is a swift, sure-footed and genuinely enjoyable luxury saloon, faster than anything this side of a Panamera Turbo S and way more cosseting. And for the driven, the spaciousness, design and tactility of the cabin lifts it well clear of anything a mass-market brand has to offer.
The Flying Spur is a very, very convincing car, handsome and stately enough to usurp the now-deceased Mulsanne, more bespoke and special than a Bentayga, arguably an even bigger step forward than the Continental GT. The best advert for the return of the four-door saloon we’ve driven in years.