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The Top Gear car review: Bentley Flying Spur
For:Handsome and well proportioned, dynamic breadth, interior design
Against:Throttle calibration could be better. Little else
What is it?
Handsome, isn’t it? Well, once you get past the grille (Baleen whales spring to mind. Maybe it’s good at filtering krill). Check out the proportions though, 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. 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 Continental GT. It wasn’t a looker, yet Bentley has sold 37,000 of them to date. The trouble was that the last gen 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.
On paper there are strong similarities between that and this, the all new Flying Spur. Both use the 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12, and power is only up 10bhp. Weight is only down 38kg, length and width have grown by a mere 21mm and 2mm respectively. The new one is 4mm lower, has a similarly commodious boot and back seat. But then the changes: within that almost identical length, the axles are now 130mm further apart, the chassis (all new and all aluminium, so too the bodywork) features a 48 volt electric system that manages an active anti-roll bar and four-wheel steering. The 4WD system is more rear-biased, the gearbox is not a regular automatic but an eight-speeder with twin clutches. Torque has risen 74lb ft. Efficiency is up 15 per cent on the new WLTP cycle, even if figures of 19.1mpg and 337g/km of CO2 are nothing to boast about.
Leaving that aside, doesn’t this sound a much more dynamic car? Rear steer, more rear biased torque delivery, the driver sat further back in an elongated wheelbase, plus 626bhp for a 0-62mph time of 3.8secs – faster than any Merc S-Class, up to and including the S65. A top speed of 207mph. It even has launch control. 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 costs £168,300 – just under ten grand more than the Conti GT coupe, but substantially less than the £234,000 Bentley currently charges for its flagship saloon, the bigger, heavier and in no way dynamic Mulsanne. You get the feeling that when the first Flying Spur was being developed over 15 years ago, VW kept a relatively tight rein on proceedings. Now Bentley has proved itself under the family umbrella it’s been allowed more control. The result looks impressive on paper, so how’s the reality?