- Max Speed
At first, the new V8 version of Bentley's four-door Flying Spur seems like a bit of a no-brainer versus the more expensive W12-engined variant. It looks virtually identical, has the same wonderful eight-speed gearbox, the same four-wheel-drive system, the same fragrantly opulent interior. It still has a pair of turbos, air suspension, a huge boot and enough space in the back to hold a bijou polo match. Albeit on tiny horses.
And yet it doesn't give much away in terms of performance: 62mph arrives only point-six of a second after the W12 (4.9 vs 4.3), and although the W12 musters membership of the 200mph club, a 183mph top speed isn't exactly going to leave you red-faced, even on the autobahn. It's 10 grand-plus cheaper, and, if you need a final nail in the coffin, manages nearly 26mpg rather than 19.2 for the W12, thanks to cylinder deactivation - it runs as a four-cylinder at small throttle openings.
And there's no ‘but' coming. Largely, the V8 Spur does everything the W12 does, and does it just as well. It's ever-so-slightly lighter than big brother - only by about 55kg - and with 500bhp and 488lb ft from the Audi-derived 4.0-litre bi-turbo, never feels slow. Plant the throttle in a straight line and the car has tremendous grunt, bellowing like a V8 heard through a pillow. The air suspension controls things well enough, and there's a choice of four different levels of stiffness - though, to be honest, the differences between the four strata aren't revelatory. You'll still roll into corners to set the Spur's stance before powering out, and this is not a car that shrinks: it always feels like two-and-a-half tonnes and 17.5ft of precious things.
But the basic message is that it's a fine Bentley. For waft, the W12 does hum more agreeably for this kind of car, and the V8 does make a bit more sense in the coupe, where this slightly more snarly, aggressive engine can be worked harder to better effect. The satnav/multimedia is dated, and the ride can be a little brittle over really bad surfaces. But we're being picky - and anyway, the optional Naim Audio stereo system makes you forget all that.
And yet, it's not quite as altruistic as it sounds. The Flying Spur is aimed at China - Bentley's biggest market after the US - and the reason for the smaller engine is a set of specific Chinese tax laws that attack cars with engines over four litres. Not that it matters - the V8 might not have the bar-room kudos of the ‘top' W12 model, but it's a cannier buy if you like a plush, imposing Bentley four-door with relatively reasonable running costs.
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