Bentley Flying Spur V8 S review: 521bhp super-saloon tested Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Bentley Flying Spur V8 S review: 521bhp super-saloon tested

£142,800 when new
Published: 12 Jan 2017


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Ah, the cheap Bentley saloon.

All things are relative, aren’t they? Although technically you’re wrong, because although at the cheap end of the Bentley spectrum, this isn’t the cheapest – that’s the £132,800 Flying Spur V8, while this is the Flying Spur V8 S, which costs exactly £10,000 more and has an extra 21bhp and 15lb ft of torque from the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8. That’s not all. As befits its S-for-sporty badge there’s a new black grille, a gloss rear diffuser, 20in painted wheels, plus inside you’ll find piano-black wood veneer, a knurled gear lever and shift paddles.

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By the standards of today’s best sprinters it’s not that fast, hitting 62mph in 4.9secs (0.3secs ahead of the non-S V8), but it has a lot of what might best be termed ‘momentum’. Imagine the potential energy contained within an object weighing 2417kg doing 190mph.

A very big object, to boot.

It is that – 5.3 metres long, with a 90-litre fuel tank and a 475-litre boot at one end, a (relatively compact) V8 at the other and in between a large open area where people can relax, lounge around, stretch out. A mobile escape pod. Simply put, the sooner they make this thing autonomous, the better.

You don’t mean that.

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One word: commuting. But OK, this is a Bentley and it’s designed to be driven, so up front there are two seats. And in the back there are two more. Sporty or no, these are the ones you want to be in. This may be Bentley’s junior saloon, but let’s not pretend it’s cramped. Kit it out your way and you can recline, have a massage, do some work at your desk, catch up on some TV viewing, wind the driver up by messing with the settings up front, and all without moving more than your fingers a few inches. It’s good, clean, capitalist fun.

Bentley doesn’t do an EWB (extended wheelbase) version of the Flying Spur and nor do they need to. Bigger in the back than an equivalent LWB Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series? About the same, but what’s different here is that the space split between front and back seems more generously skewed to the rear. Long back doors makes entry and egress simple, and you sit on gorgeous diamond-pattern leather.

In comparison the front feels relatively confined. Yes, you could just slide the seat back a bit more to get away from the dash, but then you’d be too far from the pedals. The Bentley’s driving environment asks more of you, asks you to get involved. It’s not unique in this regard – most luxury cars are still designed with the driver in mind and the Flying Spur is – largely due to its dated interactive screen – comparatively simple to operate. And it wants to be driven, because it’s not quite the relaxing or sumptuous barge that would allow you to kick back and guide it with one hand.

But that’s fine isn’t it?

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Well it would be if the driving environment was great to spend time with. But the fact is that the Flying Spur, a saloon version of the Conti GT coupe that dates back to 2003, is getting on a bit. In the coupe this is slightly less of an issue as the lower roofline and more rakish pillars give the cabin a mildly more exotic flavour.

But in the more upright saloon the ageing infotainment with its laggy screen and cheap graphics, plus some fairly tired design details have nowhere to hide. There’s no USB plug-in, although there is a six-disc CD changer in the glovebox. My kids didn’t know what this was.

Operating it is a heavy, ponderous business initially. The steering is slow, the clutch engages slowly, even at 20mph there’s so much momentum in the car that slowing it takes more time and effort than you might normally allow, and you feel it heave through roundabouts.

But it can be stiffened up can’t it?

Absolutely. On the V8 S, Bentley ‘calibrated the suspension for faster responsiveness’. The adaptive dampers have four positions and the eight speed auto has both sport and manual modes. Roundabouts are still not the Flying Spur’s favourite habitat, putting too much force and pressure through tyres barely able to cope with tight radius turns, but on more open, flowing roads, you and the Bentley can build a good head of steam.

Look, it’s not nimble, it doesn’t like changing direction fast, but it will surge along an A-road at unseemly pace and do a damn fine job of insulating you and your passengers from the surprising speed it’s somehow managed to acquire.

With so much torque on tap from so low down, a relatively lazy gearbox and no more than a distant woofle from the exhaust, little about the Flying Spur suggests overt speed – unless you hoof the loud pedal properly.

And what happens then?

It takes moment or two for the gearbox to register your request, but once it does, the V8 S digs deep and drives hard, as though anxious to show any whipper-snapper Focus RSs in the vicinity what real power is. There’s a good deep rumble, and an unseemly amount of shove as that momentum builds.

Faster than a standard V8? Bentley claims so, but honestly you’re never going to notice a 21bhp gain. Sportier to drive? I think so. It definitely feels better supported through corners, resisting roll with commendable resilience. The steering is fairly distant, but the rack feels more direct at speed, and although it seems to behave more like a Range Rover much of the time, if you do tauten it up, it does a good impression of something considerably more tightly controlled – a Porsche Cayenne perhaps. Only without the crashy ride. That all said, this is not a motor that ever manages to shake the effects of its weight.

But it rides well, though?

Well, yes, it’s very well insulated, and the primary ride, aided by the long wheelbase and the sheer mass involved, is mostly majestic, but those huge heavy wheels do occasionally thump stuff hard.

There’s a wonderful, satisfying density to the Flying Spur that I think may be one of the best things about it – or at least is the one thing that differentiates it completely from the likes of the S-Class and 7-Series. There’s a luxuriousness and carefreeness to the car’s weight strategy that’s oddly appealing – the thickness of the chrome on the airvents, the generous armrests, the vault-like heft of the doors. This solidity carries through to the imperious, impervious driving experience.

So what are your conclusions?

That time is running short for the Flying Spur. For all its prowess in some areas, I’m not sure how long potential buyers, potentially also looking at the likes of a BMW M760Li with gesture control and an S63 AMG with what amounts to two feet of screen forming its dash, are going to want this almost retro vibe. Or maybe that’s part of its appeal – it has been for Bentley in the past, but under VW stewardship I’m not so sure.

But it’s odd how, while the saloon is ageing now, the all but identical Conti GT coupe still feels reasonably relevant even when tested against the new Aston Martin DB11 and Mercedes S-Class Coupe. Style plays a part there and the design cues which still sit nicely on the coupe appear too stretched here. When all’s said and done we’re more forgiving of coupes, aren’t we?

3993cc V8 twin turbo, 4WD, 521bhp @ 6000rpm, 502lb ft @1700rpm, 25.9mpg, 254g/km CO2, 0-62mph in 4.9secs, 190mph, 2417kg, £142,800

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