If you want a lesson in engineering excellence, drive the new Bentley Continental Flying Spur slowly. At 35mph, with just 1500rpms on the tachometer, the go-pedal responds to the slightest pressure with a perfectly measured amount of additional momentum. Reverse ditto the brakes. At the same time, the big Bentley’s power-assisted steering helms with an ideal combination of endless ease and infinite precision. All the Flying Spur’s systems work so well, and work so well together, that driving the $170k luxury car is an exercise in surgical satisfaction, offering complete mastery over a finely-honed instrument.
At full chat, the Continental Flying Spur has an ability to murder an open stretch of tarmac that beggars belief. She’ll steam from naught to 60mph in 4.9 seconds, and crest the ton just 6.4 seconds later. While you can pile on the mph’s without kickdown, why would you? Paddle, tip or auto– the Spur’s six-speed slips into lower gears like a supermodel slips into something more comfortable. And then the 17.4 foot luxobarge hurls itself down the road like God’s own fastball. No surprise, then, that the Flying Spur is the world’s fastest production sedan. Bentley turned down our request to enter the Spur in the Silver State Classic Road Race, which would have given it official membership status in their 200mph Club. Bugger!
Never mind. The accelerative experience is a delight in and of itself. Straight line performance is both more dramatic (“Can you PLEASE warn me before you do that next time? I just put a line of mascara down my neck.”) and more mundane (“I’m sorry Darling. How fast did you say we’re going? Really? How marvelous. How do I look?”) than you could possibly imagine. Ironically, the leather-lined leviathan’s sumptuous interior isn’t wholly responsible for the muffled ferocity. It’s the Flying Spur’s underlying mechanicals that elevate the car to plausible deniability come ticket time.
All hail the Spur’s W12. The 6.0-liter powerplant’s configuration is bizarre (two narrow angle V6’s joined in turbo-charged matrimony), sonically eccentric (more whine than woofle) and entirely unsuitable for mass motoring (10mpg in city mode). And? In this rarified demographic, all that matters is that the VW-sourced mill produces a torque curve that’s almost as flat as week-old champagne. In the great Bentley tradition of barking mad waftability, we’re talking about 479lb-ft. of twist at 1600rpm. What can you do with that much oomph lingering underfoot? What CAN’T you do with it?
Surprisingly, the answer to that question isn’t cornering. The Flying Spur changes direction with remarkable grace and conviction. Throw the 5000lbs. sedan into a corner and it leans a bit, and then hangs on for dear life (in the great Volkswagen Audi Group tradition). Understeer is out there, somewhere, but only truly determined stupidity will start sliding the beast’s nose towards the scenery. At any angle, the Spur’s multi-link rear axle and front double wishbones dismiss surface irregularities like a hot iron gliding over a wrinkled sheet. In fact, the air-suspended, four-wheel-drive Flying Spur offers more comfort and confidence through the twisties (long sweepers preferred) than its Continental cousin, the GT.
When it comes to style and cachet, both cars are so far ahead of the competition that it’s simply a matter of choosing between aesthetic aggression (GT) and dignified practicality (Flying Spur). The slow-selling Rolls Royce Phantom is the only car that can match the Continental Flying Spur’s exclusivity and charisma– for nearly twice the price. That said, the Flying Spur’s exterior seems distinctly clunky and unresolved in places. The disproportionately large rear lights detract from the overall design harmony, as do the bulbous, asymmetrical rear three-quarter windows. While we’re at it, the chrome side window surrounds don’t match the front and rear’s Darth Vader window treatment. Still, I wouldn’t kick the Spur out of bed for eating crackers.
The Bentley’s cabin quality easily trounces the Mercs, Bimmers, Masers and even Audis of the world, and gives nothing away to the Roller. The Spur’s materials and workmanship– fragrant leather seats and surfaces, burled wood, mechanically dampened “brightwear” (Bentley-speak for switchgear), plush carpeting, etc. — are eerily perfect. (It was almost a relief when the armrest’s aluminum end piece fell off.) The Spur’s ergonomics are also peerless, benefiting from the fact that the donor car– the VW Phaeton– was developed before mouse-driven computer controllers invaded luxury car sancta. Satellite radio, parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity are the only delights missing from the standard luxury car manifest.
Taken as a whole, the Bentley Continental Flying Spur is the world’s best sedan– provided you’re not a member of Greenpeace or a pistonhead who prefers a vehicle with an emotionally engaging personality. Make no mistake: the Continental Flying Spur possesses both an unquenchable appetite for fuel and a detached, Germanic persona. Even so, for the time being, the Flying Spur is as good as it gets.