The Bentley Continental Flying Spur is a vast and potent luxury car, but its refinement isn't good enough

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It’s the start of just another working day as you pass through the stately front door of your manor and crunch the gravel under foot. In front of you sits your Bentley Flying Spur, and as you clasp the weighty key – thankfully now far removed from the VW-derived item of the Continental GT – you can’t help but feel a twinge of pride and satisfaction: you bought that.

You’ve come a long way, achieved much in your life. You’re a success. The Mercedes S-Class you owned before the Spur never made you feel like that, and certainly not the top-end BMW 5 Series before that. There are a hundred expensive Mercedes in this wealthy area, but only a few Bentleys.

If you understand only one thing about the Flying Spur and appreciate only one of its talents, it is this in-bred marque appeal and sense of gravitas that its rivals can only dream of. And at times, that’s just as well.



Bentley Continental Flying Spur rear

The Bentley Flying Spur is part two of Volkswagen’s rebirth of the famous Crewe marque, and uses the same basic underpinnings as its more sporting GT brother.

That means the same air sprung suspension and weighty steel chassis also shared with the Phaeton; the unique twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 powerhouse up front and the same basic wood and leather feast of an interior, but with two extra doors and a lot more room behind the front pair of seats.

The Flying Spur's styling doesn't cut it in a market full of confident designs

If the first reaction you had on seeing your Flying Spur was pride, we’re inclined to believe your second look would be one of disappointment. It’s best when viewed either from the end of its bonnet or by approaching from the rear, when traditional Bentley styling cues such as the bold mesh grille and heavily tapered rear section create a fair amount of impact.

Walk around to the side however, and the general proportions – short bonnet, high roof and gently rounded corners – don’t support such extravagant detailing, and the bland, slab sides look particulary clumsy. A car such as this needs to make a confident statement, and in our experience the Flying Spur doesn’t.


Bentley Flying Spur dashboard

Open the Flying Spur's large and weighty door with its leathered side and capping of wood, and settle down into the large driving seat and all the Bentley's flaws are forgiven. The expanse of wood and leather – so much hide that you might feel guilty at the number of cows that have sacrificed their skin for your comfort – create an interior with an emotional reach far beyond that of its Teutonic rivals.

Wood, leather, chrome and old English charm may not be the latest in design sophistication, but when it’s done to a standard such as this, few themes can match its sense of occasion.

There is a fantastic sense of space and luxury in the rear

Look closer and you’ll notice the profusion of switches and control knobs (a slightly less English trait), and feel the rather hard and brittle black plastic that most of the buttons are made from – unfortunately this is Volkswagen parts bin engineering when Audi do it much better. But you can’t fault the overall effect, which feels like you’re sitting on the flight deck of a 1960’s British airliner from the early jet age.

In fact, where you really want to be is back down the cabin in one of the two rear chairs (the Flying Spur is strictly a four seater). These electrically powered seats that recline and adjust are separated by a long strip of wood veneer that houses individual climate control, electric seat buttons and their heating and cooling.

There is a fantastic sense of space and luxury back here, especially when the front passenger seat is sent forward, as the nearside rear passenger has the power to do from his control panel.


Twin-turbo Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Before we actually consider the Flying Spur’s performance, let's make clear the task that faces the 552bhp W12. This is a car that weighs 2515kg with fuel but without occupants; a two-and-a-half-tonne mass of metal, wood and leather. But still the Bentley flies from 0-60mph in 5.0 sec, 0-100mph in 12.8 sec and 0-140mph in 27.7 sec, and to a top speed of 194mph.

From behind the large, flat steering wheel, accessing the Spur’s performance is simply a matter of squeezing the right-hand pedal. At low speeds it glides forward with a subtle murmur; it’s clear that Bentley wasn’t intending to trim back the noise levels for total refinement, and instead opted to leave a sporting edge to the car.

The Flying Spur only starts to feel quick above 100mph

Accelerate hard and the W12 growls with a note just on the pleasing side of coarse and the six-speed automatic gearbox changes ratios quickly and fluently. You can also change gears manually with the stick or by the rather cheap, long plastic paddles behind the steering wheel.

The Spur only truly starts to feel quick above 100mph, and the manner with which the speedometer’s needle stealthily flies past the ‘130’, ‘140’, ‘150’ and ‘160’ markings is faintly surreal.

Stability is excellent, too, and is a reassuring vindication of the aerodynamic work Bentley has done to allow the Spur to handle such high speeds with aplomb.

If you do feel the need to have yet more performance, the 600bhp Flying Spur Speed could be for you. It gets a 10mm lower ride height, will sprint to 60mph in just 4.5sec and should push on to over 200mph.


Bentley Continental Flying Spur cornering

So it’s quick then, as you would expect of a Bentley. But just as importantly, how is the Flying Spur's ride? The adjustable damping is accessed by a small button in a row of many behind the gearlever, and altered by turning the main control wheel in the centre of the dashboard. There are five settings between the extremes of comfort and sport, the default being halfway between those two.

It is in this setting that most Spurs will be driven, as it is the best compromise between body control and ride comfort, and also because fiddling with the rather sticky control wheel every time the road surface or environment changes quickly becomes a pain.

The cast iron brakes offer fantastic stopping power

The major disappointment is the secondary ride, especially at low speeds over poor surfaces. Hitting a sunken manhole cover in the Spur creates more commotion than should be expected in a luxury limousine like this. And the great pity is that tuning the dampers for extra comfort only makes the car wallow more. Road blemishes send a distant shimmer through the structure at times, too, as if the dampers are struggling to contain the situation.

Still, your pad is in the country, and a classic English B-road opens up in front of you every morning. You never made any attempt to drive your Mercedes-Benz S-Class in a sporting manner – in fact you preferred it when someone drove it for you – but the Spur is different, because despite its size and weight, it is a car that’s fun to drive. Adjust the dampers to sport, accept the silly choppiness to the secondary ride, and marvel at the way the Spur grips and changes direction. You can push harder in this car then you would think possible, and despite the constant and early onset of tyre squeal and the inevitable understeer, it digs in and responds in a genuinely sporting way.

The steering is improved over the GT, too. There’s not much feel, but then this isn’t a Lotus Elise, and you can steer the Spur with much greater accuracy and confidence than the GT.

As you’d expect, the Speed betters this still further, bringing an even shaper performance and handling edge with little compromise to the ride. If money is no object (as it probably isn’t), then the Speed is the better car.

The brakes deserve a special mention. Despite being standard cast iron in their construction, they offer supreme retardation power considering the mass they have to hold back. But their real talent is their ability to resist fade, despite several repeated full stops from high three-figure speeds.


Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Driven hard, the Flying Spur’s thirst is truly frightening. But then this is a car that achieves 15mpg on a good day, and a Bentley has never been purchased for its frugality

Your wallet may be fat to afford the Spur in the first instance, but you’re unlikely to be pleased with a realistic range of 200 miles between fill ups.

The realistic fuel tank range is 200 miles

Depreciation is no worse than you might expect of a car of this ilk, but that’s still not really a good thing. You will still lose a five-figure sum on either the Speed or the standard car in the first year of ownership from new.

General maintenance and servicing costs are guaranteed to be dizzyingly high, too.

Ultimately, if costs are a priority you won’t be considering this car. But even by the standards of comparable performance saloons, the Bentley looks more than a little pricey.


3 star Bentley Continental Flying Spur

There is much to love about the Bentley Flying Spur: it creates a sense of occasion like few other cars at any price, and offers an endearing blend of performance, potential top speed and braking power.

The interior sets it apart from the more mainstream rivals, and there can be no denying that it fulfills its remit as a big, lavish limo. It’s even fun to drive, in a brutish kind of way.

The Bentley Flying Spur fulfills its remit as a big, lavish limo

However, some of the fundamentals just aren’t good enough, namely the ride, refinement and overall effect of the car's appearance.

This is a Bentley, and we fully appreciate it needs a sporting bias to differentiate itself in the market place.

But when you’ve got a two-and-a-half tonne luxury limo with all that space in the rear, its ability to offer a cosseting ride has to be the primary objective over all other concerns. The Spur simply cannot offer that as comprehensively as a Jaguar XJ does.

The Flying Spur is a flawed giant.

Bentley Continental Flying Spur 2005-2012 First drives