From £154,0309
Combines refinement, luxury and high performance in a way that makes it a strong candidate for Best Car In The World
Steve Cropley Autocar
20 May 2020

What is it?

The purpose of a UK first drive, according to Autocar’s long and detailed test procedure, is to discover how a car that’s already been tested in foreign parts copes with this country’s very different roads. 

There’s usually a major difference between the way a model first tested in Germany, say, copes with our own peculiar cambers, corners and crowns. And of course with our variety of surfaces (usually bad) with their built-in ruts and bumps.

So let’s deal first with the dynamic stuff in the case of the Bentley Flying Spur, which we first drove in Monaco late last year. The plain fact is that this £168,000 luxury saloon, with its sophisticated three-chamber adjustable air suspension, long wheelbase, considerable weight (helpful at a time like this) and years of painstaking development copes just as well in this country as in Germany or anywhere else.

At 5.3 metres of overall length, and over 2.2 metres of width (with mirrors) it may not fit comfortably down every London suburban street, but point it at any surface, corner or combination of bumps and you can more or less guarantee it’ll cope with greater quietness, comfort or poise than anything comparable, with the single exception — perhaps — of the latest Rolls-Royce Phantom. And we’d have to test even that to be quite sure. 

Left to its own devices, with its ride mode selector in “Bentley”, the wise engineers’ choice, the Spur is the closest thing you’ll find to that mythical magic carpet, absorbing bumps quietly with near-perfect body control. And it has all the silence and the interior comfort needed to complement these qualities.

However, ride comfort is far from being the full Flying Spur story. Bentley’s bag has always been multiplicity if purposes: performance is also a principal issue. This car has the sheer shove to do 207mph flat-out, if you can find the road. Courtesy of its superior 4wd traction, it can also accelerate from 0-60mph in 3.7seconds, a Ferrari-beating time. 

It’ll even cope pretty well at full noise on a racetrack because the Pirellis on its optional 22-inch wheels (the standard size is 21-inch) have been chosen as much for grip and consistency at 1g cornering speeds as for mild manners in town. And that three-chamber air suspension — which uses one chamber for the firmest ride rate, all three chambers for the most compliant — has a Sport setting that more or less eliminates body roll, squat or nosedive under the most unlikely track-day use.

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What's it like?

One particular quality of the Flying Spur, at least when equipped with our test car’s optional 48-volt active roll control system to enhance the (standard) four-mode configurable suspension is that there’s a satisfying difference between ride setting: Sport is too stiff for anywhere in the UK but Silverstone, Comfort does what it says on the tin but allows faint movement in the worst conditions that unkind people would call “bounce”, while returning to “Bentley” gives the Flying Spur the composure-with-refinement it was born with, and makes you wonder why on earth you left it in the first place.

Steering? It’s electronic, which traditionally introduces doubts from devotees of old-school hydraulics, but this variable ratio system operates all four wheels, puts an impressively tight 36ft turning circle at the driver’s disposal while requiring slightly less than 2.5 turns from lock to lock and still manages to feel entirely natural, with superb accuracy near the straight ahead, easy effort at the extremities in tight manoeuvres and a firm rim effort when you’re pressing on. The acid test is that you simply stop thinking about the steering when driving, surely the acid test of “naturalness”.

At 5.3 metres length this is a big car in anyone’s language, but (helped by the four-wheel steering) it stays just inside that manoeuvrability threshold where luxurious daily drivers end and special occasion limos begin. Which doesn’t make it a natural for an unruly Tesco car park (which car is?) but it’ll do it if you insist.

As is well known, the Flying Spur shares a lot of its sub-structure with the Porsche Panamera, just as Bentley coupes and saloons have shared underbits with VW Group models of the past. The difference here is that this time Bentey’s requirements were taken into account at the same moment of gestation as Porsche’s, so important stuff like wheel sizes and brake clearances, suspension travel and engine mounting positions can all be idealised in this car. 

It’s too simplistic to call the structure aluminium, as project leader Peter Guest explains, because beneath its long, hauchy body the FS uses a combination of composites, aluminium and various grades of steel. The outer panels are of superformed aluminium, which in such a large structure stuffed with luxurious equipment and trim helps to the kerb weight to a respectable 2437kg. 

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The styling, produced entirely in the company’s Crewe studio by a team led by Stefan Seilaff, has a grace its predecessor lacked, not least because the engineering cooperation above has allowed the car better proportions: the front wheels are now six inches further forward to reduce an unwelcome front overhang that hurt both the design proportions and the handling. But a large part of the car’s new look is brought by the car’s more prominent muscles rippling below its surface, conveying an enhanced impression of power.

Our test car was a special edition, an early Spur with the £37,000 First Edition pack that throws in just about every important Bentley add-on: first the rotating dash display, then a huge selection of special carpet, trim, stitching, badging, hand-covered steering wheels and lighting options that later owners will need to spend a day configuring at their dealer’s or in a special Crewe studio. 

The result is one the most luxurious places you can sit in the world, sumptuously trimmed in fine leather but with knurled brightwork (“if it looks like metal, it is metal”) all around. No wonder that, among luxury makes, Bentleys are more frequently used than most. The number of variables in a Bentley interior is so wide, it feels almost fatuous to describe only one car’s set of choices. 

The Spur has its own mildly modified version of the 626bhp 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine introduced with the Bentayga SUV, distributing torque actively to all four wheels via Bentley’s first twin-clutch eight-speed gearbox. The engine, always refined but once upon a time with a distant buzz built into it, is now creamy-smooth and surprisingly economical (22-25mpg in our hands), probably due to the fact that the re-engineering has balanced its innards better and its induction system combines both direct and indirect fuel injection systems for both flexibility and lower emissions. In fact, most of the time the engine makes very little sound or vibration at all, which puts it slightly at odds with the V8 offered in other Bentleys, preferred for its exhaust “woofle”.

Should I buy one?

Despite the pretensions of Mercedes and BMW, the Bentley Flying Spur has few natural size/price rivals. Rolls-Royce had deliberately priced its models higher than the Crewe company in grounds of rarity, and we’ll have to see the forthcoming Ghost saloon before knowing if it moves into Bentley’s realm. If it doesn’t, pricey though it is the Bentley Flying Spur will have an enhanced air of practicality and — dare I say this? — affordability. Value, too, is a qualifier for any Best Car In The World.

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So does it justify that label? Another cop-out coming, I’m afraid. We’re already calling this Bentley a four-and-a-half star car, and it may very well justify five. But a final decision on that accolade must await our full road test. But what we have here is certainly an exceptionally strong candidate.

Bentley Flying Spur specification

Where Gloucester, UK Price £168,100 On sale now Engine W12, 5950cc, twin turbo petrol Power 626bhp at 6000rpm Torque 664lb ft at 1350-4500rpm Gearbox 8-spd twin clutch autonmatic Kerb weight 2437kg Top speed 207mph 0-62mph 3.7sec Fuel economy no WLTP data CO2 no WLTP data Rivals Mercedes AMG S65, Rolls-Royce Ghost

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Comments
29

20 May 2020
As great as this car may be, I don't like its styling, compared to previous Bentley saloons it's a bit over done in my opinion, and I particularly dislike the front of this and the continental, the grill is just too wide. But I am not a prospective buyer so my opinion doesn't really count.

20 May 2020

Well to be honest the previous Flying Spur looked like some kind of a long wheelbase Volkswagen New Beetle which means it was disgusting, horrible looking PoT.

20 May 2020

Steve, at 2.5 tons this cars weight is in no way "respectable".

20 May 2020

Lets far it, sharing a chassis with a Porsche Panamera is a big step up to sharing one with a VW Phaeton! 

No wonder they aren't replacing the Mulsanne, this must now cover 90% of what Mulsanne owners wanted.

wmb

20 May 2020

..., but to not replace the Mulsanne is a big let down and a misstep, IMHO. Then to make the Flying Spur the Bentley new flagship, is to leave the Mulsanne customer little choice but to select either a Ghost or Phantom from Royals Royce. While the Mulsanne customer could decide to get the Flying Spur and have Bentley's coach build department, have a go at raising the vehicles appointments to Mulsanne levels of refinement. Yet even that seems like a step back for such a leader of industry. 

21 May 2020
wmb wrote:

..., but to not replace the Mulsanne is a big let down and a misstep, IMHO. Then to make the Flying Spur the Bentley new flagship, is to leave the Mulsanne customer little choice but to select either a Ghost or Phantom from Royals Royce. While the Mulsanne customer could decide to get the Flying Spur and have Bentley's coach build department, have a go at raising the vehicles appointments to Mulsanne levels of refinement. Yet even that seems like a step back for such a leader of industry. 

Yes a few Mulsanne buyers might choose a RR instead, but is that market big enough to justify a bespoke flaship, with many buyers wanting mega SUVs instead?

20 May 2020
Is going to be the Cybertruck. Sorry, hate away but from late 2021 it's going to be.

Performance, utility, value, even longevity. Nothing will be able to touch it. As with the spur, the only real issue is the CT's sheer size.

You can find issue with it's form factor or design sure, but that's just opinion. Truth? The Cybertruck is now the best thing on four wheels.

20 May 2020
The CT man. wrote:

Is going to be the Cybertruck. Sorry, hate away but from late 2021 it's going to be. Performance, utility, value, even longevity. Nothing will be able to touch it. As with the spur, the only real issue is the CT's sheer size. You can find issue with it's form factor or design sure, but that's just opinion. Truth? The Cybertruck is now the best thing on four wheels.

Looks like elon musk is using his silicon valley pals to unleash astroturfing telsa spambots on autocar.

BACK to the Bentley.

My biggest gripe with sharing a platform with the Porsche Panamera is the amount of extra trim that is taken from the VAG parts bin that ends up spoiling the interior design . Some parts bin sharing looks out of place and contradictory such as the button laden center console lifted from a Panamera, it contradicts the minimalist bond-esqe hideaway infotainment and upper trim. Generic VAG lcd speedo looks out of place also, wouldn't analogue gauges fit the cars image more than fake computerized dials that look more at home in a Audi A6?

20 May 2020

its a bit naff, and not exactly very pretty, with a different grill it could easily have been an Audi, with a backend/boot lid design inspired by Bangle era BMWs.. 

20 May 2020

after a second look I was being generous, the small rear windows and the black interior make it look a bit cave like inside, and the swan neck boot lid hinges just scream cost cutting... Its not good is it.  

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