It may mark me out as a little odd but I love really bad weather. If there’s a storm rattling around outside I’ll be the one throwing open the windows and climbing under a thick duvet to listen to it. Bury me in enough layers of protective clothing and I’ll walk through blizzards with a smile on my face. I love the sense of being cocooned against elements doing their best to kill me.
If you do too, you would be much taken with this new Bentley, the Continental Flying Spur. During my very first drive in Crewe’s new £115,000 limousine I had to guide it up the autostrada that runs north from Venice towards the mountains. Outside the wind blew and the rain hosed down, drenching the road so much of the time it was flooded. Time, as ever, was short and the person in my head in charge of sense of survival was issuing red alerts, as simple common sense said no car could safely get down that road at this speed in these conditions. But his colleagues over in sight, sound and touch were entirely unfussed: not once was the Bentley deflected an inch from its chosen course. So far as the Flying Spur was concerned, it could have been a dry and sunny day. Ever the democrat, I pressed on.
In that instant, the Flying Spur validated the theory of its creation and revealed its true purpose. It is to blend traditional Bentley values of extravagant driving pleasure and hand-built luxury into a package that, through its sheer modernity, can be used to the full all of the time and in all conditions. And, do you know what? They damn near pulled it off.
Of course there are those that will say this is merely a four-door Continental GT and, given that it uses the same VW-sourced twin-turbo 553bhp W12 motor, six-speed ZF ’box, multi-link suspension and record- breaking 405mm brake discs (the biggest in production), there is much in what they say. Yet despite this, the Flying Spur possesses a character of its own, one that leads me to lament the fact that Bentley has not made more of a visual distinction between them.
Indeed, if you see one in the mirror, you’ll not be able to tell whether it’s a Spur or a GT. It’s only when it draws alongside that you’ll spot the extra 300mm in the wheelbase, the B-pillar and the four long doors. And when it sweeps past you, as it surely will, you’ll be able to judge the merits or otherwise of its new boot. To me, it works markedly less well than the GT’s considerably more pert rear end and helps create the entirely false impression that the Spur was an afterthought, a GT stretched like warm toffee into a family-friendly shape. In fact, although the GT has been on the market for well over a year, in design terms it and the Spur are twins.
But just as they’re not identical in looks nor are they in ability and anyone who presumes that, just because the Spur is heavier, longer and softer than the GT, it must be dynamically compromised has reckoned without the talents of Bentley’s engineers in general and those of their boss, Dr Ulrich Eichhorn, in particular.Bentley says it will still hit 60mph in the same 4.9sec we achieved with the Continental GT. Top speed has come down, however, by three whole miles per hour, to a trifling 195mph though Eichhorn says this figure is conservative and that, in optimum conditions, 200mph should not be beyond the Spur’s grasp. So few are going to find its performance lacking; it is, after all, the fastest saloon in the world.
More interesting than such academia, however, is the fact that the W12 is considerably better suited to the Spur than the GT. My time in the coupé has always been tinged by a slight regret that its engine doesn’t howl and rev as we have come to expect from modern supercars. It may be very Bentley, but it’s not very exciting. But its low-rev, high-torque approach suits a luxury limousine to perfection. You don’t want to have to thrash such cars before they’ll perform – you’d rather roll along on an ocean of torque and, with 479lb ft of the stuff available at a frankly comical 1600rpm, that’s just what the Spur allows.Then, of course, there is the not insignificant fact that you can pile a family of five into the Spur. It is roomy enough for four six-foot adults to sit in extravagant comfort with none of their extremities even close to coming into contact with a seat, a headlining or another occupant. The boot’s reasonably big, too, but has a small aperture.