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Most people would assume that Bentley’s intention in basing the global launch of its all-new, third generation Flying Spur saloon in and around Monaco’s famous Hotel de Paris was to provide a suitable backdrop for a model the company suggests (without quite claiming) is the best car in the world.

However, having attended the event and driven the car, I can report that this exotic location had a second very different purpose: it demonstrated how important it is that any modern 5.3-metre luxury saloon that wants to be taken seriously as a day-to-driver (as Bentley insists the Flying Spur should be) that it must come with active, electronically controlled four-wheel steering as standard. That matter was proven in my first 20 yards of driving...

As with everything in Monaco, the area outside the Hotel de Paris is regulated with military precision. A forest of knee-high, chain-linked posts keeps drivers of sub-Bentleys away and the Casino Square itself is a confusion of manicured greenery criss-crossed by awkwardly kinked narrow roads to carry you to the wider world. Even in a Golf you need to take care.

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Had our new Flying Spur not had rear wheels that (below 60mph) turn progressively in the opposite direction to the fronts as the driver applies lock — thus dramatically sharpening the car’s low-speed turning circle — our departure from Casino Square would have had to include some unedifying back-and-fill manoeuvres, the last thing you want when trying to cut a dash. Instead, the new Bentley negotiated the available road space with imperious precision and we glided up the hill towards wider roads — where I learned that over 60mph the rear wheels turn at microscopic angles in the same direction as the fronts, stabilising the car in abrupt lane-changing manoeuvres.

As it happens, this four-wheel steering is the perfect flag-carrier for an overall ability Bentley wants to stress about the new Flying Spur: its duality of purpose. It is a luxury car for the owner either to drive or be driven in. Its smart 4x4 system means it’ll cope in tough as well as perfect driving conditions. Its quality means it is robust though there aren’t many on the road. And best of all, it mixes super-luxury with high performance.

Trouble is, practically everyone in the expensive car game makes claims about delivering performance with luxury. There’s a danger of Bentley’s claims being lost in a melee of high-sounding verbiage — until you spend time in the new Flying Spur and establish beyond doubt that this mighty, all-British saloon can accelerate like a Macca and ride like a Rolls.

What level of performance can the Flying Spur deliver?

Its revised 5950cc W12 — now delivering an amazingly efficient 626bhp courtesy of with different high- and low-speed induction systems and a low-load cylinder cut-off system‚ propels the car to a 207mph and delivers stupendous 0-60mph acceleration of 3.7 seconds. These figures shoot holes in the performance of the previous model, whose top speed was a miserable 193mph. Still talking duality, the new Flying Spur’s four-mode, three-chamber air suspension (with 48-volt active roll-control) even allows it to do well on a track. Duality of purpose? Plurality might be a better.

Bentley claims the only meaningful thing this new Flying Spur shares with its predecessor is the name, and its much experienced project leader Peter Guest reckons its design, development and manufacture have thoroughly utilised the Crewe company’s full capabilities. It’s not enough these days to say this is an aluminium car: its monocoque sub-structure contains aluminium, steel and composites while the exterior panels are in superformed aluminium. The whole thing weighs 2437kg, respectable for a 6.0-litre W12 limo.

You’d be wrong to regard the Flying Spur as some kind of one-off, though, unrelated to other group designs. Major elements of its make-up, including the rear suspension, have a close relationship with the Porsche Panamera. Indeed, Bentley insiders say one of the best things about this car is that when group big-car decisions were made, they were able to pitch as early as the rest. In front of the windsceen, the Flying Spur bears a strong resemblance to the recently launched and much lauded Continental GT.

It’s a handsome beast. More haunchy than the outgoing car and with better-defined muscles front and rear to match its extra performance. It rolls on either 21- or 22-inch wheels (smaller previously) and the design especially benefits from the fact that the new package has moved the front wheels six inches forward as on the new GT. Details are designed with the care we expect from Bentley; features like its “cut crystal-effect” round LED headlights and new wraparound tail lights, and there’s now a new, retracting Flying B bonnet motif, perhaps to sharpen the rivalry with Rolls-Royce.

The Spur interior is best expression yet of Bentley’s love of luxury. The company is so liberal about materials, textiles, colors — and so good at dispensing individual advice for buyers — that you can have practically anything you want. The fascia is a new design with a winged theme, carrying the rolling central display introduced with the GT (you can have either three traditional dials or a 12-inch central screen). Designers have made a bigger issue of rear comfort: there is now a removable touch-screen remote that can control blinds, climate, seat massage functions and lighting. Does a Bang & Olufsen 10-speaker 1500 Watt hi fi sound inadequate? Try the 2200 Watt, 19-speaker Naim system.

Is the Flying Spur a true luxury car?

On the road, duality of purpose stays dominant. The Bentley glides along in near-silence with its air springs, (which choose their own appropriate rate if you can’t be bothered) and its cornering roll nearly eliminated by 48-volt system that senses roll and control it and uses tiny electric motors to adjust its anti-roll bars. Glide and the car glides. Throw the car around and it does its best to smooth your path. This Bentley has little sympathy for the ham-fisted.

And the four-wheel steering? Into your hands it puts a car with sharp low-speed steering and a terrific turning circle, but with none of the over-control that often affects high-geared steering at speed. With this, you get extra stability. The rim effort and accuracy for me was so close to perfect I simply stopped thinking about them.

The performance is stupendous. Floor the throttle and the car erupts off the mark, its intelligent 4wd distributing torque mostly rearward, but keeping enough for the front to negate untidy wheelspin. In the Sport driving mode in particular, the car is induced by its on-board electronics (which also control transmission behaviour, steering effort and ride rates) to behave like a rear-drive performance machine.

On test, we kept changing it back to Bentley setting, the “engineer’s favourite” which charts a near perfect course between the stiffness of Sport and slightly too much bounce in Comfort. You can create your own Custom setting, but we predict few will bother.

Most telling is how you feel when you’ve been driving for hours. Of course, the Spur is superbly comfortable. Adjust the seats properly to begin and you simply stop thinking whether they suit you. They just do. At times, when twists or the narrowness of the road have called for extra concentration, you’ll have enjoyed the car’s power and precision. And you’ll keep being surprised how well it fits into gaps and negotiates tight corners. But mostly, your journey just slips quietly, enjoyably away. There’s no memory of fatigue, or of awkward size.

The Bentley Flying Spur just works. Question: is there another luxury saloon that does this stuff better? We’ll have to find out.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Bentley Flying Spur

Bentley Flying Spur

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