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Continental’s four-door sibling suddenly has some imposing boots to fill. Is it up to it?

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This new third-generation Bentley Flying Spur has more to prove, and tougher circumstances in which to do it, than either of its modern predecessors.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has already devastated communities and rocked global markets, the murky fog of uncertainty that it has brought, which looks set to linger for a long while yet, may be even more costly for the likes of Bentley. With many of the world’s economies currently on a knife edge, only the passing of time will reveal the true extent of the damage that will be done to global appetites for luxury cars. Among the vast range of problems this crisis has thrown up, it may not rank highly for overall importance, but we need hardly record how bad a time this is to be introducing a brand-new limousine to the world.

The Flying Spur gains a retractable Winged B mascot for the first time. It’s internally illuminated and looks particularly spectacular at night.

Even the Bentley product landscape into which this car is emerging is challenging. Production of the Mulsanne saloon has recently ended, so the new Flying Spur will become Crewe’s one and only traditional four-door limousine – and a de facto flagship model, of a kind. With the second-fiddle crutch status of its predecessors removed, there can now be no excuses for this car. Not only must it drive in the captivating manner that has always distinguished the best Bentleys, but it must also major in exceptional rolling refinement and passenger comfort, and truly special on-board luxury, if it is to be defined as its customers will expect.

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That may help to explain why Bentley has set out to comprehensively raise the bar with this car, adopting a new platform for it, as well as chassis technologies never used by any other Bentley, and has lavished more sophisticated cabin technology and connectivity than it has previously.

With the next-generation Rolls-Royce Ghost and Mercedes S-Class around the corner, does this Flying Spur go far enough? Time to see.

The Flying Spur line-up at a glance

This generation of Bentley Flying Spur launched with just one engine option, the W12 tested here. Since then, Bentley has added two slightly cheaper options: a 4.0-litre V8 and a plug-in hybrid. The latter combines a 3.0-litre petrol V6 with a 15kWh battery and a 134bhp electric motor.

The car doesn’t have trim levels as such, although it is available with optional ‘Specification’ packs that bundle together related equipment. Mulliner Driving Specification, City Specification, Touring Specification, Blackline Specification and Diamond Knurling Specification are examples of these.

Bentley Flying Spur V8542bhp
Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid536bhp
Bentley Flying Spur W12*626bhp

*Model tested

Price £168,300 Power 626bhp Torque 664lb ft 0-60mph 3.9sec 30-70mph in fourth 5.4sec Fuel economy 22.6mpg CO2 emissions 337g/km 70-0mph 45.4m

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Bentley Flying Spur


Bentley Flying Spur 2020 road test review - hero side

Just like its predecessors, the Bentley Flying Spur is a relation of the Continental GT coupé and convertible and is built on the same production line at Crewe. According to Bentley, however, the only exterior body parts that the new saloon shares with the GT are its door handles and wing mirrors.

Where previous iterations of the car struggled to translate the two-door’s design language onto an elongated limousine body entirely comfortably, this third-generation Flying Spur was roundly recognised as a real achievement for Bentley’s design team. It has presence and visual allure to spare, being both longer and lower than before, with sharper body surfacing throughout those superformed aluminium body panels. Although they don’t quite confer the coupé’s sense of muscularity, the car’s rear haunches lend it a new-found sense of drama and visual power.

You could cut yourself on those rear swage lines (probably). According to Bentley, the rear body side panel is the largest superformed panel in the automotive industry

As with the Continental GT, the new Flying Spur is based on the MSB platform initially developed for the Volkswagen Group by Porsche. Its wheelbase is 130mm longer than before, with the front axle having been moved forward to liberate additional interior space.

Bentley’s Dynamic Ride 48V active roll cancellation system features as standard and four-wheel steering makes an appearance for the first time in a Bentley; handy in a car measuring 5.3m in length. Suspension is by way of double wishbones at the front and multiple links at the rear, with three-chamber air springs and adaptive dampers at all four corners.

A 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 is the only engine available from launch. It produces the same 626bhp and 664lb ft as it does in the latest Continental GT and an eight-speed ZF dual-clutch transmission replaces the old model’s torque-converter automatic. The car adopts the same clutch-based active all-wheel drive system as the current GT’s, which can send as much as 40% of the engine’s torque away from the natively driven rear axle to the front wheels (that figure being reduced when the Sport driving mode is selected). Brake-based torque vectoring also features.

Despite its increase in size and the addition of a veritable arsenal of semi-autonomous driver aids, Bentley claims to have shaved 38kg from the new Flying Spur, for a kerb weight of 2437kg. It tipped our test scales at a very substantial 2500kg, split 53:47 front to rear.


Bentley Flying Spur 2020 road test review - cabin

As large and heavy as the Bentley Flying Spur may be, you are left in no doubt that it’s a driver’s car once you settle down into its multi-adjustable, double-fluted driver’s seat and have heard the soft-close door click home.

This is a low and enveloping cabin, making it unlike plenty of other super-luxury saloons. Although you’ve loads of shoulder room in either row, the roofline and windows sweep in close to your head. Visibility is somewhat limited. Wide pillars – particularly the B- and C-pillars – eat into your view of the world outside and the pillarbox-like rear screen seems a long way away in the rear-view mirror.

Front seats are the kind in which you could be comfortable for weeks at a time. Three-dimensional leather door panelling is a first for Bentley.

Just how much of that outside world you will feel inclined to see, once within this car’s wonderful bubble of lavishness, can be debated. The Spur’s interior is very similar to the Continental GT’s. It has a high transmission tunnel and beltline into both of which you feel thoroughly well sunken down. There’s the same cluster of switches and buttons around the gearlever and same 12.3in infotainment screen that the GT has.

This car’s point of difference comes in the design of the lower centre stack. Although Crewe’s trademark round aluminium air vents are retained on the outer extremes of the fascia, new rectangular ‘sculptural’ air vents feature in the middle. The space opened up below them, newly free for device storage, invites you to linger after you’ve stashed your phone thanks to the cool metallic feel of the adjacent vents’ brightwork.

There is a clear sense of lavish material authenticity about this interior, then, although it isn’t all-encompassing. The chrome looks, always and everywhere, just as it should. So you have to touch it to know whether it’s really metal or not, which is when you find that only about half of the polished fixings actually feel like what they look like; and that’s perhaps just a little bit disappointing.

The leathers and veneers are handled as superbly as ever, though. And the way that Bentley now blends traditional luxury material tropes with the very latest and best on-board technology is truly impressive; unrecognisable, really, from the way in-car tech was handled, somewhat suspiciously, by the firm 20 years ago.

Second-row comfort will be enough to make the vast majority feel very fortunate, even if taller occupants aren’t afforded as much head room as you might expect (our test car’s panoramic sunroof definitely being a limiting factor). The pillowy rear headrests are lovely, but we were surprised not to find extending foot rests or a ‘sleeping seat’ option listed for the car as you do in other modern limousines.

Bentley Flying Spur infotainment and sat-nav

There is very little not to like about the 12.3in touchscreen infotainment system of the Flying Spur. It’s very navigable, either by the fixed shortcut buttons just below the screen or the line of shortcut ‘zones’ on the far right of the screen itself. And if its mere presence offends, or you don’t want the glare at night, you can rotate it behind the fascia and forget it’s even there.

Bentley gives you a small rotary knob to move the cursor if you prefer to keep the screen as clean as possible, but zooming and scrolling the navigation map with your fingertips is easy.

Rear passengers get a removable 5.0in screen with which they can control entertainment and on-board lighting settings, as well as window blinds and seat massagers. A pair of fully networked 10.2in touchscreens, which effectively work like tablet PCs, are an option.

Our test car had the entry level of three available audio systems (the upper-level ones are by Bang & Olufsen and Naim). But even though it had ‘only’ 10 speakers and 650W, you wouldn’t complain about its power or clarity.


Bentley Flying Spur 2020 road test review - engine

There is the faintest first-order chug about the Bentley Flying Spur’s twin-turbocharged W12 engine when it’s just above idle, which becomes a mellifluous whirr at typical operating revs and then turns into more of a growl, although never a howl, under load. This is an aristocratic engine with a character of its own, and not without charm.

In truth, it isn’t the greatest ‘sporting’ engine. It doesn’t rev much beyond 6000rpm. It isn’t the most responsive mill, either, much preferring deliberate, unhurried throttle inputs to sudden ones. But when bolted into a luxury saloon at least, it fits the bill very nicely indeed. Just like Bentley’s soon to be retired ‘six-and-three-quarter’ V8, it’s all about mid-range torque; and, by Jove, there’s a lot of that when it comes.

You’re aware of this car’s width on some UK roads but it handles in a manner that belies its mass and length, with impressive stability, precision, control and composure.

Prod your way into the accelerator pedal travel a couple of inches when just nosing around in traffic, allowing a split second for those turbos to wake up, and you’re wafted onwards and upwards in such strong and superbly elastic fashion that you’d swear it would be unchanged by the addition of an Orient Express’s worth of ballast coupled up at the back.

Dig deeper still into the pedal and there is surprising outright potency in store, although it doesn’t always come so effortlessly. The W12 likes revs to make lots of torque. From a typical cruise, it needs a couple of downshifts to get into a powerband that, through the lower gears, can feel just a little bit narrow and fleeting. That’s why it’s best to stick with manual mode on that gearbox, keeping the engine in something of an advanced state of readiness, when you’re really savouring the car’s driving experience.

And you will – because the Flying Spur can be every bit as quick as a modern super-saloon from point to point, on roads wide enough to suit it. And now that the engine is partnered with a driveline that can fully deploy all of the torque it makes even from rest, there is little more spectacular than witnessing this 2.5-tonne limousine – a car big and lavish enough to hold an impromptu meeting of some corporate supervisory boards, don’t forget – launching to 60mph from standing in just 3.9sec. That’s as quickly as a Ferrari F40 managed it.

Brake pedal feel is deliciously progressive. From big speeds, it can feel like a bit more outright retardation power wouldn’t go amiss, but that’s partly the result of the ultra-smooth, long-travel pedal tuning.

Bentley’s dual-clutch gearbox, meanwhile, is mostly well mannered, although it is still prone to the occasional, just perceptible moment of clunking in and out of engagement; when manoeuvring or tipping into the pedal mid-corner, usually – just as it was when Bentley first deployed it with the Bentley Continental GT two years ago. It’s not something most owners would notice but, by the most exacting ‘best car in the world’ luxury car standards, we’re duty bound not to let it go unrecorded.


Bentley Flying Spur 2020 road test review - on the road side

Ever since it developed the Bentley Bentayga SUV, Bentley has been working with a new array of active chassis and suspension systems intended to make its big luxury cars feel smaller, lither and more agile on the road than they otherwise might. Now that four-wheel steering has been added to that armoury, the burning question is this: does it all come together in the Bentley Flying Spur?

In a simple objective sense, the answer’s an emphatic yes – because there can be no doubting how well this car hunkers down, turns in and then keeps on turning for one so heavy. Typically, limousines don’t handle half as purposefully as this. Where other rear-driven barges might be leaning on their electronics and see-sawing gently on their springs under high cornering loads, this one can simply carve its way through an apex with amazing precision and composure.

Air suspension doesn’t like most sharp-edged bumps, yet it smothers the softer-edged transmission bumps well.

Sport driving mode is the one in which the car undoubtedly has the closest body control, is as responsive as it can be to steering inputs and has the best-balanced handling. Even here, lateral body control is better than the vertical kind, and really testing surfaces taken at speed can give the suspension plenty to do to maintain a level body and to resist float and heave. By and large, though, it manages to do it.

Still, most testers preferred ‘Bentley’ mode, which comes with only marginally more permissive suspension settings but seems to allow the Flying Spur more consistent steering feedback; somehow to handle more like the big, fast, luxury saloon you expect it to be.

This isn’t a laid-back, ‘one-finger-steered’ limo like an Mercedes-Benz S-Class, quite plainly. While not the size of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, it’s still a large and wide car; and on single carriageway roads, keeping one side of its axles off the drain covers without feeling like you’re crowding oncoming traffic with the other side requires concentration. But in ‘Bentley’ mode, the Spur’s combination of tactile steering feedback, superb on-throttle stability and handling precision make that not only possible but also a hugely enjoyable task.

Getting to the performance limits of this car means marvelling twice: first at its outright speed and second at the chassis’ ability to carry that speed over a fairly level surface.

In Sport driving mode, it takes pretty severe long-wave inputs to upset the car’s composure, but the lateral grip and agility are startling. There’s sufficiently progressive steering response just off centre as to seem natural on a 2.5-tonne car, although it’s still pretty keen.

And then, once the car’s laterally loaded and its active systems are all contributing, there is such incredible balance, adhesion and roll resistance that much of the mass around you seems to shrink into thin air.

Handling isn’t adjustable like it might be a rear-driven sports car, but the Spur hardly understeers at any easily attained speed and it sticks to almost any cornering line you choose for it.

Comfort and isolation

It’s something of a pity to find this Flying Spur struggles to convincingly nail the mission-critical rolling refinement side of its dynamic brief.

Even on the smallest, 21in alloy wheels on which the car is offered (if you can really ever consider a 21in alloy to be small), the four-door Bentley feels more connected to the road surface than you might expect of a luxury limousine – particularly in its failure to filter out that last degree of surface noise, or to smother shorter, sharper bumps and edges.

Larger imperfections and expansion joints can also sometimes send a slightly undignified slap up through the suspension mountings when hit at speed. Which is odd, because the Flying Spur’s excellent primary ride is all pillowy, cradled suppleness.

This is clearly a car created by those who know and care about ride comfort, then, and on better, well-sealed surfaces, it really shows what might have been. Undulations both big and small are near-perfectly absorbed by the Bentley’s ability to keep its body unerringly level at pace.

Isolation at motorway speeds is good if not outstanding. There’s a tiny bit of perceptible wind noise, which is accompanied by a present, if slightly muffled, amount of road roar. At 70mph, our microphone recorded cabin noise at 64dB – 1 dB louder than the Mercedes-Benz S350 we road tested in 2013 and 4dB louder than the latest Phantom.


Bentley Flying Spur 2020 road test review - hero front

The Bentley Flying Spur’s £168,300 asking price is the usual salty-tasting departure point for ownership of this car. Even a brief flirtation with the options list can see you parting with a sum inflated close to £200,000.

Our test car rode on standard 21in alloys and featured the entry-level audio system but, even so, it still had £26,645 worth of options fitted. These included the £4770 Bentley Rotating Display and the £9535 Mulliner Driving Specification.

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Still, when you consider the fact that it’s highly unlikely that the next-generation of Rolls Royce Ghost will be priced below the £200,000 mark, the Flying Spur certainly doesn’t seem particularly expensive, much as ‘value’ may be a misplaced term in connection with cars such as these.

Fuel consumption isn’t quite as ‘inflated’ as you might expect it to be, either. The Flying Spur averaged 22.6mpg in our hands and returned a touring economy figure of 32.5mpg – a very good innings indeed for a 2.5-tonne, 626bhp, 12-cylinder luxo-barge. For those who still want the same luxury experience, but would prefer to visit petrol stations slightly less often, Bentley also offers a 4.0-litre V8 version and the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Bentley Flying Spur


Bentley Flying Spur 2020 road test review - static

The new Bentley Flying Spur is a luxury saloon with both the soul and, arguably, the model mechanicals of a sports car. It handles better and goes harder than you’d imagine it will ever need to in order to satisfy the typical owner.

But while we can praise it for such a remarkable breadth of ability, we must also take issue with the Spur’s small but clear deficit in luxury focus. It sounds like an unreasonable judgement on something that’s clearly trying to do, and to be, so much more than a wafty luxo-barge. But in the end, the credit for all that pace and purpose cannot outweigh the acknowledgement that, just as has been true since 2005, the Flying Spur should, first and foremost, be a better limousine: a tiny bit slicker and smoother to drive; more isolated and genteel over tougher surfaces; just a little bit more accommodating in key areas.

Trounces rivals for driver appeal, but not in every way that matters

With all that modern chassis technology on board, this car doesn’t miss the particular standards it’s aiming for by much. But in something aiming for such dynamic excellence, you can’t ignore what this car lacks any more than you can miss the ways in which it goes so far beyond your expectations.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Bentley Flying Spur

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Bentley Flying Spur First drives