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.
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.