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This second-generation Flying Spur changes tack in its quest to become a slicker limousine

Having acquired Bentley, the original Bentley Flying Spur was the second half of Volkswagen’s grand strategy for the resuscitation of the British marque.

Bentley may have made its name with heavyweight, ultra-fast two-door ‘lorries’, but the brand proved just as capable of fitting four doors to its coachwork.

The Continental Flying Spur was a vast, luxury car but it just wasn't refined enough

This tradition continued through the S and T-series models, right up to the final Mulsanne built under Vickers’ ownership. In fact, the first post-war car to emerge from Crewe with a body supplied by Bentley (and not a coachbuilder) was the Mark VI — a saloon that morphed into the R-type, which in turn spawned a two-door version dubbed the Continental.

The Continental GT may have kick-started Bentley's reformation in familiar two-door sporting format, but its four-door sibling was rightly considered essential to establishing Bentley as VW’s luxury division, and as a credible volume rival to its former bedfellow, Rolls-Royce

Nevertheless, the car was not meant as a limousine. Its engineers remained preoccupied with the idea that a Bentley was bought to be driven, not driven in.

But buyers in the US – and now, more importantly, China – disagreed and made the Flying Spur the best-selling four-door Bentley ever without straying from the back seat. 

It is chiefly their input and needs that have been addressed with the new model – a car that no longer requires (or warrants) a badge tie-up with the still-related Continental.

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It is now a substantial event in its own right, but has the change in approach rendered the new Flying Spur a damp squib in its still sizeable home market? We give the driver the week off to find out.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Bentley Flying Spur rear

The Flying Spur may have been given a moniker to separate its identity from the Continental coupé and convertible, but it’s about differentiating the car’s character from its more sporting siblings, rather than a demonstration that their engineering paths have differed.

Beneath a skin that is completely different (although, from the front particularly, you’d want the two cars side by side to spot what the changes are), the Bentley Flying Spur’s mechanicals are an evolution of the previous car’s.  

One of the differences between a Continental and a Spur is the less dynamic-looking single-piece lower front grille

The steel monocoque is claimed to be 50kg lighter than before, although trim and equipment changes are said to make the difference between the two negligible. But it’s the Chinese market’s importance to the Spur – up to 60 per cent of production will find its home there – that marks out the biggest difference between four-door and two-door Bentleys.

China likes soft-riding cars, to the extent that it’s the only market to have had a model combining the most powerful Supersports engine with the softest suspension, in the previous Spur.

Compared with its predecessor, the latest Spur gets spring rates that are 10 percent softer at the front and 13 percent at the rear, with 13 and 15 percent softer anti-roll bars respectively.

Its bushes are at least 25 percent softer, too, which ought to produce a ride that is not only suitable for China but also addresses one of the main criticisms of the old car: that its ride wasn’t compliant enough.

The powertrain is improved in detail rather than wholesale, too. The Flying Spur is available with a 6.0-litre W12 turbocharged petrol engine, making 616bhp and 590lb ft of torque or an Audi-derived 4.0-litre V8 motor. There are two versions of the turbocharged V8 - a 500bhp standard engine and a tweaked 521bhp for the sportier V8 S. Each Flying Spur drives through ZF’s eight-speed auto transmission to all four wheels and features cylinder deactivation to improve the emission outputs.

INTERIOR

Bentley Flying Spur interior

It’s very hard to fault a cabin that’s as lavish and tactile as the Flying Spur’s. Owners of the Continental Flying Spur may expect a more obvious architectural reappraisal in here than they’ll actually find, but Bentley insists that it has changed 600 individual pieces of cabin trim.

It would also probably point out that super-luxury saloons are design classics, like tailored suits and fine timepieces. As such, they don’t need the major design overhauls from generation to generation that you see in volume cars. Hmm.

There’s plenty of comfort and opulent luxury on offer here, although the Bentley's headroom could be more generous

True or not, we’ll let that ride, if only because there’s so little wrong with the Flying Spur’s cockpit anyway. For a machine so large, there certainly ought to be a touch more front headroom, more reach adjustment on the steering column and a lower driving position available for those who’d prefer one. That apart, the news is all good. In some departments, it’s quite wonderful.

The wide front seats are beautifully stitched, tastefully coloured and very comfortable – as well as heated, ventilated and massaging in the case of our test car’s. The steering wheel is very large by modern standards and requires plenty of arm-twirling, but a smaller three-spoker is an option.

The column-mounted indicator wands and gearshift paddles are a little too close for instinctive, idiot-proof operation. But you get used to them, in time.

Overarching everything is the sheer material substance and sumptuousness of this environment, which looks and feels hugely special. It’s also underpinned by Bentley’s familiar authenticity and hand-assembled attention to detail. The 2015 facelift saw a number of light updates to the interior, chief among which, was modern graphics for the infotainment and instrument cluster, and the inclusion of a wi-fi hotspot.

So the walnut burr veneer really is made of almost 10 square metres of tree, and if you don’t like it, there are six other real veneers you can have. Meanwhile, a thin layer of foam is blanketed under every leather-upholstered surface, just to add pleasing softness to the touch.

Earlier this year the Flying Spur range was increased to include a third model - the V8 S - which gains an extra 21bhp over the base V8 Flying Spur and gained sportier details inside and out, including 20in alloys, a rear diffuser, piano black veneer dashboard and a three-spoke sports steering wheel.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

6.0-litre W12 Bentley Flying Spur engine

The W12 and V8 motor in the front of the Flying Spur has received a new engine management system, including different control of the turbos, which, combined with the eight-speed auto, improves the Spur’s emissions by 13 per cent over the outgoing model’s. 

Fuel consumption is still 19.2mpg (combined), mind, and CO2 emissions are 343g/km – figures that are lumpy for two very good reasons. First, this is a 2545kg car. Second, it’s capable of reaching 60mph from rest in 4.5sec and 100mph in 10.4sec, and it can cover a standing quarter mile in 13.0sec dead. This is a quick car.

The Flying Spur’s 616bhp W12 is the kind of engine to let off the leash frequently

It’s also one with excellent drivetrain refinement and ambience. From outside, at idle, one tester noted that it sounds like a powerful tug boat (in the nicest sense): woofly and effortlessly powerful. 

The Bentley's engines make their peak power at 6000rpm, true, but that the W12's 590lb ft and the V8's 488lb ft are available from only 2000rpm and 1750rpm respectively, so the engines are responsive over a broad range. It doesn’t much matter which gear you’re in, in other words. 

It’s just as well the ZF unit shifts intelligently and smoothly, because the manual paddles are an awkward stretch, high up on the steering column. It’s best left to its own devices, whereupon it drives the Flying Spur forward with the kind of thrust in keeping with its reputation – and price – near the top of the luxury saloon pile.

We’re less taken with the brakes. They’re fine under most normal conditions, but this car has 200mph potential. From high speeds, the pedal feels dead and initial retardation could be stronger. Taking 2.99sec to stop from 60mph in ideal conditions, while far from dangerous, isn’t anything to write home about, either.

Carbon-ceramic brakes are optional, but you’d have to weigh up their pedal feel versus their resistance to fade to decide if they’re worth it.

RIDE & HANDLING

Bentley Flying Spur cornering

First and foremost, we were looking for outstanding isolation from the outside world and beautiful rolling comfort here.

A passenger in the back of the Flying Spur should be able to do whatever takes his fancy – repose, reflect, video call, shop online, watch a film or similar – and travel 200 miles in a bubble of opulence, without ever suddenly being made aware that he’s moving. Dynamic poise and driver involvement matter, but not nearly as much.

The Dynamic mode on the stability control is welcome, effectively saving the Bentley from itself

The last Spur satisfied that primary requirement well enough, and this one does it even better – although it still isn’t quite the last word in refinement. The car glides along unperturbed 95 per cent of the time.

Bentley's air suspension deals with most UK surfaces very well. Low-frequency lumps and dips are soothed away so smoothly that you’d barely know they were there. The damping isn’t quite clever enough to deliver a perfectly flat body at the same time, but the primary ride still feels nicely resolved in the softest settings on that air suspension set-up. And there are, of course, firmer settings if you want a more tied-down feel.

But then there’s the remaining five per cent of your journey – when sharp, broken surfaces begin to dismantle the cabin’s aura of calm. Particularly bad surfaces upset this car – simple as that. There are plenty of air-sprung alternatives – from Range Rovers to Rolls-Royces – with far better outright shock absorption. 

There’s one caveat, though: we've only tested one fitted with Bentley’s optional 21-inch alloy wheels. The Flying Spur is now offered with 20-inch rims with more compliant tyre sidewalls as standard, which may address some of the criticisms about its ride.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Bentley Flying Spur

Be it at home or abroad, the Flying Spur will mostly be bought by people accustomed to the idea of investing six-figure sums in objects of their desire. That it averaged 17.9mpg on test will matter little to most buyers.

No, this is an exercise in pomp and pageantry, and rather than save you money, Bentley expects its customers to spend a good deal more than the infrequently mentioned list price.

The Bentley will retain about 52 per cent of its value over three years, which isn't bad

Without embellishment, there is already a large amount of kit included (eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, sat-nav, 14-way adjustable seats, multi-zone climate control, wall-to-wall walnut and so on).

But there are many optional boxes just begging to be ticked – jewel fuel filler cap, anyone? – and enough paint, animal hide and wood veneer choices to keep the decorator in you happy for a lifetime. 

For those in more of a hurry, the Flying Spur can be made slightly more exclusive right out of the gate with the Mulliner specification. This higher trim level adds niceties such as 21-inch, five-spoke, two-piece alloy wheels, diamond-quilted seats, door panels with perforated hides, drilled alloy sports pedals and branded treadplates.

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VERDICT

4 star Bentley Flying Spur

By leaning so heavily towards pleasing the Chinese market, there was a risk that the Flying Spur would just feel alien to the rest of us, and not a ‘proper’ Bentley as we know it; they’ve hitherto been cars built for drivers rather than passengers. 

But the resulting saloon treads a fine path and, largely, treads it well. It’s loose enough in its body movements, one would think, to please the Chinese and Americans who will mostly put their names on the equivalent of a V5.

With Bentley’s built-in capacity for varied personalisation, no two are likely to be the same. Our advice? Go tastefully crazy.

Yet, in its firmer settings, there’s enough control there to please markets with more demanding, higher-speed driving conditions.

In doing so, the Spur’s suspension, you could argue, doesn’t have a setting that suits anybody perfectly, but it will hit the spot for most.

For us, it doesn’t quite demonstrate enough functional superiority for the price. The ride needs to be better, adaptive cruise and rear-view cameras need to be standard, and the displays could be better. Ergonomic flaws like the control stalks need to be resolved as well, for the Bentley to deliver the ultimate experience.

Nevertheless, the Bentley Flying Spur is unlikely to disappoint anyone in the market for a sumptuous-feeling, and fast-driving, luxury saloon.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Bentley Flying Spur 2013-2019 First drives