Can a V6 and an electric motor create a better real-world limo than a V8 or W12?

While the plug-in Bentley Bentayga Hybrid was a small first step on Bentley’s path to full electrification of its line-up, the new Flying Spur Hybrid takes a bigger stride.

The saloon’s electric-only range is still limited, and although certification hasn’t been finished yet, Bentley says it expects a relatively modest 25 miles of pure EV operation under the WLTP standard. But a punchy new powertrain means the Flying Spur Hybrid is only fractionally slower than its V8 sibling and Bentley promises that the pricing of both cars will be similarly close.

The open-pore koa wood trim of my test car was a particular highlight. It looked and felt much more modern than a more traditional finish and used much less veneer.

Even though the Bentayga Hybrid and Flying Spur Hybrid each use a twin-turbocharged hybridised V6, their engines are barely related to each other. The SUV’s is an Audi-based system that uses a torque-converter automatic gearbox, whereas the Spur’s is closely related to the much brawnier one in the Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid.

That means a 410bhp 2.9-litre V6 with its turbos packaged in the vee of its cylinder bank, with electric power coming from a 134bhp motor sandwiched between the combustion engine and an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. The result is a combined peak of 536bhp – 93bhp more than the Bentayga Hybrid and only 6bhp less than the Spur V8. The Flying Spur Hybrid’s official 4.1sec 0-60mph time is just a tenth behind that of the V8, too. And while the PHEV is unsurprisingly heavier, that penalty has been cut. According to Bentley, it weighs 50kg more than the pure-petrol car. For comparison, the Bentayga PHEV’s supplement is 210kg.

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Not that the plug-in Spur makes a big fuss about its new powertrain. External clues are slight, the big giveaway being the presence of a second fuel flap to cover the charging port on the left side. The interior gets some discreet ‘Hybrid’ branding and a revised digital dashboard, but the basics that make it one of the world’s leading luxury limos haven’t been tinkered with.

You won’t be shocked to hear that electrification suits the Flying Spur well. Low-intensity refinement has always been excellent even when under V8 or W12 power, and while travelling in its EV mode, the Hybrid is almost silent at urban speeds, even over bumps and cracks. Bentley reckons cabin noise when running gently on electron flow is just half that of the already calm V8. Electric running is almost spookily silent.

Not that staying in the EV mode is especially easy. Anything more than gentle pressure on the accelerator switches the powertrain to its blended Hybrid setting and fires the petrol engine into life. Unlike in the Bentayga Hybrid, there isn’t any haptic resistance in the accelerator travel to indicate when this is about to happen. Only looking at the power flow meter, which runs around the outside of the rev counter, indicates when the electric motor is giving its all.

Under gentle loadings, the switch to combustion power is delivered seamlessly, but when pushing for sudden acceleration, there is a slight but noticeable gap as the V6 fires and the gearbox tries to work out and deliver the optimal ratio. There’s also a slight delay when using the steering wheel paddles to select a gear, although the dual-clutch transmission blends its shifts with pretty much torque-converter smoothness when left to its own devices. In short, it feels like a car happiest delivering stately progress.

Not that it lacks a serious amount of performance when required. The V6 makes its peak torque at just 1750rpm and the engine pulls all the way to the marked REF redline. The Hybrid doesn’t sound as good as the V8 when extended – very few V6 PHEV saloons do – but the busy snarl from the engine and exhaust suits the rate of progress. While the Hybrid’s 177mph top speed is 21mph short of the V8’s, in the real world (or, at least, southern California) it feels at least as quick as the pure-combustion car.

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The Hybrid I drove had optional 22in wheels, and although the combination of air springs and adaptive dampers coped well with the Hybrid’s mass under bigger loadings, the ride had a slight low-speed busyness that, I suspect, would have been less pronounced on the 20in or 21in rims.Standard rear-axle steering improves low-speed manoeuvrability and sharpens responses at higher speeds, but the Hybrid lacks the active 48V anti-roll system of the W12 and harder cornering loads do bring discernible lean.

I also found the brakes of the car I drove to have a very slight grabbiness at low speed, making it hard to achieve the sort of imperceptible stop the best chauffeurs aim for.

Still, beyond its new powertrain, the Flying Spur Hybrid’s ownership proposition is unchanged from that of other models in the range and it’s equally compelling. The cabin is beautifully finished and trimmed, rear-seat space is limo appropriate and the balance between technology and usability is well judged for the car’s likely audience, with proper controls in addition to the inevitable touchscreen interface.

Although UK pricing hasn’t been finalised, we’re told to expect that it will be about 3% higher than the V8, spec for spec. So it’s a no-brainer for those interested in the Flying Spur and looking to make a greener choice, or wanting to dramatically reduce tax bills if running one as a company car. But the V8 will definitely remain the more characterful choice.