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British marque electrifies heartland limo with impressively uncompromising results

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Bentley hasn’t always been the most forward-looking of car makers, but it’s now a very different prospect in that regard from how it once it was.

Those with long enough memories might recall when, 20 years ago and after some complicated corporate ownership wrangling between Volkswagen and BMW, the company effectively supplanted the much more modern 4.4-litre BMW V8 in the Bentley Arnage saloon for its older 6.75-litre two-valve pushrod V8, making the car only marginally quicker but considerably less fuel-efficient – and winning the approval, and return business, of much of its clientele in the process. Continental drivers of various kinds have since, by and large and often in spite of this magazine’s recommendation, overwhelmingly preferred W12 engines to V8s. As far as engines have been concerned, bigger has invariably meant better for the Bentley customer.

I’m not sure a big Bentley saloon lends itself to the PHEV treatment naturally. This isn’t the kind of car you pick for a ‘nip’ to the supermarket, the gym etc. It’s a long-range specialist and feels wasted on the shorter trips on which a PHEV depends to make sense.

But, knowing that catering to those tastes wouldn’t serve it well for long, the firm has now moved decisively towards electrification. Its Crewe factory was independently certified as carbon-neutral in 2019 and its first production PHEV, the Bentley Bentayga Hybrid, came in the same year.

By the time Bentley’s first electric car arrives in 2026, there will long have been a plug-in hybrid version of every Bentley model. And the subject of this week’s road test, the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid, is out to show, Bentley claims, that choosing any one of them needn’t mean accepting a single significant compromise to any of the dynamic qualities that you might expect of any of its cars.

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Range at a glance

Bentley’s petrol-electric Flying Spur limousine slots in between the existing V8 and W12-engined versions on price. It has marginally less peak power than the V8, is marginally slower accelerating and has a lower top speed, although its zero-emissions running potential is expected to more than compensate for those with an interest in modern and responsible luxury transport.

Bentley’s Mulliner model line is the car’s biggest de-facto trim level, although there are also optional Touring, Comfort and Mulliner Driving specification packages via which buyers can configure their cars in grouped themes.

EnginesPower
Bentley Flying Spur V8542bhp
Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid*536bhp
Bentley Flying Spur W12626bhp

*Model tested

DESIGN & STYLING

02 Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid RT 2022 side pan

The current Bentley Flying Spur represented quite the technological leap when it appeared on UK roads in 2020, even as a pure-combustion-engined car. A platform architecture developed in tandem with Volkswagen Group partner Porsche delivered a lower body profile, a leaner kerb weight, a more rearward engine position and a more even weight distribution than the outgoing Spur had, as well as some influential driveline, suspension and steering innovations.

It’s highly commendable of Bentley, then, to have successfully packaged the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid with so few compromises. In place of a W12 or V8 engine, this hybrid uses a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine mated in line with a 134bhp permanent magnet synchronous electric drive motor sitting upstream of an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Underneath the boot floor, where it doesn’t affect cabin packaging at all, is a lithium ion drive battery of 18kWh total installed capacity.

Oval quad tailpipes are a match for those of the V8, so there’s no easy way to spot a Hybrid from the rear. W12s use bigger twin exhausts instead. The ‘Hybrid’ badge on the front wing is one of very few identifying features. Clearly, Bentley doesn’t expect Spur PHEV owners to want to signal their virtue too clearly.

The PHEV package in its entirety makes for a car that’s less than 70kg heavier than the W12 Flying Spur (the weight of one adult passenger, in other words), which, in a 2.5-tonne luxury saloon, you might very well not notice at all. The drawback? That 18kWh drive battery capacity (15kWh of which is usable) isn’t much next to what the likes of the new Range Rover P510e and Mercedes-Benz S580e are offering, so electric-only driving range is a claimed 25 miles, where those rivals tout well in excess of 50 in some cases.

Rather than the 2995cc TFSI V6 of the Bentley Bentayga Hybrid, the car has a shorter-stroke, lower-compression, bigger-boosted 2894cc V6, effectively swapping the VW Group engine of Audi’s mid-sized petrol-powered S models for the equivalent RS engine.

Elsewhere, the Spur’s clutch-based, rear-biased active four-wheel drive system and three-chamber active air suspension appear on the Hybrid, just as they do on other variants. The four-wheel steering system of other Spurs doesn’t, though, because the drive battery’s location impinges on rear-axle packaging space.

That drive battery also inverts the bias of the car’s near-perfect front-to-rear weight distribution: while the W12 Spur we tested in 2020 had 53% of its weight over the front wheels, the Hybrid carries 52% of it over the rear.

INTERIOR

08 Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid RT 2022 dashboard

The Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid can be ordered as a conventional five-seat saloon or with individual and adjustable lounge-like rear chairs and an extended centre console between them, as with our test car. This four-seat layout adds a note of extra exclusivity and lavish comfort to an interior that’s very hard to find an equal for. Its objective material richness and expensive tactile feel are both sky-high, but more subjectively, our testers agreed that this is also a car of superbly inviting, enveloping and genuinely relaxing ambience, rather than looking or feeling in any way stiff, formal or overly grand.

Entry is done via a fairly low bend of the hips and a careful inward sweep of your head to avoid what is a low roofline for a full-size limousine. Once you’re in, head room isn’t quite as generous in either row as some taller occupants might like. It’s tighter in the back than the front, of course, although Bentley’s optional Comfort Specification power-adjustable rear seats do allow you to recline your backrest and to trade a little generously provisioned leg room for head room – so even if you’re taller than 6ft 2in, you’re unlikely to complain about the available space.

The three-dimensional, diamond-themed panelling on the doors, upholstered in hide, is particularly eye-catching as it catches the light when you open the door.

With the four-seat cabin layout, the typically important people in the back also get a wireless charging pad and several wired power outlets; a heated central armrest with plenty of storage space beneath it; cupholders, seat heaters and coolers, personal climate control zones and ventilation ducts of their own; an infotainment touchscreen of their own; and beautifully veneered, electrically folding tables. Our test car didn’t have display screens in the back, but they could have been added at extra cost.

Opting for Mulliner trim brings special wood veneers, design details and embroidered features; different colour combinations of leather; and some special ambient ‘mood lighting’ features that are typically discreetly deployed as to be a delight when you discover them after dark. The interior brightwork feels uniformly tactile and expensive to the touch, even when it isn’t diamond-knurled. The rotating main infotainment screen is easy to use, but it’s also wonderful to be able to simply ‘put it away’ when you don’t need it. And the digital instruments, with their new hybrid-specific gauges and features, juggle readability and visual appeal cleverly.

In the boot, there’s a little less space than a regular Bentley Flying Spur offers: 420 litres is cut to 351. That’s compact-hatchback-level boot space really, and when you have several big flight cases to carry or bigger cargo boxes, it might conceivably leave you disappointed and embarrassed. It would be unlikely to dim the considerable appeal of ownership much on a daily basis, though.

Multimedia system

12 Bentley flying spur hybrid rt 2022 infotainment 0

Bentley seems to be regarding the touchscreen-dominated interior design revolution going on elsewhere in the automotive world with a dubious eye. The Flying Spur’s 12.3in rotating system hasn’t changed much since 2020 and is still easy to navigate, thanks to its column of shortcut menu buttons. It’s slower to respond than some luxury-market systems but not disappointingly so. It also has new connected features for the Hybrid, thanks to a fully embedded data connection, so you can remotely access the car from a smartphone app to check particular information and features.

The sound system has 60GB of built-in music storage, 650W of power and 10 speakers as standard. There’s an optional 1500W premium system from Bang & Olufsen or a 2200W 19-speaker system from Naim, which our test car featured and whose power and clarity were both brilliant.

The sat-nav system’s voice recognition doesn’t yet recognise natural speech as well as some, though. Destinations have to be spoken somewhat unintuitively (town, road, house number) in order to be recognised.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

17 Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid RT 2022 engine

This may on paper be the slowest-accelerating version of the current Bentley Flying Spur, but it’s not so by much. It certainly doesn’t feel like any kind of poor relation when it’s launching from standing, which Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid does very keenly indeed for a 2.5-tonne car. And anyone minded to quibble that it ‘isn’t enough Bentley’ for them should probably first consider that, in cracking 60mph in 4.4sec, 100mph in 10.2sec and the standing quarter mile in 12.8sec, this new Hybrid is quicker in every respect than the previous-generation Bentley Flying Spur (2013-2019) with the W12 was when we figured it in 2013.

Flat-out performance isn’t all this car can do, though – nor even what it’s best at doing. It’s certainly commandingly brisk in full flight. Big on accessible torque, it’s well capable of picking off single-carriageway overtakes without downshifting, sweeping up to motorway speed on a sizeable swell of torque, and covering ground across country at real pace when you need it to.

'Painted and polished’ 22in alloy wheels come with Mulliner specification.Standard Hybrids have 20s, with 21s optional. The brake calipers can be had painted red as a sporty touch. Note the country of origin stamped on the hubs.

But with the petrol engine shut down in Electric mode, it also knows even greater refinement, mechanical isolation and on-board calm than a conventionally powered Spur. The V6 is the most distant of presences when it’s running at cruising revs, but one that’s just about perceptible enough to notice when it is. And when it isn’t, both around town and out of it, there’s definitely an added luxury appeal about this car and that bit less background hum for your after-dinner conversation or your choice of music to compete with.

The car has Electric, Hybrid and Charge Hold powertrain running modes, the last of those being automatically selected when you switch to Sport mode via the starter-button-turned-drive-mode knob.

In Electric mode, performance is fairly gentle, because there’s only 134bhp to move the car. There’s no haptic accelerator-pedal feedback to help you keep the piston engine off, should you want or need to; and given that you generally don’t tend to need more than about 50% throttle to rouse the engine (often doing so inadvertently when climbing out-of-town gradients or accelerating with the traffic), it probably would be an improvement to all-round drivability if intelligent haptic pedal feedback had been employed.

Outright braking power is as powerful as you’re ever likely to need, though. (On 22in wheels, it actually stopped more quickly than the 21in-shod Flying Spur W12 we tested in 2020.) Stability is likewise good, in spite of plenty of dive under hard braking. Brake-pedal progression is also good by hybrid car standards, with a little fuzziness of feel as you get deep into the travel but with well-tuned initial response making the car easy to drive smoothly regardless of operating mode.

RIDE & HANDLING

19 Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid RT 2022 front corner

The removal of the four-wheel steering system could have led to low-speed manoeuvrability problems for a car this long, but, while you do have to pay attention when negotiating tight spaces and narrow junctions in the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid, its handling doesn’t suffer much. Bentley’s particular tuning makes the car feel a little more comfort-centred than the Bentley Flying Spur W12 we tested two years ago, so the Hybrid wafts along slightly more gently than its range-mate, and it’s perhaps a little less agile around town and at low speeds, too – but far from problematically so.

Out of town and at greater speeds, it handles with appealing neatness, accuracy, balance and fluency. Sweeping bends can be taken with plenty of speed and keenness when you’re in the mood. The car won’t roll excessively when cornering hard, even in its softer driving modes, and it will stay true to a tight line, and maintain a keen cornering posture under power, although it can suddenly be made to feel a lot bigger and heavier if you encounter a mid-corner bump or compression.

I once drove a couple to their crack-of-dawn honeymoon flight in a Flying Spur W12 over deserted roads. It was absolutely perfect for the job. The Hybrid would have handled the journey even better – but I’m not certain I would have got their luggage in the boot.

That there’s plenty of meat, just a hint of feedback and some directness to the car’s steering are constant, welcome reminders that what you’re driving is an enthusiast’s car and far from a typical chauffeuring conveyance. Moreover, when the car’s tendency to waft and float a little as it rides becomes any kind of encumbrance at all on certain roads and above particular speeds, Bentley’s Sport mode reins in those tendencies with subtle effectiveness.

Hustle the car to its limits on a track and you will find it can cling on to a cornering line surprisingly tenaciously and it retains good balance and stability under power. Like other Bentleys at the less overtly sporting end of the model spectrum, it works its brakes hard and certainly couldn’t lap at the full potential of its powertrain without ultimately overheating them, but fade certainly wouldn’t be a problem for it during typical road driving.

Comfort and isolation

The 22in alloy wheels of our test car (standard fit if you splash out on Mulliner specification) are ultimately what cost the Flying Spur Hybrid a perfect score in this section. If you avoid them (20in rims are standard on entry-level cars and plenty of 21in designs are available), we can well imagine that it might have all but unbeatable refinement and isolation, but, as ever, we can only report on the car in the state in which we find it – and, as such, there’s certainly room for improvement on its ride.

The seats are broad; pillowy soft in just the right places and yet supportive elsewhere; widely adjustable; fitted with multi-mode massagers, heaters and coolers; and supremely comfy over long distance.

As already described, the car’s mechanical isolation is first class. You simply don’t hear or feel any noise or vibration at all from the powertrain much of the time; the gearbox is ever smooth with its shifts (Bentley’s dual-clutch teething problems evidently now successfully behind it); and when the combustion engine is running, it sounds appealing enough, has to be working hard to really be markedly audible and is never intrusive.

On those 22in wheels, though, the Spur simply doesn’t ride as quietly as some of its luxury rivals. There’s a background surface hum from both of the car’s axles, which gets noisier over coarser asphalt, and a slightly bad-tempered thunk and fiddle to the secondary ride over sharper intrusions, such as expansion joints and broken edges of Tarmac.

Over certain kinds of bump, then, the car’s otherwise pervasive aura of calm is momentarily punctured where it might not be in a Rolls-Royce Ghost or even a Range Rover, although it’s ever quick to return.

Assisted Driving notes

If you buy a Flying Spur Hybrid in standard trim, Bentley’s Touring Specification (which adds a head-up display, a night vision camera system, Bentley’s Safeguard Plus active safety features, adaptive cruise control and lane assist) is a cost option – but it’s standard fit on a Mulliner-spec model like our test car. You can option adaptive cruise control individually if you prefer.

Safeguard Plus includes emergency lane change assist and junction monitoring, as well as crash avoidance and mitigation. Its sensitivity is adjustable and it can be deactivated, but it didn’t seem over-sensitive or intrusive during our test.

The adaptive cruise control can adapt the car’s speed to a posted limit, but it’s given to misreading limits in temporary motorway roadworks so needs some supervision. The cruise control also has no guard against undertaking slower traffic on the motorway.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid RT 2022 Hero Track

On price, the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid has been positioned between the existing V8 and W12 models on price, although nearer the V8 than the W12; and given the qualities that it has demonstrated in this test, that seems entirely reasonable.

The car is considerably more expensive than full-size limousine equivalents from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, just as it ought to be, but it won’t be beyond the reach of plenty of those currently considering the richer end of the Range Rover catalogue. Moreover, the way that Cap expects the car to retain value should make it more resistant to depreciation than plenty of luxury car regulars might expect.

Spec advice? Mulliner specification has most of the optional kit you would want, but we would avoid the 22in wheels and go for a regular Hybrid with the Touring, Diamond Knurling and Mood Lighting specification packs and Naim audio. Avoid the large wheels to get that last missing bit of rolling refinement.

Use the car as we did, over a week’s testing that included an intensive day of track figures, plenty of touring and urban driving and several full battery charges and you might see an aggregated 32.9mpg from it. That too from a 2.5-tonne Bentley and to owners not used to being concerned about efficiency ought to be a pleasing return, although the bigger drive batteries of rival PHEVs might lead one or two to wish for better.

A Bentley wallbox charger for your garage is a no-cost option and a full selection of charging cables is included as standard.

VERDICT

20 Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid RT 2022 static

The electrified Bentayga may not have won universal admiration as the Bentley’s first tilt at a plug-in hybrid in 2019, but its second is a much clearer statement of intent. It has the commanding performance that we expect of any Bentley; remarkable comfort, refinement and opulent luxury, too; and plenty of driver appeal.

In many ways, Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid the most accomplished and convincing Flying Spur you can buy: a car quicker against the clock than the V12 Rolls-Royce Ghost that we figured in 2021 but also able to cover a meaningful distance very serenely and without burning a drop of fuel. As a luxury car, it has a broader and more adaptable motive character than the W12 Bentley Flying Spur we tested two years ago and arguably a more likeable one. And if by burning fewer hydrocarbons it allows owners to make a more responsible decision about their transport and to feel better about themselves as a result, it should appeal all the more in 2022.

A five-star recommendation stays on the shelf because this car isn’t isolated and packaged entirely ideally and it doesn’t offer quite as much electric running as key rivals. But it is an impressive compromise of weight, space and functionality and a significant achievement.

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.