2014 Bentley Flying Spur

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2014 Bentley Flying Spur Review

Rating: 9.9

Bottom Line:

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur most assuredly raises the bar for 4-door luxury sedans. This quick, agile and stunningly powerful large sedan delivers great grip in any weather, offers perfectly weighted steering and enormously effective brakes, and boasts interior comfort worthy of the queen. If money is no object, and you want a big and spacious fine car that you can drive spiritedly, or be driven in luxuriously, the Flying Spur is your best choice.
Pros:
  • Luxurious, at the highest level
  • Sporty, exhilarating to drive
  • The best Bentley sedan ever built
Cons:
  • Expensive, especially when fully equipped
  • Fuel “economy” is worse than most pickups
  • Did we say expensive?

Bentley's heritage of fast, nimble sporting automobiles dates to the 1920s and '30s, when the company's cars won the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans five times. Arguably the best all-around Bentley of that era was the vaunted Speed Six. In saloon (sedan) form, a well-tuned Speed Six could whisk you from the French Riviera to Paris, and then on to London via the English Channel ferry, faster than the famed Blue Train could make it to Paris alone.

Bentley still makes a car like the Speed Six. It's evocatively called the Flying Spur. We drove one — briefly in China, and then for several days in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Stated simply, the Flying Spur will cover ground nearly as quick as a fine sports car, but much more comfortably. Behind the wheel you can call upon the power of 616 eager horses. Riding in the expansive rear compartment, in a multifunction reclining seat that would do just fine in an luxury aircraft's first-class cabin, we viewed the Chinese countryside regally, in a way an emperor from the Ming Dynasty, despite his wealth, never could.

Moving intentionally away from the Flying Spur's past formality, Bentley wants buyers to see the new Spur as sleek, elegant and sporty. The resulting car is lower and wider, with a dropped roofline and a more sculpted body surface. There's a new front fender vent incorporating a sleek "winged B" on each side that carries into the Flying Spur's main feature line, which in turn sweeps rearward and then wafts over the rear wheel arch, forming what could be construed as a muscular shoulder on each side. The C-pillar sweeps into the decklid at a pronounced angle for an almost coupelike appearance. There's also a lower feature line that becomes more visible as it cuts through the wheel opening, approaches the rear, then disappears.

In front, the streamlined Bentley grille is laid back a tad and nicely integrated into the sloped hood. The outer headlamps are larger than the inner lights, emphasizing the sedan's gracious width and distinguishing the Spur from the Continental GT. In back, the trunk is longer and lower, and the ovaloid twin exhaust outlets are integrated into the rear fascia. The coefficient of drag is just 0.29, a remarkably low figure for a sedan of this size. There's an ellipse theme that's repeated in the headlamps and the horizontal taillights. A great deal of thought went into the sculptural surfacing of this handsome saloon — and it shows.

Model lineup
The Flying Spur is available in two variants: the luxurious W12 and the over-the-top W12 Mulliner. Every Flying Spur can be personalized. There are 17 standard colors and more than 100 alternative hues available. Bentley is particularly excited about Damson, a rich purple finish that was inspired by the rare purple diamond; of course, an optional matching leather interior is available. Bentley clientele can choose from 12 standard hides and two veneers. The available color specification adds still more hide and veneer choices, 10 in all, plus custom interior color splits — all in good taste, mind you.

The W12 Mulliner includes all of these choices as standard specification. The Flying Spur comes with standard 19-inch alloy wheels, and there are several options in both 20-inch and 21-inch sizes. The Mulliner has its own special 5-spoke 21-inch alloy wheels. Other Mulliner niceties include special leather treatments with embroidered Bentley wings, drilled alloy foot pedals, a knurled alloy sports gear lever, a jewel filler cap and more.

Under the hood
The Flying Spur is the most powerful Bentley 4-door ever offered. Its 6.0-liter 616-horsepower 48-valve twin-turbocharged W12 engine offers a meaty 590 lb-ft of torque from 2000 rpm. The new 8-speed quick-shift ZF automatic transmission is standard (as it is now on all Bentley models). Traction is assured in any weather condition and on any surface, thanks to a superb and virtually imperceptible all-wheel-drive system with a 40-60 front-rear torque split. If desired, that torque split can be varied, with up to 85 percent to the rear axle, or 65 percent to the front. Performance numbers are extraordinary for a full-sized sedan: zero-to-60 mph is 4.3 seconds, zero-to-100 mph is 10.3 seconds, and top speed — wait for it — is 200 mph.

The not-so-good news is that combined Environmental Protection Agency fuel "economy" is 15 mpg, but with road performance like this, most of the Spur's well-heeled buyers can afford it. Bentley is understandably proud of the fact that even with a 12 percent power increase over the previous model, fuel consumption is down 13.5 percent.

Inner space
Bentley has completely re-engineered the body structure of the Flying Spur. The body shell uses high-strength steel in critical locations such as B-posts and door areas to maximize side-impact resistance. The hood is aluminum, and the front fenders are made of strong, superformed aluminum, employing an aerospace technique to shape sheets of alloy to the required form. Superforming creates lightweight panels with sharp radii. The trunklid is made of a lightweight and strong polymer composite that allows the radio antenna to be discreetly hidden. A new door design incorporates fewer parts; the doors have improved kinematics and feel, along with crisp shut lines.

The new Flying Spur is a creditable 110 pounds lighter than the old sedan. A rigid body shell reduces noise, vibration and harshness, which allows Bentley to optimize and soften the suspension components. Full-length acoustic undersheets, a new exhaust system design with larger mufflers, acoustic glazing with double window seals, acoustically optimized engine mounts, and a specially developed 275/45 high-profile "comfort" tire — all contribute to a remarkably quiet cabin and impressive isolation from road noise and impact. Bentley claims the interior is more than 40 percent quieter than the previous Spur's.

As befitting a luxury sedan, the Flying Spur's interior is simply sumptuous, with class-leading entertainment and information technologies. The redesigned seats are made with varied foam densities for sublime comfort and trimmed with premium-quality leather. The flawless hides, which are unique to Bentley, are softer than the previous seating surfaces, yet they are more durable. The Flying Spur can be ordered in 4-seat or 5-seat configurations, with 14-way adjustment, seat heating and ventilation, and memory and lumbar functions.

In the 4-seater, purchasers receive a front-to-rear veneer-trimmed center console. Each Flying Spur has nearly 10 square meters of book-matched, handcrafted, polished and clear-lacquered wood veneer. Electrically operated blinds, an optional glass sunroof (at no extra cost) and an available 9-liter bottle cooler behind the central armrest ensure passengers can party like rock stars.

Technology and connectivity abound. Central infotainment is ordered up on a high-resolution 8-inch touch screen. Bentley's advanced satellite navigation system is easy to use. Of course, there's Bluetooth connectivity. The Spur is its own Wi-Fi hot spot, and voice activation controls nearly everything. The audio system is an 8-speaker, 8-channel system that can play music from nearly every source, including an onboard hard drive, CDs, DVDs, SD cards and an iPod. As if that weren't enough, a Naim premium 1,100-watt audio system, with separate subwoofers, is available. You'll think you're at the London Palladium, only the sound is arguably better.

A new, push-button touch-screen remote permits rear-seat passengers to live the high life. They can control virtually everything from heat seating and ventilation to the satellite navigation and multimedia systems. For clients who wish to work on the move, the Spur can be ordered with the Bentley Connectivity Unit, so every possible computer device can connect to the internet via the car's aforementioned Wi-Fi hotspot. A pair of 10-inch LCD screens in the front seatbacks facilitate this function, along with top-loading multimedia players that are cached in pockets below the screens. Wireless headphones are included, and the two rear-seat passengers can watch separate media content simultaneously.

The Flying Spur rides on a majestic 120.7-inch wheelbase and stands just 58.6 inches high. The fuel tank holds 24 gallons. The car weighs 5,451 pounds, comfortably below three tons. But check your garage before parking this Spur, because it's very wide: 86.9 inches — just over seven feet — at the mirrors.

On the road
On our press drive from downtown Beijing to the Great Wall, the main highways were as smooth as glass and relatively uncrowded as we exited the city in midmorning. Nearer the Great Wall, winding secondary roads presented a challenge to the Flying Spur's impressive cornering ability. We had a chance to accelerate hard a few times on an empty road and found that effort exhilarating. Press the gas and this sedan's impressive torque surges you along with an effortless push. In seconds, you've topped 100 mph — and there's another 100 mph to go. The engine note is one of unrestrained power — not loud and shrill like some Italian cars we could name — just wooly, deep and hypnotic.

Back in the United States, rocketing a heavily optioned Flying Spur through the Blue Ridge Mountains past low stone walls, the Bentley's deep exhaust note becomes amplified and elevated with a basso profundo song of sheer power. At high cornering speeds, the big sedan shrinks to fit, and while you're potentially flirting with a very annoyed constabulary, the undignified urge to "nail it" is uncontrollable.

The Flying Spur is easily the quickest and most agile of any really big car we've ever driven. Comparisons abound with the Porsche Panamera, Maserati Quattroporte, Mercedes-Benz S-550 AMG and the lovely Aston Martin Rapide. All four are wonderful cars, but oh, this Bentley! The notion that a sedan this large can be so agile is surprising. This Spur thinks it's a sports car — and it is. Wickedly fast, immensely powerful, capable of great grip in any weather, blessed with perfectly weighted steering and enormously effective brakes, and with interior comfort worthy of the queen, the new Flying Spur most assuredly raises the bar for 4-door luxury sedans.

Right for you?
If you have the means, and you're looking for a luxury sedan on the highest level, you have to consider this Bentley. The company sold over 8,500 units last year, making Bentley the world's largest manufacturer of top-end luxury cars.

Base price for the Flying Spur in the U.S. is $200,500, nicely equipped. There are specification packages that bundle many of the desirable options. You can easily order a Spur that tops $250,000 by adding niceties such as the Multimedia Specification ($7,300); a dual-tone, 3-spoke, leather wrapped steering wheel ($2,235); the Premium Naim Audio Specification ($7,480); the Driving Specification with 21-in wheels ($13,985); the refrigerated bottle cooler ($2,135); and why not specify lamb's wool rugs (just $800)? There are lots more extras. Your Bentley agent would be delighted to help, of that we're sure.

The marque has a long and wonderful history; today's cars are the best Bentleys of all time. If money is no object, and you want a big and spacious fine car that you can drive spiritedly, or be driven in luxuriously, the Flying Spur is your best choice.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitatethis report.)

Ken Gross is a distinguished automotive historian and journalist and a Class Judge for the Pebble BeachConcours d'Elegance.

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BB05 - 7/22/2014 11:37:48 PM