Luxury is relative - this is true of most things and is not limited to automobiles. It is the world of automobiles however that brings out this relativity, arguably better than any other. A user of an 800cc Indian car might call a Toyota Premio a “luxury car” while the owner of a brand-new C-Class might scoff at the idea. The same C-Class will be viewed through the Montblanc spectacles of the CEO being driven past in his 740Le as being too cramped and severely underpowered.
Year after year, vehicle manufacturers have pushed the limits of what the mind can achieve and catered to every whim and fancy of the end consumer. Budgets have increased and so have price tags, along with what you get for your money. That brings us to the lower stratosphere of luxury cars, well above the “mainstream” 7 series, S Class and A8 – the Bentley Flying Spur. Why lower stratosphere? Because this isn’t a Mulsanne.
The original Flying Spur (this is only the second generation) was called the Continental Flying Spur and was a clear four door variant of the Continental GT, which came before it. Both the first and second generation share Volkswagen’s “D1” platform, common to the Phaeton, Bentley Continental and of course the Flying Spur – quite a competent backbone to build upon. Continuing the theme from its predecessor, the current Flying Spur too looks unmistakably like a tastefully stretched version of its two-door sibling. Given the Continental always precedes the Flying Spur, one can only wonder how the next iteration would look as, to me, the new Continental looks utterly brilliant. Until that day comes though, let us admire the well-proportioned seventeen and a half feet of car that is the Flying Spur.
The variant you are looking at here is the V8 S and hence comes with slightly sportier bumpers and wheels, measuring no less than twenty inches in diameter. Realizing the car is sitting on twenty-inch wheels and seeing how modestly sized they appear gives one an understanding of just how large this car is. The dominating and unmistakably Bentley front grille is flanked by imposing LED headlights that are set up opposite to that of the Continental, with the larger ones on the outside, lending to an even broader appearance up front.
One of the car’s most notable (and undoubtedly costly) design elements are its front fenders, shaped from a single piece of metal and giving the car a uniquely beautiful front that carries nary a line or crease. This is the sort of craftsmanship that is carried throughout the car. The same fenders carry the “flying B” side vents, the crease from which extends to the rear door handles disappearing into the rear three quarter bulges.
All this, and an extrusion at the lower extremity of the sides hint at the car (and the brand’s) sporty underpinnings. The rear slopes downward, with two solid red tail lamps echoing the stretched oval theme of the merged quad tailpipes. Always refreshing to see real exhaust tips in 2018, or see tailpipes at all for that matter. Sitting between the quad pipes? A diffuser! On a limousine. So far, a lot for an enthusiast owner to love. Given than the largest market for the Flying Spur is China, it is admirable how restrained the exterior is, barring the bling wheels from factory. But then I suspect that serves its own purpose in attracting the European footballer crowd.
Mech & Tech
Under the very long hood of the Flying Spur V8 S sits, you guessed it, a V8; a four-liter V8 with two turbos bolted on for good measure which, in S form, puts out 521hp and a very healthy 680nm. This is 21hp and 20nm more than the standard V8. Fire it up and the most notable initial takeaway is that engine noise has intentionally not been completely muted – you know beyond a shadow of doubt that you just ignited a combustion engine while its buttery smoothness tells you you’re dealing with even more than six cylinders.
The copious supply of pulling power is put down to the road through all four wheels via an eight-speed gearbox and enormously wide rubber. Dinner-plate sized brakes are there to stop you too. Air suspension holds your body above the road.
Once you reach the upper echelons of the automotive world, you tend to forget about driving – you’ve got a lot more productive things you can do during your commute, which mostly includes making millions. Bentley however has always catered to the tiny little niche of super-rich car enthusiasts with taste and a desire to be insulated from the outside world while enjoying a spirited drive.
Driving controls tell you that this car is meant to be driven, rather than driven in. It starts when you set your eyes on the relatively small three spoke steering - imperfections in the leather under light reveal its hand-made origins. Behind the steering sit two race-car inspired fixed paddle shifters, unlike most other road going machines with paddles that rotate with the steering. Under your feet, crossed drilled pedals add even more sporting appeal. Rest your hand on the physical gear lever (no knobs, stalks or button affairs here), depress the “B” with your thumb, fighter jet style, drop it in D, and you’re off.
Enough torque to pull a caravan is available hilariously early in the rev range, with all 680Nm at your disposal from just 1,700rpm – what a glorious feeling. The noise that emanates from the engine even at that point is of understated confidence and capability. Gear changes are barely noticeable but one thing that is, is how much weight has been left in the steering. The lack of a million different drive modes in a car in 2018 is almost novel and certainly most welcome – the Flying Spur simply makes do with either Drive or Sport. Manufacturers in other categories should seriously take a cue from Bentley. The air suspension does offer varying degrees of stiffness though the difference is, frankly, barely noticeable.
This is a good thing though as just a kilometer down the road is all that is required to get you used to how the car is setup. The comfort this car affords is not that of utter muted, digital, soulless transport, but is more a case of knowing fully well what is going on, while being sheltered from all that would even mildly unsettle an occupant. It really is luxury for the enthusiast. While intimidating from the outside, the Flying Spur is surprisingly easy to place on the road. Parking however can still be a tad disconcerting.
Beautifully old school analog gauges are reminiscent of Bentleys of old and are perfectly coordinated with the Breitling center clock – yes, Breitling. I fear this may be the last few analog iterations though, as the current Continental has already gone “analog on screen”. Pushing this car hard is a divine experience. That ubiquitous torque pulls and pushes you forward (AWD, remember) with the surefootedness of a cruise liner on calm seas. The manufacturer numbers however tell a more interesting story; 4.9 seconds to 100km/h – four point nine. In a car that weighs two and a half tonnes, this number is nigh on unbelievable. Your driver (if you really must have one) will probably be thrashing sports cars between red lights without you even knowing, as you read about today’s Parliamentary crossovers in the back seat. I have no doubt at all about this car’s claimed top speed capability of 306km/h.
It would be a stretch to call this car “nimble” – it is simply too large to be, but handling too is noteworthy. With variable air suspension all round, flinging this car around using the small diameter steering at unholy speeds is illicitly addictive. This is a car you’d want to drive as often as possible, it’s that good.
Living with it
The interior is elaborately appointed with swathes of leather on nearly everything you see and touch – the bits that aren’t leather, are wood. Bentley takes pride in their hand-stitched interiors which, while not flawed, do have imperfections visible to the eye. Unlike calling an unreliable car “characterful” however, this actually is.
The inside is sheer opulence, with even the air conditioner vents being opened and closed via pipe organ style “pulls”. Back or front, it is a beautiful and very comfortable place to be – the soft, perforated leather having the ability to be either heated or cooled. What appears to be a colour display ac control for the rear is actually a detachable smart phone style controller for other comfort-oriented functions like the rear sunshade. It also allows the passengers to view car stats including current speed.
We cannot go on without speaking of one of the most highly acclaimed features of the car – its Naim audio system. The Naim for Bentley Premium Audio package (optional extra) gives the car 13 channels and 1100W, 11 Naim-designed speakers including a pair of subwoofers, and a ‘theatre surround’ system. Many hard-core audiophiles revere this as the benchmark for in car audio and it was easy to see why. My only complaint is that the touch screen UI feels dated.
Plenty of storage spaces are available inside but these too are not of the Wagon R “1-litre water bottle in your door pocket” variety. Instead you find an exquisitely detailed sunglass holder behind the gear lever and of course the folding tables in the rear. The highlight, however, was probably the fully functional refrigerator which, in our test car, suitably contained a bottle of wine and crisps – perhaps cheese would be a better accompaniment? Ah, first world problems.
The boot, as one would expect of a car this size, is cavernous. The massive Naim subwoofers do however eat up a good deal of it, leaving you with 475L to work with.
Safety tech in this car, like the infotainment UI, feels a bit dated, and is where the car loses out to its closest rivals, the Rolls Royce Ghost and the Mercedes Maybach. While of course containing the usual gamut of front, side, overhead and knee airbags (a total count of seven), the Flying Spur misses out on active safety features and automated driving systems available in cars at a much lower price point.
Fuel Economy & Price
If fuel economy is on your mind, don’t bother with this car. Official figures give about 600km from the 90L fuel tank. Price wise; as usual, local tax structures on high displacement engines mean the car costs as much as two mid-tier three-bedroom apartments. But then, as you can see from all that has been said, it is indeed a lot of car for your money.
The Flying Spur introduces drivers and passengers to a different genre of luxury. Overall, it has an air of “no expense spared”. It is old school luxury while not being short on tech. It is unapologetically lavish and, above all, a true treat to drive. For the man or woman who’s made it in life, enjoys a good drive but needs a back seat, the Flying Spur is an enchanting option.
521bhp @ 6,000rpm
680Nm @ 1,700-5,000rpm
All wheel drive
Suspension all round
Front Ventilated Disc
Rear Ventilated Disc
Wheels & Tyres
275/45R19 all round
0-100km/h in 4.9s
Top speed 306km/h
Kerb Weight 2,417kg
Fuel Tank 90L
Boot Space 475L