2006 Bentley Flying Spur Preview: “How the Other Half Roll”

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It wasn’t enough time. It never is with cars like these. Although we didn’t get to drive it, we were wowed at the early May introduction of Bentley’s new Continental Flying Spur sedan. And we wanted more.

Let no one tell you different–the rich have it damn good. And those tax cuts? Sure, some of that may have been reinvested back into our economy–but I’ll bet a lot more cash went to Volkswagen’s Bentley subsidiary last year, when the Continental GT coupe became the car du jour of old money and the nouveau riche alike. So when you see the new Flying Spur–essentially a four-door version of that car–thank your local industrial baron, rap star, or crack dealer; after all, if Bentley hadn’t doubled sales expectations with the two-door, who knows if we’d have ever seen this iteration?

And it really is a public service. The other cars that can be said to play in this field–the $250+K Maybach and the $400K Rolls Phantom–both failed to strike the same/right chord with top-shelf buyers (perhaps due to the price differential?), thus creating an opening for Bentley to step up to the plate–and they did. The new Flying Spur could well be the real answer to those silly, self-important/presumptuous/pretentious ‘What Would Jesus Drive’ bumper stickers (he’s a nice guy and all, but I don’t see the son of God tooling around in a Prius or a fuel-celled FCX when there’s Connolly leather and 552 horsepower to be had!).

Smooth and serene on the inside, lithe yet large on the outside, the Continental Flying Spur is a study in flowing curves and subtlety. The look is sleek and modern; very much a departure from Bentleys of the past (and bearing no resemblance to the Rolls Royce Phantom sedan either; thanks to the corporate divestiture of those two firms several years ago). The front end, sporting a patrician mesh ‘matrix’ grille and swept-back, rounded headlights, is aggressive. The shovel-like intake below the bumper line is a particularly attractive, simple touch. A character line that begins framing the front wheelwell trails back along the body side, a few inches under the sharp beltline crease, serving to break up what would otherwise be a rather slab-sided profile. If anything, the design’s weak point would be the area between the B and C pillars; the wheelbase stretch (to 120 inches) necessary to provide the prodigious rear legroom makes for slightly ungainly proportions. The C-pillar itself features a ‘hockey-stick’ curve that harkens back to earlier Bentleys. The tail end of the Spur is similarly simple, with attractive ovoid shapes in the taillights repeated by the dual exhaust outlets. Designer Dirk van Braeckel–a VW corporate transplant–has achieved an understated yet elegant look here. The end result is a sleek machine–witness the 0.31Cd drag coefficient; even lower than the coupe’s.

Unlike the Rolls and the Mercede–oops, sorry, the ‘Maybach–the Bentley is meant to be driven. Chauffeurs need not apply; fire yours and buy two Bentleys! The best stuff is still up front in this car; the rear seats, although surely comfy, aren’t where the action is. And thus, the driving experience is of paramount importance. With cars like this, it’s all about the torque–and the Flying Spur has it in Friggin’ Spades. Stump-pullin’, teeth-rattlin’, tire-meltin’ torque. But–at least in the coupe–somehow, the 650 (!) lb./ft. are subdued; restrained, even. Bentley says sixty mph arrives in the Spur in a blistering 4.9 seconds, but we expect that never once will the car feel strained, nor will the driver feel taxed. The engine’s 12-cylinder layout, six liters of displacement, and twin turbos are responsible for the relaxed demeanor–with such abundance, there’s no undue stress on any one part.

In short, the power is most definitely there. The performance of these cars is so much higher than the competition, it’s not a fair comparison. There are very few cars that can perform the way the GT and Spur do in the sports-exotic category, let alone the sedan category.

The size and heft of this machine–it’s 209″ long and 5,456 lbs–are not inconsiderable, but brakes (say “binders” if you want to fit in with the U.K. crowd) are similarly impressive and over-engineered–the front discs alone measure 405mm, bigger than any production passenger car to date. Befitting a car of such immense mass and stature, the Flying Spur’s structure achieves extraordinary stiffness–46Hz resonance frequency–which adds a feeling of durability and solidity.

Inside is a dream. In these times, when you can get a navigation system in a Mazda3, it takes some creativity to make a $170,000 car seem like it’s worth the expense. Nearly every surface is upholstered in leather (even the headliner) or veneered with wood. No less than 11 cows, pedigreed from Northern European herds, gave their lives to create the sumptuous leather seating surfaces. All the expected electronics are there. The seating position is rather upright, making the car feel bigger inside, like a true sedan–a good thing. The forward cockpit looks just like the GT coupe. The huge trunk that you’d expect to find on a sedan of this size is present–it looks able to swallow six golf bags and your mother-in-law. In the spirit of customization for each specific customer, two configurations are offered, a four-seat setup with a slick center console front and back, or a classic five-seat bench layout. Further, comfort and convenience features are all standard; options exist as an opportunity for personalizing the car, rather than adding value. Even the unbleached Burr Walnut woodgrain can be replaced with any of four optional veneers. The bullseye vents with ‘organ stop’ controls are just one of a host of design cues, inside and out, that hearken back to earlier Bentleys. The steering wheel, with its modern controls, is still double-stitched and trimmed in hide in a process that takes a skilled craftsman five hours.

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur was unveiled to the world in Geneva in March–unless you count the Continental GT coupe’s introduction as the true debut. Although at first glance, it looks like a stretched Continental GT, it is not; it is was built as its own car, based in part upon Volkswagen’s hi-lux Phaeton. In this industry niche, however, platform sharing is a much more palatable prospect–and both the GT and the Spur have obviously benefited from the Volkswagen parentage. They’re built in Crewe, as they should be, but in fact, the underlying VW genes probably are responsible for some of the best bits of these Bentleys–the kind of things that can only come from high-dollar manufacturing and R & D facilities, wind tunnels, and the rest. Technology is leveraged well from Volkswagen and Audi’s engineers–the refinements that are available to engineers using a CAD/CAM system as opposed to a paper and pencil, for instance.

One gets the feeling that heritage is very important to the Brits (and others) responsible for Bentley’s new direction these days. The new sedan’s name comes from the 1957 Continental Flying Spur sedan, itself based upon the ’52 R-Type Continental two-door. With a top speed of 195mph, today’s Spur travels in rarefied circles–it’s the fastest factory four-door on earth. No chauffeur’s ride this; this is Bentley as it once was–and ever shall be.

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Written by Roadfly Charlie

Charlie is Roadfly’s founder and publisher, and was taught to drive by his father in a 1974 Porsche 914. That made poor Charlie a Porsche fanboy for life, and after driving a 911SC at 16, he bought and campaigned a variety of 944s at racetracks up and down the East Coast, earning awards and track records in his twenties. Charlie never really got over the car bug, and after a career in real estate development he founded the Internet media firm that became Roadfly. Charlie lives in McLean, VA with his wife and two daughters, and between the demands of family and business doesn’t have much time to play with cars anymore, excluding the machinery we review.

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