The Continental Flying Spur was a key player in Bentley's Volkswagen Group-led revival, lo this past decade. The Spur's been made-over for 2014. Is the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur the same stout, Anglo-Saxon war wagon it was, or has it become something even more magisterial?
(Full disclosure: Bentley wanted us to drive the new Flying Spur so bad, that they decamped me to Beijing, China, put me up in a seven-star hotel (that's a lotta stars!) overlooking the Olympics "bird's nest" arena, and set me off toward the Great Wall. I got there and back, and no tuk-tuks were harmed in the process.)
Around 1957, London coachbuilder H. J. Mulliner & Co. affixed an athletic, sharply-tailored sedan body to a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II chassis and created the archetypal British playboy’s saloon: the Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Thus, two culturally distinct paths for deluxe motoring in postwar Britain had been laid. Or is that lain? Right. No one cares.
Anyhow, the dowdy Cloud would remain the standard-bearer for dignified upper-crust transport, while the sex-charged Spur would be the one careening toward Hampstead, a trail of champagne bottles, waistcoats and the undergarments of American movie starlets swirling in its wake.
These days, the only trace of Mulliner’s contribution to rakish society is its name. For buyers of the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur, that name – as in Mulliner Edition — specifies an optional upfit comprising beautifully quilted leather, a broader swatchbook of colors and fine wood veneers, and handsome 21-inch wheels. That’s not to say the new Spur is unworthy of its dashing lineage, it’s just that things have changed quite a bit since the nifty ‘50s.
Back then, Bentley’s Continental label specified lower, sleeker models suited to the high-speed roadways Britain lacked. With the Continental’s revival in the ‘80s, and on through the Volkswagen Group-led modern day, Bentley codified a particular approach to ride quality and body control that was as much German as traditionally British: vault-heavy, stiffly sprung, meticulously damped and surprisingly nimble. That approach placed the Continental Flying Spur among the best executive sedans on the autobahn, and made it a brisk seller – the company moved 20,000 of the first-gen models since 2005 — but limited its appeal among the world’s increasingly cosseted rich, who took passengering as seriously as others took driving.
But have you noticed? Bentley’s recently separated the Spur from the Continental family, which now comprises the two-door GTs only. It’s a sign the company’s got a new charter for the Spur. Look out, Rolls-Royce Ghost, another German-owned British luxury brand is gunning for your customers’ royally pampered behinds.
That’s why we’re here in Beijing. If growth rates hold, China will become Bentley’s largest national market by the second half of this decade, and Beijing is already the Flying Spur’s foremost city in terms of sales. The reason is as straightforward as it is game-changing. China’s upper crust craves prestige, not stealth. They want to be driven, not to drive, and they want their back-seat experience to be plush and posh, not taut and buttressed. (Between the traffic and the physics-defying parking squeeze here in the capital city, who could blame them?)
If that’s the case, then Chinese captains of industry will adore this new Spur, from its elegant new silhouette to its sumptuous interior, to the new back-seat serenity of added acoustical damping – it’s 40 percent quieter inside than the previous model.
China’s professional chauffeurs will enjoy the smooth ZF autobox that executes barely-perceptible low-rev shifts in stop-and-go traffic with the effortlessness of Jet Li doing Praying Mantis Fist style. During city-to-city runs on flat, empty highways, the kind China seems to build overnight, they may also experience what it’s like to be shot out of a cannon in a 5,400-pound luxury car. Make no mistake: This is a legitimate 200-mph sedan that can get from 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and to 100 in 9.5.
Yes, it’s more luxurious, as well as quicker and faster than its predecessor. (It's also ever-so-slightly lighter, by 112 pounds.) It hasn’t lost the accurate, hydraulically-assisted steering and surprising agility when sorting through outlying B-roads, though its running gear has been re-tuned with passengers’ posteriors in mind.
That extra bit of leisureliness with which the Spur now changes direction may lose it some friends on the continent, but it’ll make new ones easily in other places. Sure, with more passenger pampering and a softer focus on driving dynamics, the new Spur is a little more Rolls, and a little less Bentley than before. But with that top speed and such plush interior accoutrements, the Spur may well spawn a very different kind of 200 mph club, of which those naughty gentlemen of the ‘50s would surely approve.
The new Spur is a whopper, to be sure, but the new body is handsome, strikingly accented and a bit heavier on the gangster chic than previously. A multithreaded character line that highlights the front and rear fenders give a nod to the old “dual bow” designs of the ‘50s, while a sharp, door-line crease ties a new, stylized “B”-adorned vent to the rear door handle. The roof line is lower, the stance more muscular and the GTFOut of the way quotient, high.
If you’re into adverb-heavy car interiors, loaded to the rafters with flawlessly-matched, superbly-stitched hides; intricately-formed burled-wood veneers, and expertly-turned switchgear, you’ll go freaking supernova for the Spur. For rear-seat passengers, the spec’d up version – with veneered “picnic tables,” champagne cooler and 10-inch LCD screens – soaks passengers in the same luxury love to which they’ve become accustomed in the larger Bentley Mulsanne and Rolls Phantom and Ghost.
With the standard, twin-turbo W12’s engine management system having received an algorithmic upgrade, the Spur's full load of torque (590 lb-ft) reaches the ground at 2000 rpm, Thrust even more surprisingly belies its weight. Zero to 60 in 4.3 seconds, conservatively, is flat astounding in a car that weighs as much as a well-fed adult hippopotamus. Much of that can be owed to the massive traction from the P-Zeros and all-wheel-drive gear that can route up to 85 percent of power to the rear wheels and up to 65 percent max to the front as needed, with a baseline torque split of 40:60 front / rear.
Massive ventilated discs, 15.9” front, 13.2” rear pull the Spur down linearly and in a hurry, by way of a pedal that errs a bit on the soft side.
With a new emphasis on passenger comfort, the new Spur’s ride quality’s been de-firmed significantly. The previous model’s grip on body control’s loosened, with more compliant front and rear air springs, front and rear torsion bars and various bushings throughout. Even in its self-leveling air suspension’s firmest of four settings, it never feels overdamped. In its most slack of settings, its inner ’74 Coupe DeVille comes out, though with far less of the Caddy’s marine-grade roll uncle Tony once associated with motoring comfort.
Thanks to weighty, responsive, relatively feelsome steering – Bentley’s kept to the hydraulic-assist program – and damping set at its firmest, the Spur still feels remarkably agile and easy to thread through rough, Chinese-mainland switchback.
The ZF eight-speed is today’s gold standard in autoboxes, in terms of smoothness in upshift and kickdown – even in weird stop-and-go situations – and non-slushiness, especially when paired with Bentley’s software, which allows for block shifts – from first to fourth, for example in heavy acceleration. It can also handle the W12’s prodigious torque output, which alone is no mean feat.
The optional 1100-watt Naim audio system provides legendary ear candy. It’s serious audiophile business, and has a price tag to match, at $7,480.
The Spur’s seen considerable improvement in the toys department, with a new multimedia system for rear passengers — a $7300 upgrade — with 10-inch monitors on the headrests, and media inputs from DVD, SD, USB and HDMI, as well as a 64 GB hard drive. Optional Wi-Fi can link up to eight devices to the cloud, and a partially-available TV tuner (sorry, US and Japan, no can do), which comes in handy for catching up on daytime dramas in Mandarin during mind-melting Beijing traffic.
A wireless control device – it's chunky and substantial, about the size of a smartphone from last decade – docked between the rear seats can control everything from the climate to the entertainment system (sorry, no touch action on the LCD screens), and even has graphical depictions of the speedo and Breitling dash clock for the control-obsessed.
Still, the forward nav screen is a bit small, at a mere 8 inches, and while the electronics don’t feel like you’ve pressed the wrong-way button in the time machine, the Spur is still a victim of technology trickle-up syndrome, where it’s beaten out by less-pricey luxury cars in the VW group.
You get a lot of car for the Flying Spur’s base price of $200,500 ($211,430 for the Mulliner edition), but to add the options you’d want – the ones that make the Spur feel truly special: the Naim audio, the multimedia package, the veneered “picnic tables” and fridge for the bubbly and the lambswool carpets, for example – the additional outlay is significant. Even the SIM card reader’s $155. But if you happen to be culturally attuned to the intrinsic worth of prestige and the sheer spower of automotive sparkle, the Spur’s value is incalculable.
Engine: Six-liter twin-turbocharged W12
Power: 616 HP at 6,000 RPM/590 LB-FT at 2,000 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time: 4.3 seconds
Top Speed: 200 mph
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 5,451 Pounds
Seating: 5 people (4 as configured)
MPG: 12 City/20 Highway/15 Combined
MSRP: $211,430 (Mulliner edition) ($253,925 As Tested)
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