Test Drive: 2014 Bentley Flying Spur
We take the "party in the front, business in the back" saloon on its maiden drive from Beijing to the Great Wall
We've been following the all-new Bentley Flying Spur from its sneak peek in London to its debut at Geneva's International Auto Show and to the factory in Crewe, where we saw the first production car roll down the assembly line (you'll see more about that later this year). Itching to road-test the car for months, we eagerly accepted Bentley's invitation to join them in China, where we spent a day driving from Beijing through the countryside to the Great Wall and back.
That Bentley chose China for the first drive of the new Flying Spur sedan shouldn't come as a surprise. China's class of super-rich is growing more rapidly than just about anywhere else in the world, and they are buying Bentleys in record numbers—2,253 last year, to be exact, of the year's total global sales of 8,510 cars. That's nearly as many as were sold in the US (which is still Bentley's largest market) and more than a quarter of Bentley's total sales. The luxury car tax in China is around 200%, which means that nearly the same number of cars were sold there at three times the price. Last year half of the Flying Spur's sales were in China, and it's poised to be the brand's best-selling car there.
As we've previously reported the Flying Spur easily stakes claim to a new category in Bentley's line-up. More accessible than the lustful Mulsanne saloon, and no longer a stretched out version of the two-door Continental GT, it's a car that's both a pleasure to drive, and to be driven in. Our attraction to it hits several CH buzzwords—it speaks to innovation in its design and product development for the brand, and exemplifies well-considered technique with meticulous craftsmanship.
The Flying Spur is like the new bad boy of Saville Row.
The car's evolution is immediately noticeable on the outside. Though it's nearly identical in length as the Continental Flying Spur it replaces, it is lower, wider, more aggressive and masculine in appearance. From the grille to the lights and new flying B wing vents, the car clearly leaves the Continental family behind to head for new territory. I'm drawn to its dichotomous presence: Modest, nonchalent and understated as well as athletic and aggressive. The Flying Spur is like the new bad boy of Saville Row.
Once inside, the Flying Spur cossets and envelops you in a leather and wood cocoon with few rivals. Each time you enter, there's a reminder of how fortunate you are—and how the pleather and plastic imitations now commonplace in most other cars pale in comparison to the real deal. Bentley settles for nothing less than perfection, with every seam, stitch, veneer and leather-covered panel matched to industry-leading tolerances. It's an impressive feat. Cabin noise is another indicator of overall build quality; a slight variation in the way a door or window seals can create unwelcome ambient noise. The Flying Spur is remarkably quiet. At times you struggle to notice that the motor is on, let alone that you are moving down the road at high speed, its double seals and acoustic double glazing protecting you from the world outside.
The rear cabin is a focal point of the Spur's design and evolution. Many owners prefer to be driven some of the time—and that's particularly true in China. From the incredibly comfortable, power-adjustable, heated and cooled massage seats to the optional cooler, picnic tables, Wi-Fi and entertainment system, every effort has been made to make you feel like a baller. A flick of the switch raises the privacy screens, a new rear Touch Screen Remote (TSR) controls the car's entertainment and HVAC systems (an industry first) and displays system data. The TSR is similar in size to a smartphone and sits in a cradle in the rear, center console. An app duplicates its functionality so any phone or tablet can also be used. My test-car had both the Multi-Media spec with its dual 10-inch rear seat monitors (which, regrettably, aren't touchscreen), 64 gig hard drive, DVD, SD, HDMI and USB ports and headphones as well as the upgraded 1,100 watt Naim audio system with 11 speakers. I prefer the two-seat configuration to the bench with three.
While equally luxurious, the front cabin is where the car disappoints most. The 8" touchscreen navigation, entertainment and systems control is carried over from the U.S. version of the VW Toureg. While the software is crafted specifically for Bentley, the Flying Spur merits a more advanced unit. It's also distractingly low in the stack—making navigating awkward, though a secondary display in the dash helps. Fixed plastic paddle shifters are awkward to use when turning and cheapen the otherwise sumptuous interior. They can be, optionally, wrapped in leather to match the steering wheel. The base of the shifter also feels and looks a bit plastic-y. Minor complaints, but in a car of this caliber you don't want to feel like anything is second best. The car supports Bluetooth connectivity, and you can also connect your phone via USB in the glove box.
It hauls ass in a most refined way.
One of Bentley's hallmarks is that each car is custom-built for its owner, and the Flying Spur is no exception. A range of colors, veneers and wheels are available, and upgrading to the Mulliner specification increases the number of options. The car I drove featured one of Bentley's new colors specifically created for the Flying Spur, a plummy purple called Damson. Custom colors and veneers are always available—matching colors to favorite items is common, and one Bentley owner even provided wood from a cherished tree to be used in his vehicle.
This is the most powerful four-door Bentley ever made and from a performance point of view, the Flying Spur shines. The six-liter W12 engine has received an upgrade to the latest Bosch ME17 engine management system. It cranks out 616 hp and 590 pd ft of torque—helpful in getting this 5,400+ lb car from zero to 60 in a mere 4.3 seconds. It hauls ass in a most refined way. All new Bentley models now use the smooth-as-butter ZF 8 speed transmission. The car offers four suspension modes, and I found that Sport mode best suited my mood and showed off the car's handling, while Comfort mode was well-suited to the country roads of China. Sticking corners in a car this large and heavy isn't easy, and the Flying Spur does it with ease. My test car also featured the Driving Specification with its 21-inch wheels, which adds to the car's presence.
Driving (and being a passenger) in Beijing's traffic was a breeze and the car opened up nicely on the wide expressways outside of town, passing overloaded trucks with ease, hitting the 100 mph mark without the slightest perception. It performed equally impressively on the small winding country roads, where we dodged villagers carrying loads of sticks, mopeds, animals and many, many piles of bricks. In fact, we couldn't help feel a bit guilty careening through the countryside in a car that costs so much. With a dozen of the cars lined up in front of the Great Wall, you couldn't not sense the profound change in the air.
If you're considering the Flying Spur you'll likely also be looking at the Rolls-Royce Ghost (which starts around $75,000 more), top-of-the-line versions of the Mercedes-Benz S class and Jaguar XJ, and perhaps their sportier cousins like the Aston Martin Rapide, Maserati Quattroporte and Porsche Panamera. While all are excellent choices none really competes with the new Flying Spur, which has nicely carved out a place of its own. Prices start in the US at $200,500 (before destination charge, taxes and options). Tricked out, like the one I drove, brings you to around $250,000. Check out the slideshow for more images of this groundbreaking machine.
Images and video footage courtesy of Bentley