Car reviews - Bentley - Continental - Flying Spur sedan
Majestic performance, space, comfort, style
Room for improvement
Price, weight, fuel economy
17 Jun 2005
BENTLEY'S new Continental Flying Spur is, in effect, a saloon version of the Continental GT coupe.
It uses the same basic mechanicals - twin-turbo W12 engine, full-time all-wheel drive and an air-sprung suspension that, while it might incorporate many weight-saving elements, still doesn't save the Bentley from being a solid hunk of metal.
If you thought the GT was heavy, how about 2475kg for the Flying Spur?
This doesn't hold back the substantial beast in terms of its on-road agility though. The Flying Spur will accelerate from 0-100km/h in a head-spinning 5.2 seconds and continue through to an unrestricted top speed of 311km/h if you have your own private test strip.
This no-limits philosophy is born of the "race it, drive it home" creed espoused by the company in the past.
So what is it about this British-built but German-owned luxury car that elevates it so far above Mercedes and BMW? How does it translate to the actual drive/ride experience?
To take a term ascribed to the Rolls-Royce Phantom but probably more generically applicable when it comes to verbalising the essence of a true British luxury saloon, the Flying Sour is imbued with a sense of "waftability".
This means it proceeds with grace and style where others simply cruise comfortably. It means unflappability, inexhaustible reserves of power and a studied lack of concern for issues that normally bother car-makers - such as fuel economy, cost of replacement parts or overall weight.
These things are largely irrelevant when your aim is to build a vehicle that transcends normal expectations.
So the Flying Spur proceeds with a calm and assurance that would be almost majestic were it not underlaid by a distinct sense of lurking athleticism.
There's a rumble, and a responsiveness that indicates there's a certain amount of testosterone-charged animal lurking beneath all the shiny paint, hand-stitched leather and polished wood.
The W12 engine, sitting quite tidily into a ridiculously small underbonnet space, is politely intrusive as it moans with pleasure every time the accelerator is squeezed.
The 2.5 tonnes suddenly feels like considerably less as the six-speed ZF auto kicks down and transfers significant thrusting power to the all-wheel drive system. To describe the Flying Spur in terms much beloved by makers of large, heavy cars, the 2.5-tonne saloon "shrinks" around the driver.
You know it's heavy, but this doesn't seem to affect the way it responds to steering wheel, accelerator or brakes. The front discs are reputedly the largest used by any passenger car at 405mm and are enough to bring this battleship-sized car to a halt quickly enough to have blood draining to the front of your head.
The size of the brakes is ably supported by specially formulated Pirelli or Michelin 275/40R19 tyres running on nine-inch wide alloy rims (or, if you want, 20-inch rims shod with special Yokohama tyres).
The Bentley's ride is pretty much what you'd expect from a car that aims to be the best in the world. On the all-too-short drive program, the Flying Spur used its weight and its electronically-managed air suspension to overpower most road irregularities while retaining a flat stance when hunted around corners.
Use the big brakes to rush into a corner, feel the Bentley sitting flat as the weight transfers on the way through, then squeeze the pedal to compress the space to the next corner.
All the while luxuriously ensconced in big, leather-clad, multi-adjustable seats and directing operations through a surprisingly small, grabbable steering wheel.
The Bentley isn't as deliberately removed from normal experiences as the Rolls-Royce Phantom, and there's quite a bit of familiarity in the controls, but there are a few distinctly British traditional touches, like the piano-stop controls for the ancient-looking air vents and the clearly hand-stitched leather on the top of the dashboard.
The Flying Spur, naturally, is a nice place to be if you are a rear-seat passenger too.
There are two versions, a five-seater and a four-seater. The latter has two separate rear seats that mimic the adjustments available in the front, and even allow the occupant on the passenger's side to power the front seat forward to provide extra legroom.
In this car, which is about the same size as a long-wheelbase Mercedes S-class or BMW 7 Series, there's a generosity rather than an abundance of rear legroom as well as a four-zone climate-control system that has every passenger determining a specific microclimate.
And so they should, for while the Bentley is a car for drivers, it is even more a car that must rate its passengers as equally important.
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