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First drive: All power to Bentley’s new Flying Spur

Roweled out: Bentley's most powerful four-door has launched in the marque's second biggest market - China.

New Bentley Flying Spur is a beauty, but adaptive cruise and rear camera cost extra

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Bentley logo21 May 2013

By JACQUI MADELIN in CHINA

BENTLEY Motors has made an emphatic statement about its intention to increase its global presence with its expanding model range, launching the new Flying Spur high-performance ultra-luxury car – the fastest and most powerful four-door the company has ever built – in China last week.

China is now the hallowed British marque’s second-largest market after the US, with sales in 2012 climbing 22 per cent to 8510 vehicles worldwide – 2253 of them in China (up 23 per cent), just a couple of hundred units shy of the US (2457) and well ahead of other markets including Europe (1333).

Bentley Motors’ regional director for the UK, Middle East and Asia, Geoff Dowding, told GoAuto in Beijing that while European markets were lagging, there were still growth opportunities for Bentley around the world, particularly in Asia.

Japan is on the rise, the company’s first Philippines showroom opened in Manila earlier this month, and no less than 40 additional dealers – including one in Vietnam – are planned to open worldwide in 2013, a year in which sales were up a further 25 per cent in the first quarter.

In Australia, 65 Bentleys were sold in 2012 through its network of five dealers, up 6.6 per cent on 2011, while to the end of April this year sales had increased a whopping 135 per cent with 47 new registrations across the current Continental and Mulsanne model lines.

Priced from $423,160 (plus on-road costs) and now available for order, the Flying Spur is due in October and is expected to push the Australian sales tally beyond 100 by year’s end.

According to Mr Dowding, the luxury sedan segment has recovered from the global downturn and he predicts growth will continue as the number of “high net worth” individuals climbs and demand increases.

China is a case in point here, where the luxury car segment currently takes four per cent of sales, well under the 14 per cent Mr Dowding says is typical in mature markets.

Will an incoming SUV provide a further spur to Bentley sales? That seems likely judging by the body language exhibited by Bentley staff when GoAuto raised the issue in China, although they say a decision on the controversial model – previewed by the EXP 9 F concept – has not yet been confirmed.

“Soon,” says Mr Dowding, with sales to start in 2016 if the go-ahead is given.

As for the Flying Spur, Bentley has sold almost 20,000 examples since the original’s 2005 launch, when it was spun off the Continental GT as a more practical four-door sibling.

Still based on the Conti GT but dropping the ‘Continental’ name, the fully redesigned model cements a change in focus to accommodate owners just as likely to employ a chauffeur as to drive themselves.

The latest Flying Spur is now seen as a distinct model line, competing not just against sports coupe buyers also considering the likes of the Aston Martin Rapide and Maserati Quattroporte, but owners of top-flight limousines such as the Mercedes S-Class and other 12-cylinder luxury sedans.

That new direction is heralded by a more dynamic exterior and more luxurious cabin.

The body is lower, wider and more sculptured. The Flying Spur’s face is differentiated from the GT by enlarging the outboard headlight and extending the lower intake the full width of the car, emphasised by a horizontal chrome blade.

The nose segues into a more sculpted flank with a feature line accented by a front fender vent featuring a flying ‘B’ logo. A more muscular haunch and a sweeping C-pillar impart an almost coupe line to the car’s profile, extended by the longer, lower boot before the flanks and roof taper into a sharply sculpted tail, with twin oval exhausts now tucked into the rear bumper, and the oval repeated within the horizontal tail-lights.

The rear design initially seems too crisp, but on the road it imparts gravitas – and there’s another reason for this design. It’s part of the car’s aerodynamic improvement, with coefficient of drag down from 0.33 to 0.29Cd.

The 6.0-litre W12 engine has had a management system upgrade to the Bosch ME17 interface, and now uses an eight-speed ZF transmission with paddle shifters, sending power to all four wheels for a 40:60 front-to-rear split, with up to 85 per cent available at the rear wheels or 65 per cent to the front.

This Flying Spur is the most powerful sedan Bentley has ever built, with power up 12 per cent to 460kW at 6000rpm and 800Nm of torque available from 2000rpm onwards. The torque curve is almost flat and 700Nm is still available at over 6000rpm.

Bentley says 0-100km/h is reached from rest in 4.6 seconds, with 160km/h arriving 4.9 seconds later en route to a top speed of 322km/h. At the same time, the combined-cycle fuel consumption figure has dropped 13.5 per cent to 14.7L/100km, and the corresponding CO2 output is 343g/km.

Bentley Motors product line director Paul Jones insists there are no plans for a V8 variant: “The W12 is right for this car,” he says.

Bentley altered the car’s body structure with a re-engineered platform and steel monocoque body. The bonnet is made from aluminium, the front wings superformed aluminium and a polymer composite is used for the bootlid.

The result is a 50kg cut in weight and a body that’s four per cent stiffer, which along with the addition of full-length acoustic undersheets and acoustic glazing, plus double window seals, has cut in-cabin noise in real-world conditions by more than 40 per cent over the Spur’s already refined predecessor.

Bentley also had a 275/45-section 19-inch tyre developed for the car with a higher side profile to improve the handling-comfort compromise.

Given the Flying Spur’s new brief to better suit comfort-lovers, the suspension also received a work-over with spring rates dropped by 10 and 13 per cent front and rear respectively, anti-roll bars 13 and 15 per cent softer front/rear, bushes over 25 per cent more compliant and track up 20mm at the front and 35mm out back.

The aim was better impact absorption, improved control and more precise steering, so the air suspension also came in for revisions to the electronic control strategy. Bentley says low-speed ride is better and damping force increases with speed, while steering assistance reduces.

Drivers have a choice of four settings via the new eight-inch touchscreen, between comfort and sport in any case, ride height is speed dependent, dropping 5mm front and 10mm rear by 195km/h and a further 8mm front and 13mm rear by 240km/h to improve stability and cut drag.

Small changes have also been made to the steering and the stability control system.

Inside, the cabin uses around 600 new parts. Mr Jones says only the sunvisors, grabhandles, armrests and some front console parts carry over. Seat heating and cooling is now standard, along with an eight-channel eight-speaker stereo and, as an option, a peerless 1100W Naim system.

Buyers can choose between four seats or five, with options including vanity mirrors for the veneered picnic tables, a bottle cooler that holds two bottles of champagne, and a multimedia system which includes two 10-inch LCD screens, wireless internet connectivity that effectively turns your car into a mobile hot spot for up to eight devices simultaneously, a dedicated 64GB hard drive, DVD, SD, USB including a USB charging port and wired or wireless headphones.

Rear passengers now also get a touchscreen remote, which slots into the rear console or pops out when in use and accesses a wide range of functions, controlling one or both entertainment screens where fitted, plus the wireless headphones, temperature and seat settings, sat-nav and even monitoring the car’s speed.

A smartphone app replicates many of these functions and guides the errant shopper back to the car or auto-calls the driver to your location – functions not available in China due to GPS regulations.

Naturally there’s plenty of customisation, with 17 paint colours standard and over 100 available along with 12 hides and two veneers – plus more for the higher-grade Mulliner.

Bentley now includes specification ‘packs’ with Comfort, Colour and Convenience packages extra – the latter including adaptive cruise control and a rearview camera.

There are initially two Flying Spur variants available in Australia, the $423,160 standard car and the $448,820 Mulliner, its extra features including diamond quilting and an embroidered logo for the seats.

We tested the new car on a 400km drive out of Beijing, through rural roads and towns and into the hills protected by the Great Wall, then back.

Beijing traffic obeys few laws there is no lane protocol and any gap may be filled by trucks, cars, scooters and even cyclists and pedestrians. Fortunately, acceleration and braking are both extremely impressive, while the view out is better than initially expected from the narrower glasshouse.

There was very little in-cabin noise and round-town ride comfort was excellent, the car remaining uber-refined when we hit motorway pace and stable even at high speed.

The Spur is also more nimble than expected – as tested by the need to suddenly evade donkeys tethered in the roadway, errant pedestrians and oncoming traffic in our lane around blind corners a twitch of the wheel and the mighty car veers off and back into line with minimum fuss.

It was in the narrow roads clinging to the steep hills approaching the Great Wall that we detected the driver-comfort compromises Bentley has made.

Sport mode delivers a greater connection to the road surface than a pure limo would accept, yet there’s also more bodyroll than before, which is not unexpected from a 2475kg car that’s nearly two metres wide.

Adjusting the suspension settings to a notch below the most sporting seemed the best compromise – easy to do thanks to that large touchscreen.

After 400km of sometimes stressful driving we can confirm the 14-way-adjustable seats are certainly comfortable, and the cabin as cosseting as you’d expect from a Bentley.

However it does seem a little odd in today’s market that while luxury touches like window screens are fitted, adaptive cruise and a rearview camera – standard in much cheaper cars – are not.

Still, Bentley has certainly hit its target to improve comfort, separate the Spur from its Continental originator, and deliver an impressive array of technical treats.

Whether it can also please Australian self-drivers remains to be seen.

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