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GQ Magazine review on the All new Bentley Flying Spur
The definition of luxury is forever changing however stepping into a new Bentley saloon certainly ticks a few lavishly upholstered boxes.
Bentley Motors at Crewe has become more sustainable with its carbon neutral, the roof now swathed in solar panels that can supply 40 per cent of the energy the facility needs. The hybrid version of the Bentayga SUV has just landed, a pure electric car arrives in 2025 and the glorious EXP 100 GT posits a zero-emissions, guilt-free, ultra-luxury future a decade beyond even that. Along with new Flying Spur, priced from £168,300, as disappointingly old-fashioned. It’s not. In fact, this is the best new luxury car in the world and here’s why.
The Flying Spur was driven around the French Riviera to get on the Route Napoleon. Performing exquisitely along the straights then arcs into the turns like a car half its size. Its steering is sublime, the way it pulls up on its brakes imperious. In between, there’s barely a chirp from the tyres despite big cornering speeds. There’s a leathery acreage behind me, a fridge nestles between the seats, and if I was chauffeuring someone I’d be fired on the spot. But Bentley’s new saloon is one of those cars in which you can get into the “zone”. Never mind everything else, this is a magnificent driver’s car.
There are objective technical reasons for this. Bentley is an occasionally quixotic part of the vast VW monolith, whose post-dieselgate travails have seen gigantic legal bills and the biggest mea culpa in corporate history. Thankfully, in the middle of the nightmare someone at Bentley persuaded the bosses to invest in all the right places. The chassis is a signature example of contemporary automotive engineering; it uses a scaleable architecture, mostly consisting of aluminium with high-tensile steel used where it’s most effective. And the modularity of the car’s underpinnings allows for all-wheel drive and makes it easier to accommodate the additional hybrid elements that will duly follow.
Right now, the Flying Spur arrives with a choice of 6.0-litre, 626bhp W12 or 4.0-litre, 542bhp V8. Both are epic engines. They sit further back behind the front axle and lower overall than before, improving the centre of gravity which in turn helps deliver the sort of handling the Route Napoleon appreciates. The W12 also uses twin injection, twin turbos and active engine mounts to isolate unwanted vibrations and enhance the body’s integrity. One bank of the engine can be shut down from third through to eighth gear below 3,000rpm, effectively turning the W12 into a 3.0-litre six-cylinder at steady motorway speeds, which obviously improves fuel efficiency (25.9mpg is the claimed average).
Naturally it rides superbly. It would be a largely pointless experience if it didn’t. But given its handling smarts, the Flying Spur is still extraordinarily composed. Its suspension uses a 48-volt active anti-roll system – similar to the one in the Bentayga SUV– so it’s compliant without wallowing. It also uses a triple-chambered air suspension, whose parameters are governed across four different modes: Comfort, a B for Bentley setting, Sport and Custom. It’s the first Bentley to use an active rear axle, which makes exiting Casino Square painless while improving the car’s high-speed stability through tightening corners.
Extend it in the mountains and the Flying Spur makes an appropriately aristocratic roar. But refinement is more important here, to which end the traditional soundproofing is supported by a foam layer in the Pirelli tyres, reducing tyre noise by five decibels. Equally comforting is the knowledge that the Flying Spur has a range of 500 miles, but can also reach 62mph in 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 207mph where appropriate. A GT car disguised as a long-range missile.
It’s also uncommonly beautiful for a big saloon, better looking even than its more glamorous coupé sibling, especially in the verdant green and Blackline 21-inch wheels of the car GQ tried (which also de-chromes all the exterior bright-work). Then there are its front wings, which have a unique flow and sense of volume that’s difficult to achieve in aluminium. It’s done using a technique called “superforming”, which heats the material to a temperature that allows it to be sculpted. “It’s expensive and demanding,” design director Stefan Sielaff tells GQ, “but the result is are these wonderful curves and tight radii.” On the Flying Spur they’re complemented by a front grille that’s 200mm larger than the GT’s, which also features vertical ribs that reference the ones found on WO Bentley’s personal 8.0-litre. Like BMW, Bentley is pushing the boundaries of taste when it comes to the front end, but if you’re in the market for a car like this, you’re hardly bothered about slipping under the radar. Why not go the full Alessandro Michele?
There’s also a new Flying B badge, the result of a two-year programme by the design team to modernise this 100-year-old symbol. It has a crystalline quality, rising out of and disappearing into the car’s grille via a button or if the rear-seat passenger is fiddling with the iPad-alike screen.
The Flying Spur features a unique centre console, which is cradled by the lower part of the “wing” structure used in Bentley cockpits. It also has a unique central vent. “I had to propose changing the famous ‘bullseye’ air vent,” head of interior design Brett Boydell says. “I set out to design a beautiful piece of sculpture that just happens to blow air through. There are 5,331 separate diamond knurled elements on the vent surround. I tasked our best surfacing guy with the job and he said, ‘It’s impossible. I’ll be here for a year.’ But he did it. In fact, we ended up writing software code in order to create the set-up we needed to make them.”
100 years of history
The 3-D quilting on the door inlays is another beautiful touch, although it’s the rotating central display that generates the biggest sense of theatre. Again, Bentley is nudging up to the rubric of good taste here, but every customer is an individual and so it’s up to them how far they dial it up – or down.
Bentley’s post-war path was set by the R-type, whose fast-flowing coupé bodywork and rear-wheel spats genuinely revolutionised car design when it appeared in 1952. The S1 Flying Spur arrived in 1958, its body reworked by the artisans at HJ Mulliner for greater practicality. Just 432 S1 Continentals, two- and four-door, were made, its patrons including the likes of Ian Fleming and Aristotle Onassis. The new model reconnects it with this seemingly untouchable past, but adds a modernity and dynamism that the old guard would have been blown away by. The result is an unequivocally fabulous motor car.