The third generation version of Bentley's Continental Flying Spur blends old-school craftsmanship with the latest technology in the super-luxury saloon sector. Beneath the chrome trim, the leather and the wood veneers, there's cutting-edge tech at work producing breathtaking results and creating in this boardroom-segment limousine the world's fastest four-door. It's hard not to be impressed.
The Flying Spur names dates back to 1959 and saloon version of Bentley's R-Type Continental Coupe. With a name borrowed from the family crest of Arthur Talbot Johnstone, Managing Director of the coachbuilder Mulliner. In the modern Volkswagen Group-owned era, the 'Continental Flying Spur' badge was revived in 2005 for a saloon version of the Continental GT Coupe, with a second generation design (just known as the 'Flying Spur') appearing a decade later in 2015, a scant four years before the arrival of this more fundamentally new MK3 model. The obvious rivals to this car lie with models like the Mercedes-Maybach S650 and the Rolls Royce Ghost, but in concept, what's on offer here is probably better understood as something a bit more dynamic than that: imagine a cross between a BMW M5 and a Rolls Royce Phantom and you'll be somewhere close. This is the world's faster four-door: but that's not the only reason it's very desirable indeed....
Bentley's worked hard to make this Flying Spur more of its own car in this third generation form - it's the brand's first vehicle to feature four-wheel steering for instance. This model still though, owes most of its engineering to its Continental GT coupe showroom stablemate, which in turn borrows is MSB platform, 8-speed twin clutch auto transmission and rear suspension from a Porsche Panamera. Like the Conti GT, the Flying Spur was launched with a W12 twelve cylinder unit with 635PS and 900Nm of torque. But also engineered for a 4.0-litre petrol V8 (sourced from Audi with 550PS). And a 3.0-litre V6 petrol Plug-in hybrid unit, which has 449PS an all-electric driving range of around 30 miles. The W12 spirits you to 60mph in just 3.8s en route to 207mph, which makes it the world's fastest saloon. Another key change over the previous generation Flying Spur lies with the integration of a more reactive all-wheel drive system. The old set-up featured a fixed 40:60 split between front and rear wheels and left the car understeering rather easily when you tried to push it along. In contrast, the replacement 'Active All-Wheel-Drive' package can constantly vary front-to-rear torque split depending on the driving situation and deliberately leaves the car using rear wheel drive as much as possible. As before, there's air suspension, now a three-chamber system that works in conjunction with the clever 48V electro-mechanical anti-roll bars first seen on the Bentayga. Suspension feel is one of the things you can influence via three provided driving modes - 'Sport', 'Comfort' and 'Bentley'. Steering feel and throttle response also get tweaked with the settings.
Most will agree this third generation Flying Spur to be a more handsome design than its predecessors, with sweeping lines and a sense of added visual purpose this time round. It's big - of course it is, though the 5.3-metre length is still a little shorter than its two closest segment rivals, the Rolls Royce Ghost and the Mercedes-Maybach S650. It sits a little lower than that pair too and the short front overhangs give a sportier look. As with the Continental GT, a frontward highlight lies with the jewel-like Matrix LED headlights that flank one of the largest and most imposing front grilles you'll ever see. The LED rear lamps are almost as nice, with their distinctive 'B'-shaped night time signature. There are larger wheels, with 21-inchers standard. Inside, as you might expect, the front of the cabin is lifted directly from the Continental GT, which means that the dashboard is sculpted by long, flowing wings and can feature the clever 'Bentley Rotating Display'. When you first get in, there appears to be no screen on the dashboard. Press the engine button though and the veneer in the middle of the fascia rotates to reveal either a bank of analogue dials or a huge 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. The instrument binnacle dial pack is a configurable all-TFT display too. A 130mm wheelbase increase for this MK3 model benefits the rear compartment which, as before, is really only designed for two. If you're being chauffeured and the front passenger seat can be pushed right forward, you'll really be able to stretch out. Boot space lags behind the Ghost and the Mercedes-Maybach at 420-litres.
You'll need £168,300 for the standard W12 version of this Flying Spur - the V8 variant will save you a little over this but not that much. It may be of limited interest to potential buyers that the W12 model's asking figure undercuts this Bentley's two most obvious rivals, the Mercedes-Maybach S650 by around £10,000 and the Rolls Royce Ghost by around £70,000. But of course the sticker price will usually just be the customer starting point. Popular options include an upgrade to larger 22-inch wheels, possibly via the bespoke Mulliner Driving Specification. Many will also want an audio upgrade from the standard 10-speaker 650-watt set-up; possibly to the B&O 16-speaker system. But ideally to the top 19-speaker 'Naim for Bentley' package which puts out 2,200-watts. You may also like to consider the optional Rear Entertainment system. This gives you a couple of Android-powered tablets, one attached to the rear of each seat giving access to movies, music and web browsing. There's also a touchscreen remote for rear folk, allowing them to adjust climate settings, monitor speed and even erect or contract the Flying B mascot on the bonnet. You can also add the Bentley Rotating Display for the dashboard, a digital TV tuner, an air ioniser and a refrigerated bottle cooler in the centre of the rear bench.
Although efficiency has improved, you'll still need deep pockets to run a Flying Spur, not surprisingly given the W12 model's 2,437kg kerb weight. Cylinder on demand technology in the W12 cuts out six of the twelve cylinders for better fuel economy at low-to-medium throttle speeds, but the WLTP combined fuel economy figure of 19.1mpg for the W12 will still keep you off the Greenpeace Christmas card list, as will the CO2 emissions figure of 337g/km (though that's better than a Rolls Royce Ghost). The V8 variant does a little better (but not much) and, like the W12, offers cylinder deactivation, intelligent thermal management and electrical recuperation. In the unlikely event that you're unduly bothered by issues of efficiency in running this car, you can talk to Bentley about the alternative 3.0-litre petrol Plug-in hybrid petrol version. This delivers combined WLTP-rated emissions of well under 100g/km, has an electric driving range of over 30 miles and can be re-charged in just two and a half hours. Residual values are another area where the big Bentley might well cause a sting. After three years of use, expect this car to lose around 35% of its value. The three year manufacturer's warranty is an unlimited mileage one and requires an authorised repairer to undertake any work - plus of course use of genuine Bentley parts (which come with their own two year warranty).
The Flying Spur used to be the forgotten contender in Bentley's range, previously positioned as the car you bought if your lifestyle no longer fitted the rakish Continental GT coupe but you couldn't run to a Mulsanne. No longer. This third generation Flying Spur design is now arguably the most appealing option in the company's line-up. It asserts its identity far more forcefully and the styling is a good deal more confident than its predecessor. We really can't see why you'd pay £65,000 more for a Mulsanne. It's certainly as good to drive as the Continental GT, with superb four-wheel steer-enhanced agility you wouldn't believe given this car's prodigious size and substantial kerb weight. There's an appealing mix of old school and cutting-edge technology on offer here and though this is a more ostentatious and extrovert model than before, the market for these vehicles increasingly demands just such a personality. And, we predict, will like this car very much indeed.