Luxury, at its most refined, is about elegant simplicity. Using British carmaker Bentley’s stunning series of automobiles as an example, real luxury is not complicated or condescending but a quality that comes from thoughtfulness and painstaking effort. When you get into a Bentley, fire up its engine and start moving, the driving experience is flawless from start to finish because someone has personally thought through everything you might need, right from the ambient lighting in the car to the way the exhaust gases have been tuned to create the perfect sound.
Outside of the personalised extravagance of the coach-built Mulliner, Bentley’s new Flying Spur best exemplifies this approach to luxury — the 2019 edition of this car gives a superlative experience, whether you are relaxing in the back or propelling the car from the front. Unveiling this car in Monte Carlo was a brilliant PR move, we thought — the iconic and frequently visited Place du Casino provided the cars we were to drive maximum visibility, and yet, fit in quite easily.
First launched in 2005 as a four-door variant of the Continental GT, the Flying Spur acquired more of an independent identity when, in 2013, Bentley’s designers removed the Continental prefix to take this luxury saloon in a more opulent direction. This meant distancing it from the driver-oriented Continental GT range, but the third generation of the Flying Spur boasts the best of both worlds — it represents Bentley’s most luxurious interiors to date and an uncompromised drive quality.
“As with the launch of the Continental GT, the new Flying Spur is a ground-up development that pushes the boundaries of both technology and craftsmanship to deliver segment-defining levels of performance and refinement,” says Bentley chairman and CEO Adrian Hallmark over cocktails at the Princess Grace suite of the Hotel de Paris. “We are creating the finest, super-luxury sports sedan ever built.” Those are big claims, but Bentley certainly put its money where its mouth is for this car — it really is quite incredible.
The Flying Spur experience began at the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport so we could first enjoy the car as passengers. Traditional craftsmanship details such as fluted leather seating, diamond quilting on the seats and three-dimensional leather door inserts (a first for the Flying Spur nameplate) are accompanied by some pretty cool gadgets that made the 40-minute drive feel much shorter. A touchscreen remote control is new for Bentley, and allows rear passengers to control everything from the massage functions on their seats to the ambient temperature. A small fridge in the back of the centre armrest stored water for our drive, although we felt champagne might be more becoming for such a car.
The next day saw us in the driver’s seat, where the same attention is paid to comfort and luxury. The added benefit was that we were able able to appreciate the beauty of the console. Diamond knurling on rotary switches, vents and the clock are brilliant examples of Bentley’s devotion to detail, while its mastery in craftsmanship is best showcased by a rotating display, which is another first for the marque. The veneer section in the middle of the dashboard rotates to reveal either a 12.3in touchscreen; three analogue dials for temperature, a compass and a chronometer; or the option of a digital detox — simply admire the seamless wood fascia. The cockpit is unfussy and simple, which is a reflection of how easy the new Flying Spur is to drive.
For a principality with so many fancy cars, it seems ridiculous that Monte Carlo’s roads are so narrow. We’re glad to say the Flying Spur — by any measure, this is a big car — made it unscathed, although the same cannot be said of one’s blood pressure. We were warned about the notoriety of local drivers, and legend soon morphed to reality after we made the turn past the historic Opéra de Monte-Carlo to head out towards the French countryside. The roads that cut through this part are so narrow they imply carriage in a single direction, but oncoming traffic, at high speeds, no less, is quick to challenge that assumption.
At the heart of the new Flying Spur is Bentley’s flagship engine, the immensely powerful six-litre twin-turbocharged W12, which sprints from 0 to 100mph in just 4.6 seconds, and can achieve a top speed of 320kph. The undulating curves of Route Napoléon, most of which is marked by slender, winding roads with steep cliffs on one side and plunging ravines on the other, is not the best place to prove these statistics but we did take every opportunity possible to step on the accelerator for quick bursts of speed.
The car is responsive and quick, reacting to the slightest touch with a purr that graduates into a baritone rumble. One can understand the temptation to silence it completely since this is also a chauffeur-driven car, but it’s wonderful that Bentley’s engineers resisted in favour of petrolheads (present company included) who actually enjoy listening to an engine growl.
Wonderfully, the car is as quick to stop as it is to go. When a farm dog absent-mindedly trotted across the road and the brakes were applied with significant force — considering the speed we were going at — the car came to an effortless, gentlemanly stop. The seatbelts tighten ever-so-slightly as this takes place, and relax again as we pick up speed. Once better settled with the route’s sudden sharp turns, we begin to appreciate how the car feels light and agile feel while having a comfortingly weighty steering — the two are often mutually exclusive.
There are several elements at play that make the Flying Spur such a pleasure to drive. It uses the same eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission as the Continental GT, which assures smooth and refined acceleration, quicker gearshifts and improved fuel economy. A new active all-wheel drive system has eliminated any understeer, and is behind the car’s agility, while the all-wheel steering is why such a big car is quite so easily manoeuvrable. Torque distribution varies according to the three drive modes — we were predominantly on Sport mode to take on the curving roads — and the impressive handling comes from the Bentley Dynamic Ride system. A 48-volt system controls an electronic actuator unit, which changes the stiffness of the anti-roll bar, combating cornering forces and keeping the car perfectly level, even when the roads are not.
We break for lunch at the incredibly beautiful Château Sainte-Roseline, which provides a good chance to admire the Flying Spur’s handsome exterior. The restyled Flying B mascot adorns the Flying Spur bonnet for the first time, electronically deployed when the driver approaches the car.
A lengthened wheelbase bestows the car increased road presence and more muscular lines that sweep its length. LED matrix lights with unique cut-crystal detailing sparkle even when not lit, thanks to its chrome sleeve, while wrap-around lights at the rear utilise the B graphic. Standard paint options extend to a class-leading portfolio of 17 Bentley colours, although we are partial to Verdant Green.
Giving up this car at the end of the day was difficult — we had driven it for just a few hours, but it felt familiar, like a car you’d been driving for years. That the chemistry was so instantaneous is testament to the way the Flying Spur has been crafted from ground up: The Bentley team in Crewe was asked to re-examine their usual design codes and to go beyond them. By combining cutting-edge technology, traditional craftsmanship and innovative approaches to engineering, Bentley’s objective with the Flying Spur is to create the finest super-luxury sports sedan ever built. We daresay they have done just that.
This article first appeared on Dec 23, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.