Built in Crewe, but almost certainly bound for China…
Engine: 6.0 litres, W12
Power: 616bhp @6000rpm
Torque: 590lb @1700rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Top Speed: 200mph
What do you do in Bentley’s position? You have a large saloon called the Continental Flying Spur for which you have carved out a niche entirely in keeping with the brand’s provenance and aspirations. To wit, it is the only luxury five-seater that really will carry you across the face of the planet at 200mph. You’re also rather proud of the fact that, despite its enormous weight when you aim it at a corner, it doesn’t just wallow helplessly while its tyres beg for mercy. It’s actually quite good to drive.
You might ask how this happy scene can be presenting Bentley with any kind of predicament at all. The answer is that for all its good intentions and careful positioning, this isn’t actually the car the target customer wants.
Allow me to introduce you to him and, no surprises, he is indeed a man. You’ll know also that he is wealthy and will suspect strongly he likes luxury goods, not least for what he believes they say about him. So let me tell you a couple of things you might not know about him: he lives in Beijing, which means when he’s in the car he’s also in a traffic jam. There’s one more thing he’s in, too: the back. The man more likely to buy a Flying Spur than any other will, 10 times out of 10, be chauffeured.
Such is the reality of 21st century life. For every Flying Spur Bentley will sell in the UK, it’ll flog 10 in China, despite import tax more than doubling its purchase price. It’s also why Bentley’s biggest dealer is not in New York, LA or London, but Beijing. So does Bentley pander to him and produce a softer, more comfortable and therefore less Bentley Flying Spur, or does it stay faithful to its roots, press on regardless and hope the name will carry the day?
Bentley says this new Flying Spur (the Continental prefix is now dropped to provide differentiation from its coupe and convertible stable-mates) does both. It’s more powerful than ever, with no fewer than 616bhp from its 6-litre, twin turbo W12 motor so that even the ever-conservative Bentley says it’s a genuine 200mph car. It’ll likely do nearer 210mph. And its lines are visually sleeker. Moreover every suspension medium — springs, roll-bars, bushes and even tyre sidewalls — has been softened while a reappraisal of the car’s aerodynamic performance, structural rigidity and door sealing have led to what Bentley claims is a 40 per cent improvement in refinement.
So, where better to test the claims than downtown Beijing? Here I can confirm the new Spur does indeed offer a more comfortable place in which to inhale the smog, as well an interior ambiance only materially bettered by a far more expensive Rolls-Royce.
After breaking free from the city and heading north into Inner Mongolia, I was also able to see that, for all its enhanced performance, a little of the original’s charm has been lost. There’s a greater rate of body roll and a less incisive response to turns of the wheel.
Any Bentley that is less fun to drive than the model it replaces has questions to answer. In this case, however, I don’t think the company can be blamed for listening to its customers, especially as it is still a characterful car. In short it is a little less good to drive and far, far better in which to be driven. Under the circumstances it’s hard to see anything other than sense in that.