2020 Bentley Flying Spur first drive: Elegance and opulence
Adopting the new Continental’s aluminum-intensive architecture, the Flying Spur finally lives up to its promise
It’s a sneaky PR strategy, the earworm: You ask a question of assembled media — in this instance, “Is the Bentley Flying Spur the best sedan in the world?” — and hope the notion gets embedded in those collective minds (and, ideally, confirmed) in part simply because the question was asked in the first place. Effectively, it sets the review bar at the highest possible point and helps ensure the review subject will land at, or at least close to, said bar.
See what I mean about being sneaky? Thing is, it can also backfire if the vehicle in question somehow fails to deliver.
Thus it required confidence, and a certain amount of chutzpah, for Wayne Bruce, Bentley’s PR head, to ask just that question of the brand’s new Flying Spur luxury sedan during a pre-drive product briefing. The stage was carefully crafted: I’d flown to the absurdly wealthy enclave of Monte Carlo, Monaco, where Bentaygas roam as freely as Ford Explorers do in metro Detroit. What better place to determine the Flying Spur’s worth than in its natural habitat?
Confidence is generally founded on something, so let’s review what Bentley has accomplished here, beginning under the hood: Powering the Flying Spur is the same W12 found in the Continental GT, rated at 626 hp at 6,000 rpm and 664 lb-ft of torque between 1,350 and 4,500 rpm. The architecture uses active engine mounts to help minimize powertrain vibration in the cabin, yet keep the engine stable in hard driving.
Transmitting that torque to all four wheels is an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, designed with an emphasis on smoothness when it came to its tuning. Why a dual-clutch, considering the occasional lurching that even the best DCTs exhibit? The unbeatable upshift speeds and performance characteristics, according to Bentley representatives. Consider that this powertrain can accelerate the 5,300-pound Flying Spur up to 207 mph and deliver a 3.7-second sprint to 60, and you can see they’re doing something right.
The Flying Spur’s three-chamber air suspension combines with continuously adjustable monotube dampers and adjustable antiroll bars, which Bentley calls active roll-control, on both axles. There’s also a rear-axle steering system, which can articulate the wheels as much as five degrees opposite the fronts to help with parking maneuvers; after that, the rear wheels only move about a degree in the same direction as the fronts to add agility at low speeds and stability at higher speeds. Per current styling requirements, the Flying Spur will ride on either 21-inch or 22-inch wheels. Since huge wheels and low-profile tires are incompatible a with luxury-car ride, Bentley mounted hollow wheel hubs and used aluminum wherever it could for suspension components. The tires themselves use a thin layer of foam around the bead inside the tire to further mitigate vibration and noise.
For the record, Monaco proper is a terrible place to drive. The roads are winding and narrow, but not in a good way: They’re broken up by traffic signals every hundred yards and pockmarked with errant tourists and loosely leashed pugs weaving on and off the sidewalks. Leaving the confines of the principality was as good a test of the Bentley’s new rear-wheel steering system as one could have asked for; the Spur’s exterior girth seems to shrink by at least 30 percent once behind the wheel, and I managed to guide us to the less-trafficked Route Napoleon without scything off the sideview mirrors.
Once unbridled by the cityscape, the Flying Spur really came into its own. I’ve often found myself preferring Bentley’s V8 to the W12, in part because of the smaller engine’s soundtrack. Engineers must’ve felt the same way, because the 12 in the Flying Spur now delivers a lovely bass gurgle from deep below the floorpans when adequate throttle is applied, a more menacing tone than the slightly off-key symphony of W12s past. It’s never intrusive … in fact, the powertrain is nearly inaudible unless you want it to sing, which is precisely how a luxury sedan should behave. AMG has sedans for those who want to hear every ignition event and feel every pebble, all the time. The Flying Spur focuses more on refinement; at a quarter-million dollars, a Bentley should feel more elegant than a Mercedes, and it does.
Thrust is, of course, available at all times and in nearly all RPM ranges, aided by the dual-clutch transmission. About that: I’ve found DCTs struggle to live up to their promises in real-world driving. Yes, shifts are faster than with a torque-converter automatic, but at the cost of smoothness and refinement. Bentley managed to eliminate the weird off-idle take-up lag found on most DCTs, but there’s still the occasional odd judder as the gearbox sorts things out. It only happens in certain situations — rapid on-off-on throttle transitions during quick driving in traffic, for example — but it is there.
Off throttle and hard on the brakes, on the other hand, results in zero surprises: The Flying Spur is a big car capable of big speeds, and its enormous rotor/caliper combo throws an anchor into the pavement whenever it’s called for. That the car brakes hard is one thing, though; the Bentley’s composure under hard braking is what’s so noteworthy. Dive is virtually nonexistent, making this galleon ridiculously easy to toss deep into a corner, letting the all-wheel steering and massive torque slingshot you back out the other side. The biggest detriment to fast driving is the width of the Flying Spur’s A-pillars, which make it a challenge to keep ‘eyes ahead’ in left-hand sweepers.
Of course, the above assumes you’re choosing to experience the Flying Spur from the driver’s seat. Many buyers will while away weekday commuting hours from the rear, and that’s where the previous iteration of Bentley’s sedan really fell flat for me. It was nice, but nothing extraordinary, and didn’t seem to befit a $200K-plus experience. Rest assured, this is no longer the case.
The rear passenger compartment for the latest Spur is an entirely different creature from the previous model, and an exquisitely appointed sanctuary for the well-to-do (or those of us who get to pretend now and then). Massaging, adjustable leather seats coddle passengers, and the metal, wood and sculptured hide accents constantly remind one that this is not an ordinary car. That’s the whole point of the luxury experience, right? To have Instagrammable proof that you’re extraordinary? The new Flying Spur contains enough elegant detail to keep all three cameras on your iPhone 11 digitally clicking away for hours.
Thus coddled — having idled the Bentley Flying Spur among Monaco’s winding hillside avenues, caned its mighty W12 throughout the French countryside and melted into its rear thrones while being chauffeured to and from the Aeroport Nice Cote d’Azur, Mr. Bruce’s question remains: Is the 2020 Bentley Flying Spur the best sedan in the world?
Perhaps the less-loaded question is, “If the Flying Spur isn’t the best sedan in the world, what is?” And that’s where I come up blank. I’ve driven the big Rolls cars, and Bentley’s own far-pricer Mulsanne, and while those cars may be more exclusive, it’s not accurate to call them better. Nor does the S-Class, even in Maybach guise, manage the dual-purpose fun-to-drive/fun-to-be-driven-in trick as well as the Flying Spur.
It’s a damn impressive piece of engineering, this big Bentley. And it doesn’t need any PR wizardry to be called the best sedan in the world.
2020 Bentley Flying Spur Specifications
On Sale: Orders beginning now for early 2020 delivery
Base Price: TBD
Drivetrain: 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12, eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, AWD
Output: 626 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 664 lb-ft @ 1,350-4,500 rpm
Pros: Ultra-luxurious, extraordinarily fast executive transport for four
Cons: Requires an offshore bank account to afford