With Bentley, arrogance is warranted
It was at Pebble Beach a couple of years ago, after driving the Mulsanne from L.A., that Bentley's marketing director shared his customer service philosophy: Treating customers with slightly less respect than they feel they deserve underscores the English automaker's superiority to everything, including its cars' buyers.
Having driven the new Flying Spur recently, Bentley's arrogance feels entirely warranted. The fastest, most powerful four-door sedan in its 94-year history is a marvel of modern technology and old-school craftsmanship, of sublime design and subliminal messaging that Bentley isn't only for seasoned Fortune 500 elites but younger, Silicon Valley upstarts who can raise venture capital almost as quickly as the Flying Spur comes to speed.
Designed to be enjoyed by drivers, as well as back-seat passengers, which, in the executive world, are often one and the same, the Flying Spur can travel the length of a football field in a single second, powered with its twin-turbocharged W-12. And it accelerates so smoothly, it won't spill the afternoon tea of its inhabitants. It might, however, blast the crumpets off the foldout trays that nestle into the flip sides of the front seats, capable, as it is, of accelerating its weighty 5,451 pounds from 0 to 60 in 4.3 seconds.
Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March, available for pre-orders in May and beginning deliveries next month, the $200,500 Flying Spur is smaller and sportier than the $296,000 Mulsanne flagship and longer and lower than the more formal-looking Continental Flying Spur it's replacing. Only the sun visors, grab handles, armrests and a handful of controls carry over from the prior model; more than 600 parts are all new, including the color. My test vehicle was sheathed in a new shade only an arborist would immediately understand. "Damson" is an ancient subspecies of plum that is now the 120th color in the Bentley palette.
Its shape was masterminded by Bentley's head of exterior design, SangYup Lee, who shares the same philosophy as fashion designer Giorgio Armani – that "elegance doesn't mean being noticed, it means being remembered."
Lee applied the curves and sharp creases of a Savile Row suit to the Flying Spur, giving it a more upright, snub-nosed grille and faster slope to its rear roofline to convey both elegance and aggression. The shark fin antenna that decorates the roofs of most cars, even those that cost six figures, is hidden between the headliner and outer shell in an effort to make a dramatic statement with one less line, Lee said, so the Flying Spur won't age as "old" but as "classic." Driving with Lee, he was admiring his own vision, taking in the athletic rear haunches that can be seen from the side view mirrors and the superformed crease that runs through the hood's center to indicate forward motion.
Large outer headlights generate an impression of extra width while the rear benefits from new oval-shaped horizontal taillights that aid the optical illusion of a low-slung sports car – an illusion that becomes a reality through the Spur's automatic air suspension system. It lowers the car's ride height when it hits 121 mph and does it again at 149 mph to improve stability and reduce drag.
Testing the car in congested, heavily policed Westside traffic with a full load of passengers, all of whom worked for Bentley in various capacities, I didn't come close to hitting that 121 mph benchmark, though driving the straights of Pacific Coast Highway, its acceleration was crisp and instantaneous. Its automatic transmission expeditiously shifted through its eight gears, getting through the first six of them seamlessly within the first 42 mph of acceleration.
Taking a hard right to test the Flying Spur's sporting claims, I switched to paddle shifters that move between the gears in less than 200 milliseconds and sashayed it through one of the more challenging canyon roads in Malibu – Latigo – a road so relentlessly twisty it is considered the Southern California equivalent of the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Flying Spur more than held its own. As poised as Bentley is esteemed, the Flying Spur is all-wheel drive with a torque ratio that's biased toward the rear unless the driver chooses otherwise. A drift car, the Flying Spur is not.
For a car that's pushing 3 tons, its weight served as a comforting ballast, its air suspension impeccably calibrated to automatically reduce high-speed slosh. Simultaneously solid and sporty, the Flying Spur was like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson – if he could dance like Fred Astaire.
In the two hours I had with Bentley's newest steed, I spent an hour and a half driving. The other 30 minutes, I was a passenger, reveling in the luxuries of its back seat.
Driving a car that cost more than I spent for my house is an experience that extends so far beyond the usual olfactory and tactile pleasures of a premium vehicle as to be gustatory. Sitting in the Flying Spur's supple leathers tanned from the hides of handpicked herds and quilted into a diamond design that could easily have been patterned after real 100-carat rocks seemed insufficient. Its interior is a panorama of shiny walnut veneer sandwiched with leathers so buttery I could have licked them.
That is merely standard fare for Bentley. What's most significant about the Flying Spur is its fusion of infotainment technologies with such rarefied materials and hand craftsmanship. Each Flying Spur takes 130 hours to build.
The Flying Spur can be had as either a four- or five-seat model, depending on whether its owner would like a stowage case instead of a center seat that would force rubbing knees. As much as the driver's cockpit is designed with butlerian efficiency and an erudite, if streamlined, combination of buttons and knurled knobs, even more focus is placed on the back seat.
In a bid to lure younger drivers and shave a decade from its 60-year-old median, the Flying Spur embeds more technology than any prior Bentley. But fusing ever-evolving technology with stand-the-test-of-time appointments was a design challenge that Bentley chose to meet, in the rear seat, with two sets of USB, HDMI, SD and CD/DVD ports built into the back sides of each leathered front seat, and twin 10-inch monitors for each rear seat passenger, both of which come with their own wireless headphones.
The two screens don't operate by touch. They are controlled by a shared, touch-screen remote roughly the same shape and size as an iPhone that nests into an area easily reachable by either back seat passenger, who can manage his immediate climate, including the temperature of his heated, ventilated and massaging seats. It also allows passengers to be amazed by their driver's speed, and the car's poise, with a digital speedo that mimics, in style as well as the information it provides, the speedometer on the driver's dashboard.
Alas, the Flying Spur is a car most drivers will only have the opportunity to enjoy from afar and fleetingly admire from the vantage point of a rear view mirror – if only the Bentley Flying Spur were content to stay there.
BENTLEY MOTORS FLYING SPUR
Base price: $200,500
Powertrain: 6-liter, twin-turbocharged W-12, 4 valves per cylinder, 8-speed automatic transmission with quickshift, block shifting and paddle shift, all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 616 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 590 lb.-ft. @ 2,000 rpm
0 to 60 mph time: 4.3 seconds
Top speed: 200 mph
Overall length: 208.5 inches
Wheelbase: 120.7 inches
Curb weight: 5,451 lbs.
Manufacturer-estimated fuel economy: 12 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 15 mpg combined
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