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The Bentley Continental Flying Spur - the fastest four door car ever produced by Bentley, is also undoubtedly its best value and most drivable.

It is roomy and luxurious inside, without running the risk of becoming ponderous or unwieldy, unlike earlier models of Bentley and Rolls Royce.

 
 
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Bentley Continental Flying Spur Review

Building on the success of their Continental GT, Bentley have now released a four door model, the Continental Flying Spur.

Although based on a stretched Continental GT, this new car is very much larger while almost as nimble.

 

 

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur is an extraordinary vehicle for many reasons, not the least of which is the remarkable value it offers.  For the price as the two door Continental GT ($164,990), the Flying Spur gives you a full sized vehicle replete with all the luxury and performance features you'd hope for.

In contrast, you're paying close on $50,000 more for the entry level Arnage R (their other full-size sedan model) or $78,000 more for the Arnage RL.

A sports/luxury vehicle (if that isn't a contradiction in terms), the Bentley Continental Flying Spur rockets you up to 60mph in just under 5 seconds, and keeps on going almost all the way to 200 mph before its speed limiter kicks in.  But apart from the roar of the W-12  engine, you and your passengers will scarcely notice the impressive rate with which the miles are passing.

 

First Impression - the Key

'Here you are sir' - the senior of the two man delivery team handed me the new Bentley Continental Flying Spur's Key with appropriate reverence.

My Landrover has a lovely small soap bar sized/shaped key/remote control unit.  But if the Landrover has a key, the Flying Spur has a Key.  It weighs 50% more than the LR key, and is made of highly polished chrome, with a prominent Bentley logo on one side, so when you casually place it on the bar, all the good looking girls will notice it and gravitate towards you.

Actually, the Key is almost unnecessary (although of undoubted value when placed on the bar, late in the evening).  Using an RFID system, the Car knows when you and your Key are inside, and you can leave the Key in your pocket and simply give the Start/Stop button a quick press.  None of the old-fashioned nonsense about chokes or pumping the accelerator, or even the gross inconvenience of placing the key in the ignition, then turning it to the start position until the engine fires.  Simply press the start button and the Car knows what to do.  Fractions of a second later, you have all 552 horses ready to gallop wherever you wish to go.

And when you are in a hurry, those horses pull with 479 lb-ft of torque, from as low as 1600 revs and consistently all the way up to the engine's 6450 rpm redline.  You'll be at 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and the electronic speed limiter cuts in not very long after, at a speed similar to a twin propeller powered plane, 195 mph.  If his radar gun can read that high, you just know the State Trooper who clocks you at that speed will earn an instant promotion for the ticket he gives you, so it is best not to spend too much time doing 'low level flying'.

Second Impression - A Problem Merging Onto the Freeway

Okay, so I cheated.  Slightly.  The short onramp to SR520 in Redmond was on a slightly downwards slope, giving an altogether unnecessary extra measure of assistance to the Car.

I hit the gas pedal.  Hard.  The Car hit back.  Hard.  I was wonderfully forced back into my seat by powerful g-forces,  and all of a sudden the onramp had finished and there were cars all around me, but driving at a very different speed to that of the Flying Spur.

Usually I am going at the same speed as other freeway traffic at the end of the merge.  In this case, I had to hit the massive brakes to pull my speed back down to that of the free-flowing freeway traffic.

I'd better not say how fast the Spur was flying by the time I got to the end of the on-ramp, but let me just say I'd be unsurprised to be told the Car is capable of getting up to three figure speeds in less distance than the short onramp.

The Flying Spur is so powerful that, if you were to take advantage of its acceleration, an entirely new approach to driving becomes possible.  The slightest gap in oncoming traffic becomes a beckoning temptation and plenty of space to overtake the semi-truck and trailer in front of you.

You do have to be quite self-aware to appreciate the speed the Car is traveling at.  Look at the rev counter, and notice the engine ticking over at a modest 2000 rpm; listen and hear a contended relaxed burble from the exhausts, and notice the lack of wind noise, vibration, or any other impression of speed.  Then turn your attention to the speedometer - in top (sixth) gear, you're traveling at 71 mph, even though the engine is only at 2000 rpm.

The six stage automatic gearbox is silky smooth in its changes.  One of the two color digital displays shows you which gear the vehicle is in at any time, and if you wish to over-ride the car's gear changing, you can do so either via a 'Tip-tronic' style changer on the auto shifter, or via two paddles on either side of the steering wheel.  You flip the paddles to change gear up or down.  Using the paddles can be great fun, but the Car still retains some control over your choice of gears, preventing you from damaging the engine by very inappropriate gear choices.

The car does have an appreciable amount of engine noise, but this shows Bentley's audio designers correctly understand what their drivers want to hear.  The engine gives a very satisfying and 'square' sort of unbreakable sound, and even at full throttle and close to red line revs, the engine still sounds deep and throaty rather than high pitched and squeaky.  While driving around town, there's a perceptible rumbly murmur in the background to remind you that you're driving a W-12 engine with 552 eager horses at your command.

Third Impression - Space

Now I know what the space shuttle pilots must feel.  When the Continental Flying Spur is in a hurry, it maxes out at almost 1g of accelerative force, and to go from 0-60 it is averaging 0.65g for the brief 4.9 seconds it takes.  That's an almost vertigo inducing amount of force - perhaps the main reason the Flying Spur has all-wheel drive is because two wheels alone wouldn't be able to transfer the enormous power of the Bentley W-12 engine to the road without slipping.

There's another type of space that overwhelms one in the Continental Flying Spur.  This vehicle is a derivative of the Bentley Continental GT, and at a quick glance, seems simply to have been stretched.  So I was not expecting great things for the rear seats and leg room in the back of the Flying Spur.

But when I opened the back door, the carpet in front of the rear seats seemed to go on for ever.  I'm just over 6' tall and usually drive with the driver's seat almost all the way back.  With the Bentley's driver seat configured for best comfort, I then sat behind it, and had tons of knee room, and could stretch my legs comfortably out in front of me.

This is very impressive, and clearly shows the Flying Spur to be much more than a stretched Continental GT.  Indeed, when you look at the respective dimensions, it becomes obvious that the Flying Spur is quite different - it is longer (of course) and also higher, too.  Here's a table comparing the Car to other cars

Car

Length

Width

Height

Bentley Continental Flying Spur

208.9

75.4

58.2

Bentley Continental GT

189.1

75.4

54.7

Bentley Arnage (R or T model)

212.6

76.1

59.7

Mercedes S550

205.1

73.7

58.0

Mercedes S65 AMG

203.1

73.0

57.1

Jaguar Super V8 Portfolio

205.3

76.5

57.3

Ford Crown Victoria

212.0

78.3

58.3

Ford Taurus

197.6

73.0

56.1


The Flying Spur is nearly 20" longer and 3.5" higher than the CGT.  Amazingly, even though it is 10.5% longer and 6.4% higher, the Flying Spur is only 198lbs heavier.  The Flying Spur's curb weight is 5456lbs, a mere 3.8% more than the CGT, and has been kept down as low as possible due to extensive use of aluminium sub-frames.

Although you'd never think either to look at the Car, the Flying Spur is both longer and taller than all comparable vehicles.  Sure, the Arnage is larger, but it is also $50,000 and up more than the Flying Spur; interestingly, the Ford Crown Victoria is also larger, although this is hardly a comparable vehicle.

Although the car does not look big from the outside, and it definitely does not have a big car feel to it in terms of nimble handling, acceleration, or braking, it is indeed bigger than other luxury cars, and in a case where each extra inch makes appreciable difference, it is enough larger as to make it pleasingly more spacious inside.

Gadgets and Gimmicks

Time for a bit of vehicular philosophy.  Do 'gadgets' in a car add to - or detract from - your driving experience?

I'm a great lover of gadgets myself, and look for as many as possible electronic things in vehicles I drive.  So my first reaction was one of disappointment when getting in to the Bentley Continental Flying Spur - my expectation had been that a top of the line car would be equipped with every possible gadget, and the Flying Spur is not.

I asked Bentley why they didn't more comprehensively outfit the car with the latest in gadgetry.  They replied :

Bentley believes in an ‘appropriate’ level of electronic technology. It must always be user friendly and intuitive. Many competitive systems are too complex and offer more functions than owners may ever use, thus we prefer an ‘appropriate’ level of technology.

There is certainly a great deal of truth in this - BMW in particular is (in)famous for its complex computerized controls.  And, thinking about this some more, my favorite driving car (that I own rather than review) is a 1995 Jaguar XJS, and it has almost no gadgets.  No trip computer, no navigation system, nothing digital at all, and only the most basic of climate control systems.  So perhaps gadgets aren't essential.

However, I'm still left with a vague feeling that Bentley should positively respond to the challenge of making gadgets that add to rather than detract from the driving experience.  Shouldn't they be designing and deploying user friendly controls rather than stepping back and keeping the car's capabilities more simplistic than the competition?

So, what can you actually expect, gadget-wise, in the Bentley Continental Flying Spur?  It has some things - indeed, it has so much electronics that it has a second battery purely to power the electronics, but lacks others that one would hope for in a car costing as much as a fancy home theater and computer network - complete with the condo to put it in.

For example, you can integrate a phone into the car's audio system, but only if it is one of a handful of compatible Nokia models.  The car doesn't support Bluetooth, restricting you only to the nine models of Nokia phone supported by the car, and requiring you to plug the phone into a jack (in the center arm rest between the two front seats).

Or, on a much more fundamental level, there is very little engine instrumentation.  There is a tachometer and speedometer in large analog dials, plus smaller sized analog temperature and fuel gauges.  As for oil pressure/temperature, battery voltage/charge, turbo boost, or any other engine measurement, you're out of luck.

It does have both front and rear parking sensors that tell you as you get close to things, but it doesn't have anything special, like a rear vision camera that displays on one of the computer screens when reversing.

It has cruise control (of course) but the cruise control is not adaptive - that is, it does not automatically match speeds as you approach the car in front of you.

The audio system - referred to as an 'advanced infotainment system' gives wonderful sound, same as does the Continental GT.  It has a CD changer as well as AM & FM radio, and an intelligent volume control that varies the volume based on the speed of the vehicle (when the car is going faster, the volume becomes slightly louder to compensate for more background noise).

But there's no way to connect an MP3 player to the system, and neither does the vehicle come with satellite radio service.  And there's no option for rear seat DVD movies (although we believe an 'Auxiliary' input may be offered in the 2007 model year.

The Flying Spur does have a Navigation system with a nice large display, but the system uses multiple CDs, not a single DVD (we believe this may be upgraded in 2007) and I was unable to test it because the loaned vehicle didn't have the CD for the Pacific Northwest installed.  The Navigation system is controlled by buttons on the side of the screen rather than by a touch screen or voice activated commands.

There's nothing futuristic like a 'head up display' projecting instrumentation data into your line of sight, or a night vision screen.  The headlights are good quality Xenon high intensity, but they don't swivel when you're turning around corners.

A good trip computer shows instantaneous and average fuel consumption and average speed, with several levels of memory - since last refueling, for this journey, and since last system reset.

The seats offer three levels of heating, plus also three levels of cooling.  But if it is a cold morning, better put your driving gloves on before grasping the steering wheel - a heated steering wheel is an option, not a standard inclusion.  There is also a very clever solar ventilation system that helps manage the vehicle's temperature by opening the sunroof as needed.

Sure, many fine automobiles are made without extra refinements, and are thoroughly enjoyed by their owners who never once give a thought to the absence of such features.  But a Bentley aspires to be a Car, not just a car.  It promises to give its owner a complete uncompromising automotive experience, to be a Car that one can own with no regrets.

If, like me, you're a gadget lover, how are you going to feel when turning your back on vehicles costing one third the Bentley's price that are loaded with many state of the art conveniences and gadgets that the Bentley does not have?

The Flying Spur is a new design of vehicle, first released not quite one year ago, so there's no excuse for not including all the latest state of the art features.  And while some of the omissions may seem gimmicky, others are important.  For example, a Bluetooth hands-free kit for cell phones is a terrible omission, and adding this could be considered a safety enhancement as much as a gadget.

Perhaps strangely, omitting these things might be forgivable in a Rolls Royce - the classic distinction between Rolls Royce and Bentley is that one is driven in a Rolls Royce (ie by a chauffeur) but one drives a Bentley (oneself).  Let's hope that Bentley becomes more advanced in adding extra levels of sophistication to their driving experience in future model years.

Comfort and Luxury

Although the car might be lacking in gadgets, when it comes to comfort and luxury, there has been no compromise at all.  The Continental Flying Spur is Bentley's fastest ever four door car, but the vehicle's stunning speed and nimbleness has not required any sacrifice in comfort.

Indeed, you get to set your own preference for the softness of the car's ride - you simply dial in whichever of four different settings for the air suspension you prefer, from sport (firm) to comfort (soft).  If you're going to be driving over speed bars in a car park, switch to the soft setting, but normally you'll probably prefer some extra road feel with either the most or second most firm setting.

The seats have sixteen-way adjustments, and are both heated and cooled.  In addition, they can even provide you with a back massage.  The front seats have three memory settings, and these are related to each of the Keys.  So you can have one Key as yours and one for your spouse, then as each of you get in the Car it will know who the driver is and automatically adjust for that person's preferences.

In among all the fancy adjustments, heating/cooling, memory and massage, the simple bottom line is the seats are comfortable to sit in.  They wrap around sufficiently to hold you in place if you're choosing to whip around the corners, and they make a long journey a comfortable pleasure.

The doors are self-closing.  You simply pull the door most of the way closed, and then an electric motor winds the door in the rest of the way.  You'll never need to slam a door again with your new Bentley Continental Flying Spur.

The climate control system is a four zone system, with separate controls for driver and front seat passenger plus controls for both back seat passengers, too.

Lights gently fade up and fade down, rather than abruptly switch on and off.

There's plenty of leather and wood.  And not just any old leather and wood, either.  The leather is imported from northern Europe, where the relatively insect-free environment makes for better quality hides.  Each car uses over 11 hides.

The wood is an unbleached burr walnut, and is hand-lacquered before being machined and polished.  The wood pieces are mounted on new aluminium substrates that provide a more thermally stable base, enhancing the durability and flexibility of the wood.

The walnut is book and mirror-matched to create a symmetrical pattern, with one side closely reflecting the other.

Other wood finishes are available as an option.

What You Don't Really Need to Know

If you're considering buying a Bentley, you're probably reasonably uninterested in knowing its fuel consumption, and more focused on the distance you can drive between bothersome stops to top up the tank.

Your lack of interest in fuel consumption data is perhaps just as well.  Bentley claim the Car drinks a gallon of super grade petrol every 10.7 miles in city driving, and an impressive 22.2 mpg on the open road.  EPA figures rate the car at 11mpg for city and 18mpg on the highway.

The Car's trip computer had not been reset for the last 3280 miles, and this showed an average fuel consumption of 12.7mpg, over what was probably generally hard driving by people such as myself.  My own driving ended up with 12.2mpg, and I'd variously been either driving the Car hard and fast or else in stop and go traffic.  As best I could tell, a steady 70mph on the freeway showed fuel economy close to the EPA's 18mpg figure.

And now for what you really wanted to know - range between refills.  With its 23.8 gallon tank, you'll probably be stopping for gas every 300 miles, rather more regularly than other cars in the luxury class.  Unsurprisingly, the Car requires super grade petrol.

More About Bentley

The section 'A quick history of Bentley' in my review of the Continental GT is also relevant).

Bentley's new owners - Volkswagen - have proved to be sympathetic, generous, and effective.  The company is enjoying a veritable renaissance of new vehicle design - here's the impressive list of all new models released since VW purchased Bentley in 1998.  This is an extraordinary level of activity, quite unlike anything ever in Bentley's past.

Year Model Release
1999 Arnage Red Label (4.4L BMW engine replaced with a true Bentley 6.75L V8 twin turbo engine)
2002 Arnage Series II (re-design of body bracing and new suspension)
2003 Continental GT
2005 Continental Flying Spur
2006 convertible Continental GT
2006 Azure


Some people have wondered about the co-existence of two top end ranges of car marques - the Arnage/Azure and the Continental GT/Continental Flying Spur families.  Is there room for both ranges in a small manufacturer such as Bentley?

Bentley believe so, and sees the market in two parts - the Upper Luxury segment, to which the Continental cars appeal, and the High Luxury segment, to which the Arnage and Azure appeal.  Arnage and Azure buyers have a quite different profile to Continental buyers - indeed, the typical Arnage buyer will spend an extra $80,000 on customization with Bentley's Mulliner division to personally tailor their car to their wishes.  Bentley says the Arnage has been a steady seller, and term it their 'halo' car.  We believe the Arnage model will continue in production for a couple more years, at which time it may be replaced by a similar 'halo' type vehicle.

Although Volkswagen don't publish separate accounts for each of their brands, Bentley say they have been profitable in both 2004 and 2005.  Bentley's increased sales volumes, along with careful cost control are credited with these two good results, and in both years, Bentley exceeded its sales targets, with 2005 sales of 8500 cars being 30% up on its 2004 figure of 6500 cars sold.  In 2006, they modestly hope to sell 9,000 vehicles worldwide.

Bentley has successfully transformed itself from the 'second brand' at Rolls Royce to a viable stand-alone marque.  While its vehicles are not inexpensive, for people who are looking for luxury cars, they offer a great combination of performance, comfort, and value.

Buying a Bentley Continental Flying Spur

The Car lists for $164,990.  This is the same price as its two door cousin, the Continental GT.

If you choose to buy one, don't expect to walk in off the street and drive one off the showroom floor.  There is currently (April 06) a five month waiting list for the Flying Spur (and an even longer 9 month wait for the Continental GT).

The car comes with a meager three year (but unlimited mile) warranty. On the other hand, Flying Spur owners are expected to drive their vehicles extensively, typically in the 15,000 - 20,000 miles a year range (unlike Arnage owners who drive about half that), and so a three year unlimited mile warranty, for some owners, might include as much as 60,000 miles of coverage.

I've spoken with the service people at the local Bentley dealership, and they tell me the new Bentleys with the W-12 engine are proving to be reliable and low maintenance.

Most Bentley owners keep their cars for 8 - 10 years.  Plainly they must like them.

Summary

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur can be thought of as a 'Grand Touring' car.  It combines uncompromising power with uncompromising luxury, and truly does offer the driver and passengers the best of both worlds.

For most of us, its $165,000 list price makes it unattainable.  But for those fortunate few with the means to consider such vehicles, the Bentley's blend of tradition and modernity, of performance and comfort, all wrapped in a mantle of luxury, will be very appealing.
 

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Originally published 14 Apr 2006, last update 08 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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