• Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Standard opulence


Elegant styling, rich finish, great performance, everyday practicality. The above words aptly capture the spirit behind the new Bentley Flying Spur that made its worlda debut at the Geneva International Auto Show. Fitted with the very latest technology, the new car is equipped both for business and relaxation whilst remaining a car to enjoy from behind the wheel.

Twenty years ago most of the limited-production, big-money nameplates – Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, Rolls-Royce – were stand-alone, distinct companies. They were terribly special. And for the most part, they were also simply terrible. For instance, a mid-’80s Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit could best be described as a really bad Lincoln Town Car with great paint and gorgeous upholstery.

Now all these automakers have been absorbed by various automotive giants. By any objective measure, the resulting cars are infinitely better for it. But are they still special?

A case in point is this new Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Flying Spur is essentially the four-door version of the GT. In addition to two more doors, it gets another 12.6 inches in wheelbase and 19.8 inches in length, transforming the coupe’s rather tight rear compartment into the Spur’s limo-like seating area. Its base price is similar to the Continental GT’s, a suitably exclusive $171,285.

Both vehicles are based on the Volkswagen Phaeton, the über-sedan that has drawn so few buyers that it’s being withdrawn from the US market. That failure, however, is no reflection on the car’s mechanical underpinnings, which are common with the two Bentleys.

The cars all share a rigid steel structure that provides firm mounting for a fully modern independent suspension, sophisticated air springs and computer-controlled shock absorbers, and state-of-the-art brakes and electronic chassis controls.

On the road, massive power comes from a turbocharged version of the W-12 engine used in the top-of-the-line Phaeton and Audi A8. Under the influence of 10.1 pounds of boost pressure, this 6.0-litre engine develops 551 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 479 pound-feet of torque, which starts at a low 1600 rpm.

The engine-management computer regulates this boost pressure to keep peak torque unchanged all the way to 5100 rpm, probably to avoid stripping the teeth off the gears in the six-speed ZF transmission. With a stronger gearbox, the engine could probably muster another 100 pound-feet without difficulty.

Such power-train endows the Flying Spur with performance that belies its 5580-pound weight. The car in question under test-drive leaped from a stop to 60mph in 4.6 seconds, hit 100 barely seven seconds later, and reached 150 in a total of 29 seconds. All those figures are better than those of the Bentley Continental GT tested in August 2004.

By comparison and with one exception, only a handful of dedicated sports sedans can better this performance, and they are all smaller and considerably less luxurious than the Flying Spur. The exception is the Mercedes S600. The last-generation big Benz edges the Bentley by a few 10ths to 60mph and by 0.6 second in the quarter.

The higher-performing AMG version of this car, the S65, is quicker still, and both these Benz luxo-sedans feel even more responsive than the Flying Spur because they weigh some 800 pounds less and have a torque advantage of more than 100 pound-feet.

But like all Mercedes cars and even the powerful S-class models are electronically governed to a top speed of 155mph, whereas the Flying Spur runs freely to 195, according to Bentley. Though this has not been verified, but based on tests of the Continental GT, which has been reliably clocked at between 198 and 200mph, followers of Bentley history are convinced that they have no reason to doubt it.

Bentley has been owned by the Volkswagen Group since 1999, and the Flying Spur is the second Bentley created since the VW purchase. The first was the wildly successful Continental GT, a two-door coupe that was introduced last year and is selling nearly 5,000 copies around the world.