Bentley Flying Spur

Debut: 2013
Maker: Bentley
Predecessor: Continental Flying Spur (2005)

 Published on 21 May 2013
All rights reserved. 

It is normal for a coupe to be derived from a sedan. The last generation Bentley Continental Flying Spur was on the contrary – it was derived from the Continental GT. At that time, it looked a smart decision, because it shared part of the beautiful style and most of the beautifully crafted interior with the GT, while the high percentage of component commonality (with the GT as well as VW Phaeton) allowed it to be priced sensibly between mass production luxury cars (like Mercedes S-class) and exclusive limousines (like Rolls-Royce Phantom). In the first year, some 4271 Continental Flying Spurs were sold, so it seemed set to be a big success. Unfortunately, that was also its best year. Sales gradually dropped to 1764 units last year. Why didn't it work? The answer is again its half-hearted origin. Because it was derived from the coupe, it lacked the necessary ride quality and refinement to meet the expectation of customers. Therefore, to improve comfort becomes the first priority of the second generation.

It must be said that the new car is no longer a "Continental". In the attempt to distant itself from the Continental GT and establish an exclusive image, the new car is called simply "Flying Spur". Unsurprisingly, its exterior styling is also given a more distinctive character. Styled by new Bentley (and ex-Lamborghini) design boss Luc Donckerwolcke, the car appears more elegant, with a more flowing waist line, slimmer ends and a more upright radiator grille. The latter and the bumper grille are given mesh treatment to appear classier. The new LED headlights look more stylish. The aluminum front fenders have a complex but elegant shape, and they are made by superformed technique. At the back, the slimmer and squarer tail looks less bulky than before. Well done, Donckerwolcke.

When you examine its technical specifications, you will come up with the conclusion that it is not exactly an all-new design but an evolution of the old car. Body dimensions are practically unchanged – same width and wheelbase, just 5 mm longer overall. The mechanical layout are also carried over – W12 engine, 4WD and adaptive air suspensions. There are some improvements though. Its aerodynamic coefficient of drag drops to 0.29. The new body is made slightly more rigid, with torsional rigidity of 36,500 Nm per degree instead of the old car's 35,000. Thank to the aluminum bonnet and front fenders and composite boot lid, its kerb weight is reduced by 50 kg, although 2400 kg is still nothing to be proud of.

The Audi-sourced 4WD system now splits 40:60 torque front to rear under normal conditions. The transmission is upgraded to ZF 8-speeder. The twin-turbo 6-liter W12 engine gets the same spec. as Continental GT Speed, so output increases to 625 hp and 590 lbft. This is the world's most powerful 4-door saloon. With a magical top speed of 200 mph, it is also the fastest. Acceleration from 0-60 and 0-100 mph takes 4.3 and 9.5 seconds respectively, 0.1 and 1 second faster than the old Continental Flying Spur Speed. Meanwhile, fuel consumption is said to be cut by 13 percent.

Inside, the interior looks familiar to the old car as well as the Continental GT. They again share the same beautiful dashboard, high-quality materials and switchgears. Nevertheless, the focus is placed at the rear. Now with more than half the sales goes to China and over 95 percent of its buyers there are driven by chauffeurs, the Flying Spur has to please the rear seat occupants more than ever. Apart from lots of space and comfy seats, it provides a WiFi touchscreen that allows the boss to control audio/video, climate control, seats (which is heated, cooled and massaged) and even display the dashboard dials or sat nav map to monitor the progress. There are also fold tables and a refrigerator behind the central armrest.

The old cabin used to be troubled by excessive noise, no matter from the engine, road or wind. In response to criticisms, the new car gets double-glazing windows, acoustic underfloor insulation panels and extra sound deadening materials within the doors. Furthermore, enlarged rear mufflers reduce exhaust boom by 12dB at 3000 rpm. To deal with the hard ride, the suspension has been tuned softer – spring rates of the air struts have been reduced by 10% front and 13% rear, while anti-roll bars and bushings are softened, too. Ride quality is also improved by using taller sidewall tires.

On the road, the Flying Spur is a lot quieter and more comfortable to travel. While it is not ultimately as silent and supple as Rolls-Royce Ghost, its refinement is good enough for a luxury limousine. Inevitably, the softer setup means more lean in corners when the suspension is set at the more comfortable modes, but the Bentley corners better than the Rolls-Royce or anything expected for its size, weight and luxury. That is not a surprise, of course, as Bentley is always more driver-oriented than Rolls-Royce.

Don't get me wrong, it is by no means a driver's car like a Jaguar XJ. Despite of its relative sportiness to RR, its sheer size and weight still limit its agility on more challenging roads. Moreover, its lack of communication is difficult to engage the driver – the steering is numb despite of old-fashioned hydraulic assistance; the ZF transmission reacts to manual gearchange with a noticeable delay, as if it struggles to cope with so much torque; the W12 engine is undeniably powerful but its induction and exhaust note lacks any aural character. In fact, the new 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 sounds much much better.

That puzzles me. On the one hand, the Bentley provides astonishing performance to attract keener kind of rich drivers. On the other hand, it disappoints those people with its lack of driving thrills. If it targets at back seat drivers, it would need a more comfort-biased tuning instead of the extra performance. So what does it want to achieve?
 Published on 10 Jul 2014 All rights reserved. 
Flying Spur V8

In response to the global trend of cutting emission, Volkswagen group loses interest in its complicated W12 engines. Today, Bentley becomes the sole consumer (apart from a handful of Audi A8 W12) of the W12. This is why the production of the engine has been shifted from Germany to England recently. Even so, Bentley itself is also turning attention to smaller V8. Since the Continental GT received the Audi-sourced 4-liter twin-turbo V8 last year, the V8 has been taking more than half the sales – and the share is rising again this year. Moreover, its smaller displacement enjoys lower tax rate in China, now ties with USA as the company’s largest market. Predictably, the Flying Spur limousine is also set to receive the same engine option.

When you select Flying Spur with V8 instead of W12, you save not only £10,000 but also 26 percent of fuel and 50 kg of weight – 30 kg comes from the engine alone. You do sacrifice some 118 horsepower and 104 pound-foot of torque, but 507 hp and 486 lbft are more than decent for a luxury limousine, as are the 183 mph top speed and sub-5-seconds 0-60 mph acceleration. The rest of the car is basically unchanged from the W12 model.

As we found out in the Continental GT, the V8 is actually a better motor than W12. Its lighter weight – located completely fore of the front axle, remember – lessens the nose-heavy feel a little and lets the car to turn-in a bit more eager. You are not aware of the reduced power on the road because its twin-scroll turbos (thanks to the inverse-breathing architecture) spool up more quickly. The reduced peak torque seems to let the ZF 8-speed auto to respond quicker, although there is still more delay than the same transmission fitted to Audi, BMW or Jaguar. Most important, in place of the flat exhaust note of the W12 is a good old V8 bubble once you open throttle wide. On the other hand, drive it leisurely and the V8 is quiet and refined. The cylinder deactivation facility is perfectly engineered, producing no intruding noise and vibration in the transition between 8 and 4-cylinder modes.

That said, the V8 model still suffers from the same identity crisis as the existing Flying Spur. On the one hand, it is not as comfortable to ride as a Mercedes S500, or to lesser extent a Rolls-Royce Phantom, because its air suspension fails to isolate bumps and road imperfections as well, and the sound insulation is not as effective. Its interior, while impeccably trimmed with wood and leather, does not have the high-tech features and convenience of the new German luxury leader. On the other hand, it is not as good to drive as an S63 AMG or Jaguar XJR. Its sheer size and weight, soft suspension and numb steering still handicap its handling on interesting roads, leaving arrow-straight highways the only places to excel. While the V8 is better than the W12, it doesn't change the fact that the Flying Spur is not a class leader.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Flying Spur V8 (V8 S)
2014 (2017)
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque
Steel + aluminum + composite
5299 / 1924 / 1488 mm
3066 mm
V8, 90-degree
3993 cc
DOHC 32 valves, DVVT
DI, cylinder deactivation
507 hp (528 hp)
486 lbft (502 lbft)
8-speed automatic
F: double-wishbone
R: multi-link
Adaptive air spring + damping
2425 kg
183 mph (c) (190 mph (c))
4.9 (c) (4.3**)
Flying Spur W12
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque
Steel + aluminum + composite
5299 / 1924 / 1488 mm
3066 mm
5998 cc
DOHC 48 valves, DVVT
625 hp
590 lbft
8-speed automatic
F: double-wishbone
R: multi-link
Adaptive air spring + damping
2475 kg
200 mph (c)
4.3 (c) / 4.5*
9.5 (c) / 10.4*

Performance tested by: *Autocar, **C&D

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