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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Continental Flying Spur
Arnage (R or T model)
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
I asked Bentley why they
didn't more comprehensively outfit the car with the latest in
gadgetry. They replied :
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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.
||Arnage Red Label (4.4L
BMW engine replaced with a true Bentley 6.75L V8
twin turbo engine)
||Arnage Series II
(re-design of body bracing and new suspension)
||Continental Flying Spur
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
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
Most Bentley owners keep
their cars for 8 - 10 years. Plainly they must like them.
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
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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14 Apr 2006, last update
28 May 2011
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