The notion of an entry-level Bentley is silly, but the Flying Spur is about as close as you’re likely to get. It’s a car that takes a little explaining. The oily bits are an extended version of the big bruiser of a GT, the Continental. That makes it big by any measure and a good 2.5 tonnes of mass rather underlines the point, but it is significantly smaller than the enormously grand Mulsanne, that ultimate luxo-limo for those who like to be driven so much they’ll never know what fun they’re missing.
It’s sad to think that the vast majority of Flying Spur owners will also sit in the back, because that’s the way things are in China, where the majority of these cars are sold. But in the parts of the world where driving isn’t menial work, and where driving might still be considered an entertaining pastime, we’re in luck — and that’s because the Flying Spur is rather a fun thing to helm.
You can buy the Flying Spur with a V8 or one of the company’s legendary W12s. The W12 is, of course, the prestigious piece of kit — a 460kW/800Nm behemoth of a motor that will sling the Flying Spur to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds and on up to the magic of 320km/h, if the autobahn allows.
But for me, the 4l V8 is where the sensible buyer is. I’m aware that the 12-cylinder buyers will always be there. They want the biggest numbers and Bentley will happily give them, but as a driver’s car, as a car to really use, the V8 is my choice by a distance. The reason is simple — 388kW is hardly “weak”, and while it has a lower torque figure, the V8S still pumps out 680Nm, and at a much more useful 1 700RPM too. Hitting 100km/h in 4.6 seconds will see off pretty much everything, as well.
Most critically, however, the V8 weighs less, giving those enormous front tyres more of a chance to bite properly when pushing on, thereby reducing understeer and that uneasy sense of weight. Additionally, its significantly reduced fuel consumption means you can, on a sensible cruise, expect a range of 600km or so.
To drive, the V8 is a peach — it’s torquey and responsive, giving that all-important waft at low RPM. The eight-speed ZF automatic is like a butler ought to be — always on call, never intrusive, discreetly going about its business.
The Flying Spur is the sportiest of the Bentley sedans, which means the ride isn’t the full flying-carpet of the Mulsanne, but to be honest that’s a good thing. There is communication for the driver, there’s a firmness to the ride — especially in sport mode — as you’d expect in a car that, when asked, can get a move on. Sporty or not, it is never anything other than utterly luxurious. The magnificent interior aside — specced by you, to your standards, of course — the delivery of power is a luxury in itself, a wrecking ball clad in the best leather.
I also rather like the way it looks, especially the sharp creases. The Flying Spur might indeed be a lesser Bentley by some measures, but if you’re going to do the driving, my advice is this — red leather and a dark walnut in a Flying Spur V8 S will make you very, very happy indeed. It’s just a smaller car, for a different purpose, perfectly executed.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Bentley’s success this century is visible in the dramatic growth of the factory near Crewe, in Cheshire. I visited in 2010, and when I returned again at the end of 2016 it was almost completely unrecognisable.
But some things never change — and it’s the old skills associated with a bygone era that Bentley continues to cherish.
There’s a station in the factory where bright lights help workers feel by hand for any imperfections in the leather — leather from Austrian cattle that never go anywhere near barbed wire. Then there’s a row of people sewing leather onto steering wheels — a critical thing because it’s a point of contact with the driver.
Perhaps the most pervasive sense from the factory is this. Attention to detail, yes. Proper hand-made cars — engines, interiors, and veneers — yes. But principally there is a sense of people who seem to be genuinely thrilled to be doing something extraordinary.