road test: 2014 Bentley Flying Spur

b4It’s not an easy job being a £182,000 saloon, because no one is going to make excuses for it. Considering what else is available for the money, no prospective purchaser wants to find themselves in something that needs special pleading. The new Bentley Flying Spur must amaze, seduce and beguile in equal measure – it has to be a memorable motorcar for all the right reasons.

Two things strike you on first inspection. First, it is huge – making a fully spec’d Range Rover look like a short wheelbase Land Rover Defender. Second, it has a mighty W12 engine that befits its vast proportions, its six litres putting out a quoted 616BHP and 590 foot-pounds of torque. Yet somehow this isn’t so impressive when you remember that its finely painted bodywork is hewn from steel rather than light aluminium – accounting for its immense 2,500kg weight.

Which takes us back to the big Bentley’s dilemma – it must be one of the most comfortable four-door saloons on sale, and also one of the fastest. Its maker says it does 200mph – something I didn’t get to try out on The Queen’s Highway – and reaches a mile a minute in just 4.3 seconds – which I can vouch for. Trouble is, in trying to be all things to all men, the Bentley risks being none. Buyers chasing a four second-to-sixty backroad bruiser are unlikely to be lighting up their back tyres in a four seater mobile office, complete with video screens in the front seatbacks. Can the Bentley sell its contradiction?

On the road it is a memorable machine. Hit the throttle, and instead of instant punch there’s a slight lag while the engine comes on song. It’s not a problem you’d traditionally associate with a six-litre petrol engine, but then the Flying Spur is such a heavy car. That’s why it has twin turbos, which come on song strongly and in a linear way, but they don’t get going for the first few milliseconds after flooring the throttle. You’d never say the car is jerky, but this subtle lag robs the Bentley of some of its fluidity when driving spiritedly around country roads, when you’re constantly coming on and off the throttle.

This means that at first, this big beast isn’t the easiest of things to get the hang of. Rather like a big across-the-frame four motorbike, you need to get used to nothing happening momentarily before all hell breaks loose. After a few minutes though, you begin to intuitively ‘drive around’ this aspect of the car’s power delivery, and it suddenly becomes wonderfully good fun. The feeling of being propelled from low speeds to very high ones in next-to-no time isn’t exactly unpleasant – the Flying Spur picks up its skirts and runs with real zeal, punching its way out of low speed bends with that massive wall of torque.

Another thing that takes some getting used to are the brakes, which are a little grabby. Given the velocities you might find yourself travelling at, and the not inconsiderable weight of the car, of course it’s better to err on the strong side in the stopping department. But still they’re just a tad too responsive right at the first touch; you have to brush the pedal rather than push it. The fact that the slightly laggy throttle next to it is precisely the reverse, doesn’t speed your mastery of the car. The throttle needs a positive initial shove and light follow up, whereas the brake pedal works the other way around. No complaints about the power of the brakes though, it is immense; one soft touch and you shed speed dramatically, pushing you forward in your lovely leather seat. 

For a car weighing two and a half thousand kilos, the Bentley handles brilliantly. Most vehicles of similar girth have little appetite for the twisty bits, but this car does a manful job. It remains smooth and composed under sudden lane changes, and tracks the apex of corners accurately and without drama. There’s a slight slowness in its initial turn it, but that’s only if you’ve been used to far more track oriented stuff. Around the empty, undulating roads of the Savernake Forest you soon get into the swing of things. But what this car cannot do is defy the laws of physics; it shrinks itself on the road well, but nothing can work miracles when it weighs this much. The car feels strong and stable around fast bends, but you always get the feeling that the Flying Spur is dutifully doing what it’s told, rather than having a ball.

All of this makes for a motorcar that punches its way from rest to normal road speeds very swiftly, but never quite conveys any of the accompanying drama. This is a good thing for a relaxed, intercontinental mega cruiser but if you’re out for some visceral, speed-related thrills, there are cheaper ways of getting them. In the Bentley’s defence, it plays both these roles – and indeed several more – very well. And that’s the sort of buyer that will take to the Flying Spur. It is sublime on motorways, virtually peerless, aside from the sub-20MPG drinking habit, and it’s really pretty good on A-roads too. For such a big old thing, the Bentley can dispatch B-roads quite well, but it’s here you really begin to wish you were in a small hot hatchback of half the size and weight; the car is good here but not faultless.

The Bentley is a very comfortable place to be in. As you’d expect from a car such as this the seats are superb, and can be set to heat, cool or even massage you. The leather is excellent; sumptuous but not too plush; and the trimming is done beautifully and tastefully, but the cabin carpeting feels puzzlingly basic. Whilst I didn’t find the fascia design particularly attractive – there’s less sense of occasion than you might expect – it works well and clearly presents the car’s vast range of functions straightforwardly. The bright highlights give a nice sense of occasion without being too gaudy, as is sometimes the case in luxury cars. The Naim for Bentley hi-fi is lovely. The climate control works brilliantly, the headlamps are superlative on main beam, and the parking sensors worked well. Overall, it’s another great British car – but so it should be at this price!

The suspension can be adjusted via the car’s central display; interestingly the ‘comfort’ settings are softer than one might think, making the car very wallowy on British roads, but push it towards ‘sport’ and the whole thing firms up nicely, striking a good balance between a nice supple ride and the ability to change direction quickly and precisely. Although it lacks Citroen-levels of cosseting, the chassis feels like it was been well honed considering all the weight in the Flying Spur’s nose. When you’ve set the suspension correctly, you get an excellent general purpose touring car – of great speed, consummate comfort and cosseting luxury. The Bentley’s brief was never going to be an easy one, but it turns out that it fulfils it surprisingly well.

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