Long known for costly motorcars, Bentley turned to a lower-priced model in 2004: the Continental GT coupe, which quintupled sales for the British brand, now owned by Volkswagen/Audi. The companion Continental Flying Spur sedan entered the picture for the 2006 model year. Changes for the 2008 model include a less conservative, selectable mode for the electronic stability system and an improved interface for the navigation and central feature-control system, as well as additional Bluetooth functionality. There are modest interior and exterior cosmetic changes and new options, too.
The Continental Flying Spur is the fastest four-door Bentley to date, and arguably the fastest four-door you can buy. Inspired by the company's Continental Flying Spur of 1957, the sedan is called a "grand tourer born of a coupe." It essentially has everything offered in the Continental GT, including a 552-horsepower twin-turbocharged W-12, along with enhanced luxury and space.
Like the Continental GT coupe, the Continental Flying Spur has all-wheel drive. Bentley claims acceleration from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
The Continental Flying Spur's design is understated, in the Bentley tradition. The company refers to the sedan as "evocative, timeless and unostentatious." Two new paint colors, Cumbrian Green and Granite, debut for 2008.
Flowing body lines on the Continental Flying Spur include rounded C-pillars — called the "hockey stick" curve — like those found on many early Bentleys. A wire-mesh grille takes residence between recessed round headlights. At the rear, a humped trunklid sits above integrated oval exhaust pipes. Chrome detailing is similar to that of the company's Arnage sedan. The additional body length emphasizes the car's waistline.
Leather surfaces and wood veneers provide a sumptuous feel to the inside of the Continental Flying Spur, which can be equipped with four or five seats. Rear occupants can expect abundant legroom. Leather hides come from Northern Europe, and each car uses about 11 of them. Two new colors include Newmarket Tan and Cumbrian Green. The new model year brings a redesigned Breitling timepiece (that's a clock for the rest of us) in the dashboard, Sirius Satellite Radio and a brake pedal in the Bentley B shape.
There's a DVD-based navigation system, and front and rear seats can utilize separate Bluetooth telephone systems that link cell phone information — such as address books — with the vehicle's computer interface. For 2008, functionality improves with voice dialing and compatibility with more mobile phone models.
Options include veneered fold-down tables for backseat passengers, a rear-seat DVD system and a refrigerated bottle cooler. New options for 2008 include a three-spoke steering wheel and fade-resistant ceramic brakes for use with the optional 20-inch wheels. Notable is the backup camera that shows the view behind the car on the dashboard LCD screen when the transmission is in Reverse.
Breathing with the assistance of twin turbochargers, the Continental Flying Spur's 6.0-liter W-12 cranks out 552 hp and 479 pounds-feet of torque at a low 1,600 rpm. The six-speed automatic transmission features a manual-shift provision that's operated by the gearshift lever or paddles behind the steering wheel. All-wheel drive is standard.
Bentley says the Continental Flying Spur is more aerodynamic than the Continental GT coupe; it has a slightly better coefficient of drag. There's an adjustable air suspension and one-piece 19-inch alloy wheels. Bentley says the car's front disc brakes are the largest on a production passenger car.
Eight airbags, including full-length side curtain airbags and side-impact airbags for both front and rear outboard occupants, are installed. An electronic stability system is standard.
Like most ultraluxury, and even plain luxury, models, the Flying Spur goes like a rocket and handles well despite considerable heft (in this case 2 3/4 tons). And like many luxury models, it does these things with a feeling of detachment from the road — for better or for worse.
Truth be told, people don't buy cars like this one for how it drives. The ultraluxury buyer wouldn't accept poor performance, but here it's about how the car makes you look and feel and how well it pampers you. When it comes to pampering, the Spur puts the simple luxury class to shame, but it doesn't match the likes of models that cost twice as much, from competitors and Bentley itself.
What's frustrating about cars in this class is that they often forego some of the features we've come to expect from mere luxury and even premium cars and deliver materials quality that is expensive but aesthetically subjective. You'd expect them to have everything the lesser cars have and then build upon that. That's why the 2008 addition of a backup camera is a welcome change. The feature now comes on non-luxury midsize cars and compact SUVs.
On the quality front, we can't help but notice that some parts — including buttons and the LCD information screen between the main gauges — are borrowed from Audi. Would they look rich enough if they weren't such obvious hand-me-ups? It's hard to say.