Versus the competiton:
Editor’s note: This review was written in March 2015 about the 2015 Bentley Flying Spur. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2016, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
It may not be the most technologically advanced luxury car you can buy, but with its top-notch materials and traditional styling, the 2015 Bentley Flying Spur V8 is certainly one of the classiest.
Ultra-luxury cars are a rare treat. Driving one makes you feel like someone special — being seen in one even more so. But when it comes right down to it, the underlying function of a bespoke luxury car like a Bentley and one that costs half as much isn’t all that different. The real difference comes in the details, like material quality, comfort, ease of use and customizability.
The Flying Spur is Bentley’s higher-volume sedan, costing a hundred grand less than a Mulsanne. It shares some underpinnings with parent company Volkswagen’s other premium offerings; both some of the car’s platform bits and its 6.0-liter W-12 engine, for instance, come from the Audi A8. But this is most definitely not a rebadged Audi; it is instead a far more old-school vision of luxury, one that hews to traditions the brand has held for decades. That truth is visible in details like the vent controls on the dash, gauges that use classic fonts, and seat forms and materials that are delightfully traditional.
New for 2015 is the arrival of a turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine from Audi, tuned for 500 horsepower. (Compare 2014 and 2015 Flying Spurs here.). Bentleys with W-12 engines are smooth as silk and deliver loads of torque, but does opting for the lesser engine bring lesser capabilities?
The Flying Spur got a slightly revised look for the 2014 model year, cleaning up some of its lines and introducing a more conservative tail-end treatment. It’s still immediately recognizable as a Bentley — no doubt about that — with its four-lamp headlight configuration, upright grille and formal roofline. Bystanders immediately recognize what it is thanks to the “B” badges on the front fenders and wheels. Even in my test car’s Granite metallic paint, which blends into the background quite thoroughly in a Michigan winter, the car garnered plenty of waves, thumbs-up and comments in parking lots and gas stations.
I’ve driven Bentleys with the W-12 motor in the past, and they always struck me as smooth and powerful but not terribly emotionally satisfying. The big motor makes lots of thrust but not a whole lot of noise, not even from the turbochargers — which is presumably what Bentley buyers expect. The less expensive engine — the turbocharged, 4.0-liter V-8 — makes 500 hp, 116 less than the W-12. You’ll likely never notice that power deficit, though, as the V-8 feels just as powerful and smooth, and is still more than adequate to power the Bentley with considerable alacrity.
What’s less enjoyable is the V-8’s lazy throttle response, even when shifted into Sport mode. The first half-inch of accelerator travel doesn’t do much of anything, making you put your foot into it further — which then becomes too much input, making the car lurch at lower gears. It’s a frustrating design quirk, and not one I recall from a recent drive of a Bentley Continental V-8 S. One eventually gets used to it and anticipates it, but that doesn’t make it any more welcome.
Once underway, the V-8 is delightful, with plenty of highway power for passing; you’ll never miss the W-12. The ride is as smooth as one would expect for such a large, cushy car, and it’s admirably silent to boot. Steering is nicely weighted, but this is a very heavy car, and it doesn’t feel athletically inclined in the slightest. You may as well adjust the various settings to their most comfortable modes and leave them there, using the Flying Spur more as a limousine than a sport sedan. Even in those softest settings for steering and suspension, however, the car never feels wallowy or ponderous (aside from the aforementioned throttle issue). The brakes are firm and progressive, providing excellent fade-free feedback — not that you’re likely to drive the Flying Spur in a manner that would overtax its abilities.
Fuel economy for the big V-8 sedan is rated at a surprising 14/24/17 mpg city/highway/combined — surprising in that this is a very heavy car with a big V-8 that can still cruise at 24 mpg on the highway. My driving netted an average of 20 mpg in what was admittedly a week biased more toward highway than city traffic. Competitors in this class all have 12-cylinder engines: The Rolls-Royce Ghost has one, netting 13/21/15 mpg, as does the Aston Martin Rapide, which is rated at 14/22/17 mpg. The Mercedes-Benz S600 also features a V-12, with estimated mileage of 13/21/15 mpg. The V-8 Bentley bests them all in fuel economy, though why that’s really important in this rarified air eludes me; if you can afford these cars, worries about saving money on gas are likely not a priority in your vehicle selection process.
The driving experience may not be extraordinary, but the interior of my test car certainly was. Approaching my Spur in its rather drab Granite gray exterior paint, I certainly wasn’t expecting what’s inside: leather hides done up in blood-red Hotspur, complemented by shiny, machine-turned aluminum trim panels and glossy piano-black consoles. It’s absolutely striking and provides an amazing contrast to the stealthy exterior — and shows what’s possible with customizing options.
As with all Bentleys, interior quality is also exceptional. Hand-stitched leather covers everything that isn’t aluminum, wood or black lacquer. Plastic is kept to a minimum, but what plastic there is seems to be of equally good quality, thickness and heft.
Seating comfort is also excellent, with perfectly sized chairs for driver and passengers covered in lovely, thick, diamond-quilted leather. The seat forms are more of an old-school design, however — remarkably flat and firm instead of the more contoured, bolstered chairs that modern luxury cars offer. They’re plenty comfortable, and you won’t be taking corners in a spirited fashion, anyway, so their lack of lateral support isn’t much of an issue.
Despite the car’s exterior dimensions, the cabin isn’t as big as you might expect. Legroom front and rear is ample, but headroom is tight; it’s not so much a matter of the roof being low as it is the floor being unusually high. That impacts rear visibility a bit, and with limited electronic assistance aids (no blind spot warning system is offered), changing lanes requires lots of diligent attention.
For a car this expensive and recently refreshed, the interior electronics are disappointing. The system used by the Flying Spur is very obviously one used by Volkswagen in its larger, older vehicles; the screen layouts and fonts are the same. This is unusual, given the bigger Bentley Mulsanne uses the MMI system found in high-end Audis. The Flying Spur’s out-of-date system works reasonably well, yet it struggled when asked to connect with and stream music from the latest smartphones. Adherence to old-world tradition may be something coveted by Bentley owners, but there’s really no excuse for having an out-of-date multimedia system in a car this pricey.
The Flying Spur’s $7,785 Naim premium audio system sounds decent but doesn’t have the impressive sound reproduction of other high-end systems, like Mercedes’ Burmester or even Audi’s own Bang & Olufsen system.
The rest of the controls are well-laid-out and function well, with a solidity that feels representative of the car’s cost. The one irksome deviation is the location of the turn-signal stalk, which is located low and to the left of the steering wheel. Where one would expect the turn-signal stalk to be, higher up, is instead the transmission paddle shifter, a truly useless affectation in a car like this. If Bentley were to eliminate the paddle shifters and relocate the turn-signal stalk, it would be a move for the better.
The Flying Spur has a decently large trunk — larger than most of its competition. The Flying Spur sports 16.8 cubic feet of cargo space in its trunk, bigger than the Ghost’s 14.0 cubic feet or the S-Class’ 16.3 cubic feet. The Rapide provides only 7.8 cubic feet of luggage room, but it’s a hatchback and its rear seats fold down, allowing a potential 31.3 cubic feet of cargo room when required. By comparison, the typical Honda Accord’s trunk offers 15.8 cubic feet and the Chevrolet Impala has 18.8 cubic feet.
Like all low-volume, ultra-luxury models, the Flying Spur has not been crash-tested.
Unlike some lesser brands, Bentleys tend to not have the same level of safety equipment and electronic driving aids as some competitors. Making only a few thousand cars a year can make developing such systems prohibitively expensive, but one would think Bentley could lean on Volkswagen’s deep technology bench to improve the systems in its top luxury brand. Available in cars costing a tenth of the Bentley’s sticker price, systems like blind spot warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision alert and lane departure warning are simply not available on the Flying Spur. Antilock brakes, traction control and all-wheel drive are standard, but those are unremarkable in these days of nearly self-driving Mercedes. You can see what equipment the Flying Spur does have here.
It’s hard to talk about value in a car whose floormats alone cost $500, but one can certainly draw comparisons versus other machines in this category. My test car started with a base price of $204,725 including a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax and a hefty $2,725 destination charge. It quickly rises from there, with options like the $18,635 Mulliner Color Specification Package, $5,715 for custom exterior paint, a $2,220 refrigerated bottle-cooler for the rear seats, $7,595 for a rear-seat entertainment system, $1,555 for red-painted brake calipers and much, much more. My car featured a full $56,140 in options, for a grand total of $260,865 as-tested. Craft a Bentley to your specifications here.
Closest in mission (if not exactly price) is the Rolls-Royce Ghost, a sedan loosely based on the BMW 7 Series that’s meant to fill a less expensive niche than the bigger Phantom. The Ghost comes with a V-12 engine and starts at $289,250 without its gas guzzler tax, nearly a third more than the base Flying Spur (though few Spurs ever leave the factory anywhere close to base price). A more intriguing alternative might be the Aston Martin Rapide, a four-door sport sedan that starts at $206,120. It’s even rarer than a Flying Spur and also features a V-12 engine, but doesn’t come with anywhere near the interior passenger space of the Bentley. It also doesn’t come with the Bentley’s portly weight, coming in nearly 1,000 pounds lighter.
If you’re willing to trade a little exclusivity and customizability for some state-of-the-art technology, the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG is a valid alternative, featuring a V-12 engine, an interior that’s easily as luxurious as the Bentley’s and an amazing array of electronic safety systems. Compare all four super-luxury cars here.