2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
November 25, 2013

The 2014 Bentley Flying Spur has lost none of its continental appeal, despite the name change.

The 2014 Bentley Flying Spur is a golden ticket into an entirely different plane of luxury. Even if you're accustomed to $100,000 luxosedans, the Spur's swank accoutrements and sybaritic surroundings seem a world away. It's one of the finest vehicles made, when measured by the amount of hand-stitched leather and hand-planed wood applied to its cozy cabin. Drive one, and you've arrived.

The Flying Spur has been a Continental for most of its life, but there's a slight change for the new model and the new model year. Bentley's sold some 20,000 Flying Spurs since 2005, all with that Continental first name. Now, Bentley feels the Flying Spur needs to expand its reach, move out on its own. Hence the slight name change--there's no more "Continental" prefix in its name--and a stronger emphasis on a more emphatic look, as well as a suite of infotainment and powertrain enhancements to match its subtle changes in style.

The sleekly pared-down body has begun to distance itself from its companion two-door Continental GT. At the front end, the LED headlights are still ovals, but the larger ones are outboard--GTs move those inboard. The grille's set at a more vertical angle. The sheetmetal's formed with crisper and tighter creases, and Bentley's "B" is stamped on the fender vent. It's a clubby stance that relaxes as it moves from nose to tail, with a slight flare to the rear fenders and a gentle slope to the roofline. Square taillamps anchor the rear decklid, while oval tailpipes call back to the headlights. The interior remains a paradigm: it's functionally fit, fabulously finished, bespoke to a certain degree in its palette of trim and color choices.

As the most powerful and fastest Bentley sedan ever, the Flying Spur hasn't lacked for attention under the metal, either. The powertrain is latest version of the 6.0-liter W-12 that executives say is the brand's hallmark--no matter what green regulations come down. Output is 616 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. It's coupled to an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive with a variable torque split set at 40:60 from launch, but capable of shifting to 65 percent front or 85 percent rear as traction needs arise. Bentley quotes a 0-60 mph times of 4.3 seconds, and an astonishing top speed of 200 mph--in a car that weighs almost 5,500 pounds. It reels off whiplashes of power, controlled deftly by a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic that merits wheel-mounted, heavy-gauge paddles--not the flimsy ones it's given. The new transmission and the use of more aluminum has improved gas mileage to 12 miles per gallon city, 20 miles per gallon highway, or 15 mpg combined.

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The Flying Spur sells best in the United States, but since China is becoming a critical outlet, engineers have tailored the ride with both sets of driving tastes in mind--with more ride compliance from taller tire sidewalls and vertical shock layout for chauffered passengers, and with standard 19-inch and available 21-inch wheels and tires for enthusiastic drivers. Adjustable electronic dampers are able to lower the Spur's ride height for better stability and ride control as it approaches its speed limits. Revamped exhaust tuning lowers internal noise levels by 12 decibels. Light, natural steering feel complements the early-warning traction signals built into grippy Pirelli P-Zero tires; the Spur's more than willing to dive into tight corners, and setting its adaptive dampers to Sport gives it the lateral confidence to back up its promise, though it's less compliant when the road unkinks.

Where the Flying Spur turns on the executive levels of charm is inside. Quiet and tastefully rendered, the Flying Spur's cabin is filled with muted details, and studded with "B" logos, all framing a large LCD screen for infotainment functions that can be controlled by front-seat and by back-seat passengers via remote control. The remote also governs the twin 10-inch flat screens embedded in the front-seat headrests for those rear passengers--offering them in-car Internet and wireless connectivity and entertainment.

The cabin can be trimmed out as a four-seater with 14-way power adjustment and memory, heating and ventilation at all seating positions, or with a "plus-one" middle seat without those added controls. Some 17 interior leather colors and seven wood trims are offered, and 17 stitching colors--a palette that runs from sober grey to magnificent damson. A Mulliner Driving Specification adds the best flourishes: diamond-quilted seats, drilled alloy foot pedals, a knurled sports shift lever, jeweled filler cap, and 21-inch two-piece alloy wheels wrap up the package. An optional Naim 1,100-watt audio system is available.

Prices start from $200,500 for the five-seat Flying Spur, or $211,430 for the Mulliner, not including a stiff $2,725 destination charge.

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2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Styling

With the latest Flying Spur, Bentley forms a new identity for its smaller sedan, mostly by firming up the rear view.

The Bentley Flying Spur may have dropped its "Continental" badging, but it's still a relative. It has put some pretty distance between itself and the two-door, especially at the rear, where it teases a squared-off stance that's a throwback of recent vintage. Drag is down, from 0.33 to 0.29, and distinctiveness is up, especially in the darkest, richest colors.

Brand identity is the single most important touchstone for ultra-luxury brands, so the Flying Spur retains much of the familiar front-end appearance from the Continental GT. It hasn't strayed wildly from the first-generation sedan, either, though the oval headlamps are bigger, and they're now mounted outboard, not inboard as they've been since 2005. The grille's framed in thicker body color, and has a center spline.

Where the shape has shifted, it's tilted in a sporting direction. The formal bend of the last Spur's roofline has been relaxed. There's less top hat, and more bowler in the curves. The shoulder lines grow more pronounced as they move to the rear, where squarer fenders and a blunter tail recall the pre-VW Group Bentleys.

The new Spur isn't without its foibles. Some details are gems, like the Bentley "B" logo cast into the fender vents. The LED ovals that light up its taillamps don't illuminate the entire shape, and could be more subtly rendered. The same holds true for the LED brake light mounted at the base of the rear glass.

The Flying Spur's cabin remains a gorgeously fitted, finely organized atmosphere that swings wildly from refined to posh, depending on the finishes you select. Knurled shifter, dark-stained wood, lavishly applied leathers, all of them boost a very efficient twin-binnacle cockpit into the ultra-luxury leagues, without complicating it. Some pieces are recognizable from other vehicles--the navigation screen and transmission surround are bits we've seen before--but they're in a discreet harmony with the Bentley bits that embroidered the sticker price of our test car so impressively.
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2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Performance

Massive W-12 power and torque hurl the Flying Spur like a dagger; its adaptive suspension responds with a softer touch.

The Flying Spur's one massive machine, but its acceleration and grip are of an even higher magnitude.

The drivetrain flips the usual equation. Bentley's larger, far more expensive Mulsanne sedan makes do with a twin-turbo V-8 with just 505 horsepower. In the Flying Spur, power comes from a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W-12 engine, rated at 616 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. It's a prestige play, even though the unusual "W" configuration renders a less evocative purr and more vibration than most well-balanced eights.

Even so, the Flying Spur has more of everything, including acceleration: it's put at 4.3 seconds from 0-60 mph, and a top speed of 200 mph. The torque hits its peak from 2000 rpm and maintains it to about 6000 rpm, and all of it gets distributed to the ground via all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shift controls--big ones affixed to the steering column, not the wheel, not cast in some exotic metal.

It takes almost no pressure on the pedal to stir the Flying Spur to attention. It picks up speed effortlessly; hitting 100 mph takes under 10 seconds from a standstill. At highway speeds, passing is easy work, just a matter of shuffling down through a few long gas-mileage top gears to tap into its substantial reserves.

The Spur still finds a way to eke out better fuel economy, mostly from the 110-pound weight loss it's achieved with lighter body panels and with the new eight-speed automatic. EPA estimates of 12 miles per gallon city, 20 mpg highway, and 15 mpg combined are better, but still fairly unworried.

The Spur carries over its all-wheel-drive system, with a power split set at 40:60, variable to 85 percent rear or 65 percent front as conditions require. We may have encountered every instance of grip along that infinite curve on our first drive--ever--in China's picturesque countryside. It takes some focus to pilot the Spur smoothly through villages, since it's so torque-rich and eager to tip into it. Through canyon roads that looked eerily like Malibu, the Spur's sweet variable-effort hydraulic steering pointed accurately around tightly composed turns; it's very light at low speeds, but builds up effort in a believable, usable way, something we still have yet to find in most electric-steering racks.

In other ways, the Flying Spur's dynamics have been adapted to a more global audience. The suspension has been softened (the springs, by up to 13 percent, and anti-roll bars have shrunk by up to 15 percent), and its adaptive dampers have been given wider latitude. By fiddling with a four-position indicator on its LCD screen, it's possible to choose a more velvety ride.

Put it in full Sport there and in the shift gate, and you're venturing into future Flying Spur Speed territory. Cornering flattens out, but the Spur loses some of the supple compliance a big car should have, though its Pirelli P-Zero tires will warn well in advance that the 5,451-pound sedan is adapting millions of ways per second to the changing conditions. Most drivers will settle with the dampers in the middle position, tapping into Sport when the roads require more evasive maneuvers.

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2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Comfort & Quality

It's more cozy inside the Spur than you might expect, but the fittings and finishes reign supreme.

Some of the new Bentley Flying Spur's most coveted features are its front and back seats. And for good reason--they're adjustable 14 ways, with lumbar and memory support built into all the outboard seating positions. (That omits the controls on the middle back seat on the standard five-seat Spur; the four-seat Mulliner is posture-perfect in that regard). The front seats also have extendable lower cushions and massaging and ventilation control, for something close to a spa atmosphere, minus the humidity.

The Spur cabin isn't what you'd consider vast, though. It's more cozy, probably as it should be, even though the exterior proportions are more full-sized and full-figured. The overall length is 208.5 inches, the wheelbase is 120.7 inches, and the curb weight settles in at just under 5,500 pounds--and the Spur has just enough headroom for six-footers to slip under the sunroof, if they're long-bodied. It's roughly impossible to engineer a vehicle with such an exotically arranged and large displacement, with all-wheel drive, and with copious luxury equipment without tipping into its weight class.

The rear seats are clearly the place to be, or to be seen--unless you choose to raise the sunshades and go incognito, that is. The Flying Spur's back doors pivot open for easy access, revealing either a bench or a pair of bucket seats split by a long console, which can hide a Champagne cooler, if you like. One doesn't look for bottle holders in the doors, after all.

From the basic configuration, turning the Spur into a rolling limousine/office is simple, and simply expensive. All it takes is the available picnic trays and wireless infotainment system. From the back seat, passengers can move the front seats forward, grab a remote to play with the main audio and climate controls, or manipulate the dual 10-inch screens mounted on headrests in front of them. The screens aren't touch, but the setup does distribute wireless internet access to up to eight different devices.

Truth be told, the snack trays won't hold even a MacBook Air. But petit fours and a glass flute? Yes, yes, a thousand Euros, yes.

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2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Safety

Like most ultra-luxury cars, the Flying Spur's never been crash-tested; a rearview camera is standard, while adaptive safety systems are offered.

The Bentley Flying Spur is something of a safety unknown: it's massive, and equipped with technology that accents safer driving without distracting from the act of driving itself.

Still, it's one of those ultra-luxury vehicles that go untested, because of price and sales volume. To date, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the Flying Spur. Frankly, we don't expect either of them will. As a result, we've given the sedan a rating based on its dimensions, technology, and the performance of other large VW Group vehicles.

Standard safety equipment on the Flying Spur is complete, though it's not as technology-riddled as some mid-priced luxury vehicles. The usual airbags and stability control are complemented by all-wheel drive with a slight torque bias to the rear. Front and rear parking sensors are standard for American-market cars; a rearview camera and adaptive cruise control are options.

What's not offered are some features that are now common on less expensive four-doors--features like surround-view cameras, blind-spot monitors, and lane-departure warning and lane-keeping systems. We're advocates of the cameras and blind-spot systems since they increase safety inexpensively, and believe they'd improve upon the Flying Spur's somewhat limited visibility to the rear quarters.

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2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Features

With wireless Internet, a back-seat remote control, and knurled and quilted trim everywhere, there's nothing left lacking in the Bentley Flying Spur.

There are just two ways to configure the Bentley Flying Spur, but possibly thousands of ways to trim one out, given Bentley's palette of 17 paint and interior colors.

It's a real task to wade through the nuances of look and feel in the new Flying Spur. It may require a consultation with your stylist--whether you'll opt for Thunder or Storm Grey or the shocking purple Damson paint, or the Beluga leather. The same goes for piano black, burr walnut, or fiddleback eucalyptus trim, or machined aluminum, or other semi-bespoke choices.

At its core, the Flying Spur comes just two ways, though--as a $200,500 five-seat sedan or as the four-seat $211,430 Mulliner. In either case, it's rife with power features, including 14-way power seats with memory and lumbar adjustments at all the outboard seating positions. On the multimedia front, there's a control unit with a 64GB music hard drive, and DVD/USB/SD inputs. A rearview camera is standard.

Technology figures prominently on the options list. There's a connectivity package that's a must: it pairs dual 10-inch screens on the back of the front-seat headrests with a remote control so that back-seat passengers can control climate, audio, and other car functions without using a fingerprint-mussed touchscreen. Wireless internet access for up to eight devices is included, with a monthly subscription fee.

The outrageous $7,480 Naim for Bentley audio package sounds up to snuff, finally. In previous editions, the bass response has been thinner. Now it's more in tune with American tastes: it sounds like it's gained some bottom-end depth in the Spur, as it should, since its speaker housings shave about 2 cubic feet from the trunk to pound out its 1100 watts of power.

If it were our money (clearly, it isn't), we'd choose the $13,985 Driving Specification and its 21-inch polished chrome wheels, quilted leather, and knurled shift knob; lambswool rugs for $800; and the $2,000 seatback picnic tables and built-in Champagne cooler for $2,135. Because you never know when the urge for an impromptu picnic will strike.

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2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Fuel Economy

The Flying Spur is unworried by green opinion; gas mileage is better this year, but still quite low.

Gas mileage might be the furthest thing from the minds of Bentley drivers, but at least engineers have spent some time wringing more miles per gallon from its estimable engine.

The Flying Spur stands by its unusual powerplant, a signature twelve-cylinder with the pistons arranged not in a "vee," but in a "W" layout. Maybe it's a subtle homage to the parent company--but Bentley says the unconventionally engineered piece is a hallmark of the brand. It's the only engine offered in the Spur, whereas the bigger Mulsanne sports a twin-turbo V-8.

It's by no means the most efficient choice, but it compensates with massive torque and heartening acceleration. And this year's EPA ratings for the Flying Spur are better; the sedan's lost 110 pounds, and gained a new eight-speed automatic. Both of those improvements net the sedan a slight gain on the EPA cycle, to 12 miles per gallon city, 20 mpg highway, and 15 mpg combined.

We've heard rumblings of diesel and hybrid powertrains spreading across the VW Group even to its most prestigious brands, but as of yet, the Bentley Flying Spur is unworried.

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8.6
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Styling 8.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
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