2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur Review

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TCC Team TCC Team
April 29, 2005



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Bentley Boosts Bid for Ultra-Lux Crown by TCC Team (4/29/2005)
VW’s luxury brand is defying gravity in a sluggish sales segment.


Not all that many years ago, Bentley’s “Flying B” logo seemed an endangered species. All but ignored by its long-time parent, Rolls-Royce, the Bentley brand had virtually vanished from the market. Then, the staid and conservative British automaker took an unusually daring step, bolting a pair of turbochargers onto the big Bentley V-8 to create the ultra-luxury equivalent of a muscle car.

The Turbo R turned things upside down; where Bentley had accounted for just five percent of total Rolls-Royce Motor Co. sales, it was suddenly selling 95 percent. A decade ago, when the long-struggling British company was put on the auction block and the two sibling brands cleaved in a Solomon-like business deal, Rolls went to BMW, Bentley to Volkswagen. And if anyone was left wondering who got the better of the deal, study the latest sales numbers and reviews.

Rolls’ new Phantom has generated what might be called a “mixed” response and lukewarm sales. As for Bentley’s newest entry? Let’s just say there’s little down time at the assembly plant in Crewe. With a ten-month backlog of orders for the sporty Continental GT coupe, Bentley has commandeered VW’s underutilized Phaeton plant in Dresden, Germany, hoping to catch up with demand.

That’s not likely to happen any time soon. Not with the newest addition to the lineup ready to hit the streets.

Fine flying

Though the new Continental Flying Spur is a bit longer than the GT, you’ll quickly recognize the family lineage. There’s the same chromed, crosshatch grille that’s become an icon for the American bling crowd. The sculpted quad headlights flow into the hood, as if shaped by the wind. But from the B-pillar back, the Spur is entirely new, a classic character line running nearly the length of the body. While there’s an elegant feel to the design, it is far less formal and rigid than the traditional Bentley sedan, today personified in the form of the big Arnage.

In keeping with its luxury pedigree, the Spur stands taller than a typical sport sedan, yet it maintains the taut, coiled feel of the GT, seemingly ready to leap into motion at any moment. The new four-door actually boasts a lower coefficient of drag than the coupe, benefiting from the physics of its high rear deck lid.

The stretched platform cradles a body that’s a full 20 inches longer than the GT, nose-to-tail. Bentley designers have made good use of all that extra space. The interior is not quite so cavernous as Maybach’s over-the-top M62, though there’s ample space to stretch out — especially if you opt for the Flying Spur’s optional, reclining rear bucket seat package.

Our hosts were quick to point out, then apologize for, the most subtle of flaws in the prototypes we got to drive recently, then promise they’ll be gone before the first Spur reaches the U.S. late this year. Apologies aside, they were generally modest enough to pass muster in a Lexus, that archetype of precision fit-and-finish.


Cockpit moves

Though Volkswagen has significantly modernized the Crewe plant in recent years, hoping to improve quality, as well as productivity, there’s still plenty of handwork involved in each Continental, Flying Spur, and GT. Nowhere is that more apparent than when you’re sitting behind the wheel. As you’d expect, each GT boasts a forest full of wood and a herd of cowskin. (Buyers will be offered a choice of sixteen different leathers and seven woods, with even more interior options, such as brushed aluminum, under development.)

As with the exterior design, there’s the feel of classic Bentley, yet it’s decidedly more modern, sporty and, if you will, more fun. Auto aficionados may also detect another influence. Though Bentley officials cringe when you remind them, the electronic control unit managing the Flying Spur’s climate control, audio, and navigation systems is a near direct lift of the module found in VW’s big Phaeton sedan. There’s nothing wrong with the look, though we do have problems with the technology.

That’s one area where the Flying Spur falls short. Rather than hold back production, the new sedan — as well as the earlier GT — Bentley went to market with some admittedly outdated technology. The nav system, for example, requires multiple CD discs to map a landmass as big as the U.S. or Europe, rather than a single DVD. An update is at least a year away, as is DVD-Audio with 5.1 surround sound. So is Bluetooth technology, which will allow a motorist to link the car’s hands-free system to a cell phone. Remote keyless start will be available in Europe at launch, but it’s also about a year away for the U.S. market.

Niggling arguments, perhaps, but such things matter to today’s younger, hipper luxury car buyers. Yet there are plenty of other things to keep them entertained — and impressed.

Spurred to excel

Like the Continental GT, and the Turbo R before it, the new Flying Spur celebrates Bentley’s performance heritage — recall, if you will, that founder W.O. and the “Bentley Boys” still hold the track record for victories at Le Mans .

The heart of this elegant brute is a twin-turbo W-12 engine. Yes, it is also derived from Volkswagen technology, but no apologies and explanations necessary here. The package produces an astounding 552 horsepower. That’s enough to launch this heavyweight from 0-60 in about 4.9 seconds. Not bad when you’re moving about 5500 pounds of metal, leather, and wood.

That is, incidentally, just about 200 pounds more than the smaller Continental GT. Bentley engineers have done an impressive job of eliminating unnecessary weight. The Spur’s 17-way seats, for example, are 20 percent lighter than the coupe’s, but just as comfortable and incredibly supportive.

You need that support if you intend to push this car up to its limits, as we found during two days of driving through northern Italy’s breathtaking DolomiteMountains.

Tip in on the throttle and you’re firmly pressed into your seat. You blow through 100 km/h (60 mph) and never look back, the speedometer quickly climbing to 160 (100 mph), 200, 220, 240. Even a Maserati Coupe, clearly moving flat out, made way for us as we bore north on the Autostrade. We decided not to test the top speed, reportedly 190 mph, but we have little reason to doubt it.

Turning off onto a scenic valley road, we charged into corners just as aggressively as we would have with the smaller GT, quickly finding the sedan to be its nimble equal. The two vehicles do, in fact, share most of the same suspension underpinnings, though in the sedan, the normal setting for the electronics is slightly softer. You can easily adjust that with the turn of a dial. Another difference: thicker rollbars designed to handle the Spur’s added weight.

Like the GT, the new Flying Spur comes with a standard all-wheel-drive system. In operation, it was virtually invisible — and extremely reassuring, considering the steady rain that slicked up the Dolomite mountain roads we blasted through.

Though only offered with an electronically managed six-speed automatic, we didn’t find any reason to complain. The gearbox’s manual mode is pleasantly quick and surprisingly intuitive, especially when you’re using the pair of paddle shifters well positioned behind the steering wheel. You don’t even need to put the main gear selector into manual mode. Nor do you have to shift back into auto mode. About 20 seconds after you last tap the paddles, the transmission will begin automatically shifting on its own.

Under everyday driving conditions, the Flying Spur is your classic luxury “saloon,” elegant, sophisticated and comfortable. It’s stable, quiet and a joy to both drive and be seen in. Step down hard on the throttle and its alter ego emerges. The sense of performance is enhanced by a slick bypass valve that actually lets you hear the joyous noise of the W-12 under full acceleration.

With the added capacity in Dresden, there’s a good shot Bentley will be able to build about 9000 Continentals this year, both GTs and Flying Spurs, but if you’re hoping to take delivery of the new sedan, you better get in line fast. Demand is already building and after a couple days behind the wheel, we can easily understand. The Continental Flying Spur is going to set a tough benchmark to beat.

2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur
Base Price:  $164,990
Engine: 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W-12, 552 bhp/479 lb-ft
Transmission: ZF six-speed automatic with Tiptronic, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 208.9 x 63.9 x 63.3 in
Wheelbase: 120.7 in
Curb weight: 5456 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): N/A
Safety equipment:
Dual front, side, and side curtain airbags; stability control; traction control; all-wheel drive
Major standard features: Automatic climate control, power windows/mirrors/locks, electric rear defroster, 19-inch wheels, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, CD changer/MP3 player, DVD navigation, leather trim
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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