If ever there was a forgotten or overlooked Bentley, the Flying Spur is surely it. What hasn’t helped during its 14-year lifespan is that it’s hardly been the most elegantly-styled model in Bentley’s line-up. In fact, the original version in particular looks no less awkward now than it did in 2005.
But the real reason for the Spur’s anonymity is the niche it occupies within the Bentley model range: it sits broadly in line with its two-door relatives, the Continental GT coupe and the Continental GTC droptop, but in the enormous shadow of Crewe’s other four-door limo, the Mulsanne.
The Flying Spur is therefore the only model the company produces that slots in beneath a more opulent and far costlier alternative. It’s the only subservient Bentley. So by that reckoning, it is now and has always been the cheap one. All things being relative…
MOVING OUT OF THE MULSANNE’S SHADOW
Bentley hopes this all-new, third-generation Flying Spur will step out of the Mulsanne’s shadow and assert itself as something more than just a second-rate four-door limo. For it to do so, the new Flying Spur needs to offer something of substance that the far more expensive Mulsanne does not. It’s a very tall order. Bentley hasn’t yet confirmed a price for the Flying Spur but expect it to squeeze in beneath £200,000.
Describing this Spur as the third-generation model is slightly misleading, because what Bentley refers to as the second-generation Flying Spur was actually a heavily facelifted version of the original. But this one really is all-new, owing nothing at all to the models that came before it. Instead, it sits on a brand new platform – which it shares with the latest Continental twins and also the Porsche Panamera – it has a new transmission and four-wheel drive system, plus completely new suspension, a much more modern interior and, although it’s powered by a 6.0-litre W12 with turbos just like the previous Flying Spur, a new engine as well. (It develops a mighty 626bhp and 664lb ft of torque).
It is still a part of the Continental family and Bentley makes no bones about that. The designers did consider giving the Spur a styling treatment all of its own, but settled instead on a strong familial resemblance to the Continental GT and Continental GTC. If it weren’t for a grill with vertical strakes rather than a wire mesh the Spur would be indistinguishable head-on from those models, although the designers will tell you the size, shape and geometry of the headlights are actually quite different. All things considered this is comfortably the most handsome Flying Spur yet.
Bentley refers to the distance between the front axle line and the base of the windscreen as the ‘prestige mass’. It’s one of the things that makes a car like the Spur look grand and imposing. On this latest version the prestige mass is far greater than it ever was. It has swollen so significantly because the front axle has been shoved forward in the chassis by 120mm.
The new Spur is only fractionally longer than the old one, but the wheelbase has been elongated and the front overhang is far shorter. What’s more, the engine sits further back in the body, levelling out the car’s weight distribution. So apart from looking more visually balanced, this Spur also has far less weight hanging out beyond the front axle. In terms of steering response and handling balance, that will be transformational.
A TECHNOLOGICAL TOUR DE FORCE
Like the GT and GTC, the Spur uses trick three-chamber air springs. That very large volume of air equates to a comfortable and cushioned ride quality. It also means the difference between the Comfort and Sport driving modes can be really marked, rather than scarcely noticeable. And like the GT and GTC, the Spur is fitted as standard with Bentley Dynamic Ride. In simple terms the system can detach the anti-roll bars when the car is travelling in a straight line, further improving ride comfort.
There’s more. A first for Bentley, this new Flying Spur comes with rear-wheel steering, the main benefit of which is a smaller turning circle than you might expect of such a vast limousine. The gearbox is now a dual-clutch item rather than a conventional automatic and the four-wheel drive system can shuffle torque to whichever axle can put it to best use, in real time. Even the Pirelli tyres have been developed specifically to reduce road noise.
MORE SOPHISTICATED IN EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE
Apart from being better-looking than earlier Spurs, then, this new model is more sophisticated in every way imaginable. Its cabin looks at first glance to have been lifted wholesale from the Continentals, although the longer you look the more differentiation you spot. The rear half of the cockpit is different altogether, of course, with plenty of lounging space for owners who prefer to be driven than to drive. And any commonality with the Continental GT’s cabin is no bad thing at all; it has one of the best interiors of any car on sale today.
Simon Blake, Bentley’s Director of Body and Trim Engineering, uses phrases like ‘quantum leap’ and ‘in a different stratosphere’ to describe the progress made over the previous Flying Spur. And what about his phrase ‘sports sedan meets luxury limo’? That perhaps tell us exactly how this latest Flying Spur can be more than just a cheaper alternative to the Mulsanne. While that car should be the apotheosis of luxury and refinement, the Spur apparently has a degree of sportiness and athleticism built into it. Bentley says it is a grand tourer, rather than strictly a limousine. A quite different sort of car to the Mulsanne in other words, despite their on-paper similarities.
But we need to drive it first. If its maker is right about the new Flying Spur, it might not be the forgotten Bentley any longer.
BENTLEYS ON A BUDGET
Three modern-day Bentleys you can buy for a fraction of their original price.
2004 Continental GT for less than £20,000
The original Continental GT turned Bentley’s fortunes around so significantly it might well go down as Crewe’s most important car of all time. Although the newest Continental GT is actually very different in terms of technology and execution, the basic recipe hasn’t changed for 16 years; turbocharged W12 engine, sumptuous cabin, four-wheel drive stability, elegant coupe styling. Earlier models have become worryingly affordable. For instance, for less than £20,000 you can have a car that is a decade and a half old with fewer than 80,000 miles on the clock. Just don’t expect running costs to be all that affordable…
Search for a used Bentley Continental GT for less than £20,000 on CarGurus
2005 Continental Flying Spur for less than £20,000
Just how unloved is the original Flying Spur? It’s now the cheapest modern Bentley on the used market, which should tell you everything you need to know. This was a car that cost more than £130,000 when it was new, but 14 years later you can pick one up for only 12 per cent of that. And that’s once again for a car that has covered no more than 80,000 miles. While the original Flying Spur clearly isn’t the most sought after Bentley, it remains a luxurious and very spacious limo with an effortlessly powerful W12 engine up front.
Search for a used Bentley Continental Flying Spur for less than £20,000 on CarGurus
2011 Mulsanne for less than £70,000
In certain circles the Mulsanne is referred to as a ‘proper Bentley’. That’s partly because other modern Bentleys share their platforms with less prestigious models from within the VW empire, whereas the Mulsanne does not. But just as significantly, Bentley’s halo limousine still uses the glorious 6.75-litre L-series V8 that can trace its roots right the way back to 1959. Of course it’s been comprehensively overhauled many times since then and fitted with twin turbos, but it still provides a tangible and very romantic link between Bentley’s illustrious heritage and its prosperous present-day.
Search for a used Bentley Mulsanne for less than £70,000 on CarGurus
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