Bentley Flying Spur: Big car, big power, big price (CNET On Cars, Episode 27)The 2014 Bentley Flying Spur is a lot of car in every way, new ratings for forward collision systems, and hydrogen fuel cell cars may triumph after all.
-Just a sync and here we go. -One big car, one big engine. The Bentley Flying Spur, hydrogen fuel cell, the best kept secret in electric cars and the place you forgot to look for car tech innovation. It's time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love them on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is: the good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. Welcome to CNET on Cars to show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. I'm Brian Cooley. You know, I generally don't get too excited about these two, three, $400,000 cars 'cause you and I are never gonna buy one. However, they're kind of fun once in a while because they do have a level of excess that is entertaining if nothing else and they're kind of a passport to another world for just a little while. So let's take a trip in the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur and check the tech. Bentleys exist in a different world than the one you and I live in, a world where people buy $50,000 watches that don't tell time as well as a $200 iPhone and where a townhouse on wheels like this can be called a sports sedan with a straight face. But if you want to arrive more refreshed than when you started your drive, there are about 2 or 3 cars in the world to consider and this is one of them. Let's drive the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur and check the tech. Now, the 2014 Flying Spur is this big curvy bastard that has got mostly an aluminium body shell, which helps keep its portliness manageable. Beyond that spot [unk] it's very different new tail lights, also a different mask, front and rear. Compared to the Mulsanne we drove recently, it's got a much more reduced schnoz and a flatter cutoff romp. Now, inside a Bentley, it's nicer than your house. That's kind of the idea. Genuine materials everywhere, leather and real wood, of course, real metal in places. I'm shown you this before. This is what they call their organ stop vent knobs and in fact, all they are is electric switches, but they are dampened to feel like mechanical plungers if I recall correctly. In the center of those gauges, you got a fairly familiar Audi S sort of helper screen in there, and of course over here is the main head unit which I appreciate because it has nice big touch zones; in other words, the buttons, not a fiddly little detailed thing, that's a new onslaught on many auto makers. Now down here in the drive control center, we basically are faced with our shifter and some suspension settings. There's not a whole lot of other drive mode controls even though this car has a massive high-tech power plant. In terms of our shifter, it's a one choice only gearbox on this guy, an 8-speed automatic with your drive position, sport position and traditional gate to the side. Nothing unusual there. Look at this chunky shifters up here in these paddles on the stirring column. My gripe about those is they don't extend down only up, so you gotta keep your hands up here to get to the shifters. And on the output side of that 8-speed gearbox is all-wheel drive though biased substantially toward the rear for both tradition and handling. It's interesting how cars that cost a ton of money tend to insult you the most. For example, on this Bentley, as far as I understand it, that rear camera is optional. You're kidding, right? Once you do pony up for that rear camera, you do have a ton of settings on it though, from angle of view to color and contrast. You don't see that very often, and of course, your sonar can be in or out. The map quality is good. It's not cutting edge. They're not doing anything here I've not ever seen before. You notice though it's got good response. I'm dragging around the map in this case, for example, and it's really responsive, so there's some good processing or optimization in here. Now in terms of the output, we have the basic sound system here, probably one of the best you ever heard. It does sound really good to my ears. There is an optional Naim audio, N-A-I-M, that is over-the-top using 1100 watts through 13 digital channels into what are called balanced mode radiators. They're round, flat panel speakers that have much better imaging because they don't aim treble frequencies like a rifle shot. They disperse them more broadly, so goes the science. One other thing, I find this beautiful sunglass holder quite a work of art and engineering. It's really quite nice. I'd have liked to have seen this much time spent on some kind of new universal smartphone holder, instead you just throw it in the console up here like you do on many toilet. Even on our low option Flying Spur, the rear compartment is just a beautiful place to spend time. Down here, this fixed or detachable touchscreen remote is impressive. You can run the front head unit from it or echo the speedometer or other driver readouts and have all sorts of fun with climate, seat comfort and the rear power sunshade. You can also equip the boudoir back here with the usual dopey DVD entertainment system or a sort of inexplicable 64-gigabyte in-car storage drive for who knows what good purpose. Do you see what's happening there in the video being shot right now? That's the viewfinder you're looking at right now of our main camera. See how it's doing this stuff? I've never seen that happen before, in the 8 years we've been shooting these videos. There is something radiating out of this car I think. I'm getting out. Now up here underneath the prowl, we have an engine more akin to locomotive technology than automotive. This is a 6-liter twin turbo W-12. It nests cylinders so that you can have 12 of them in a much smaller longitudinal distance. It's kinda like nesting 2 V6's though that's not exactly right. The bottom line here is remarkable performance for a big boy. This is a fat man who can dance. 0 to 60 in 4.3 seconds. That's almost 5500 pounds of car before you even get in it. Gas mileage, of course, is atrocious: 12 city, 20 highway and that's probably optimistic. And of course you do get hit with a $3000 gas guzzler tax. Now driving this big boy, you're not sure if you should be wearing black tie, a chauffer's cap, or train conductor's overalls. I mean it's an extremely formal environment in here. At the same time, you feel like you're really wasting that backseat if no one is sitting in it and at the same time, you're also dealing with prodigious powers, though it's an interesting mix of experience. Now the first thing that bothers me about this car and again, it's preproduction, they may iron this out, is the throttle response is really annoying. Initial tip-in is basically numb, then you get a ton of power. It's very tedious to drive this car in everyday traffic. Getting to sport mode or manually shift it and you really get some amazingly nice effortless power, as you might expect. Now about this suspension modes, I'm in- let's see, full comfort right now. It's very comfortable in terms of the actual vehicle body dynamics, but underneath that, I'm getting a harsh undertone of a lot of road chatter. I don't find it as luxurious as it should be. Again, that may be tuned up by the time this car is in full production trim. I suspect it will. Otherwise, I think I'd get a better ride out of a garden variety Lexus LS to be honest. Okay, let's price our 2014 Flying Spur just for sport. Starts off at $206,000 or so because the base car has a $2800 delivery charge and as I mentioned, a $3000 gas guzzle tax. Then you begin to add some packages and some options to get it CNET style. Here's what I would do. Rear camera, an insulting 1200 bucks; rear multimedia system I'd pass all day long, but it's $7300 if you happen to have kids; a panoramic glass roof with a solar passive cooling technology, that's a grand, I would do that all day long; 7500 bucks for the Naim audio system, nah, this one sounds pretty good just like it is. So all in, you're easily into the $220,000's and you can go to a quarter million without really breathing hard. Bottom line, it buys you a 4-door sedan Bentley that's got more the DNA of the hotter Continental GT models, more horsepower, more torque, more gears, more wheels driven, fewer seconds to 60. Now, if you wanna revel in more glorious excess, you can check out Wayne Cunningham's first take on that Bentley over at cars.cnet.com. A lot of cars these days are showing up with new tech to keep you from hitting something. Of those, the one that does it perhaps the most bluntly is forward collision technology, making it of great interest to the smarter driver. Now forward collision technology sprang from the loins of adaptive cruise technology, which uses a device like this, either radar or laser sensor looking out in the traffic ahead of you to maintain a set distance to that traffic, not just a set speed and it does that by operating the accelerator and the brake. Okay, I'm on the freeway in this Infiniti QX80. I'm set to 59 on adaptive cruise, but traffic ahead of me is starting to slow down and sure enough, the accelerator comes off, the breaks go on a bit, maintains my gap and now traffic opens up. We're heading back up to target speed of 59 and target gap. It really works and it's kind of eerie. Forward collision just takes that same experience we have on the road and divvies it up into 4 flavors. First, there's a warning-only version. That's a car that's gonna detect you're closing on something too fast and give you beeps or flashing lights or typically both. Then there's the kind that intercedes, the prevention flavor of technology that will do all the above and will jump on the brakes all the way to a full stop. Now for those of you who aversed having any machine drive for you, know that in production today, I've never seen a car that doesn't let you defeat the forward collision technology. But it wouldn't surprise me if in the near future, it becomes a mandated on kind of like anti-lock brakes. It turns out forward collision technology in all of flavors actually works, some better than others. A recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found about a 14% reduction in accident claims among cars that have the kind of forward collision tech that gets on the brakes for you. Quite a bit less improvement in those that only warn. And now, for the first time, the Insurance Institute for Highway safety is giving ratings to cars based on their forward collision tech, not just on the other more passive safety technologies we're familiar with. The good news is, a lot of cars are offering this technology now and getting really good scores. The bad news is, an awful lot of cars are getting fair to mediocre scores. So forward collision tech is not the same car-to-car. Now what's in the future? The next big evolution of this forward collision technology can be exemplified in let's say Cadillac's coming Super Cruise where the car will read what's ahead, hit the brakes, use the accelerator, steer, come to a complete stop if need be and resume acceleration; do all of that in city speed traffic. That's getting awfully close to a self-driving car. So if you're looking at a car that has forward collision tech, bear these 3 shopping tips in mind. First of all, know that the kind of forward collision tech that can hit the brakes for you is more effective than that that just gives you a warning beep. Secondly, look at the ratings on cars that have this tech. They don't all operate the same and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just begun to grade them. Finally, look at a package that may also roll in blind-spot and lane-departure tech along with forward collision. It might be a better value and it certainly should provide you a little more security. Coming up, while the world's been obsessing on battery electric cars, another kind of electric has been making hay. We'll take a ride in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle when CNET on Cars returns. -Let me tell you, when I'm behind the wheel of these cars, I don't think about nothing else. You know, you're out there in the middle of nowhere. Phone doesn't ring. There's no connection. Time sort of stands still. Your head gets clear. You're not worried about anything that might be bugging you or bothering you. Priorities change when you're behind the wheel of a Porsche 911. There are no other priorities other than enjoying the ride. -More love of cars at cnet.com/xcar. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley, coming to you from our home here at the Marine Clubhouse of Cars Dawydiak. You know, while everyone has been obsessing to be honest on battery electric cars lately, Tesla, Nissan, Leaf and many others, car makers have been quietly moving the ball forward on hydrogen fuel cell electric cars, but I bet you haven't heard much about it. But they'll be in showrooms in just a few years were promised. That makes for a timely car tech 101. Now when we talk about a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle today, a couple things to understand. We're talking about a PEM fuel cell, protein exchange membrane. That's what goes on inside this box-shaped thing about yet. It's not very large. Secondly, it's hydrogen fuel; in other words, you're putting hydrogen in on one side to create the chemical reaction that generates the electricity. Hydrogen from a tank in the car is exposed to a plate coded in platinum. On one side of a sort of sandwich, the platinum plate causes the hydrogen to break up into positive protons and negative electrons. A membrane in the middle of this sandwich only allows the positive ones to get through, so those negative electrons have to go around. That circuit creates the positive and negative poles, the potential that makes the electric current. When the electrons and protons do meet on the other side, they combine with oxygen from the air to form H2O and a huge PR wind for hydrogen backers. So what's it like driving a fuel cell car? It feels like driving an electric car because remember, a fuel cell is a source of electricity powered by a very clean, very abundant fuel but it is not the power train source that moves the car. That's a difference. So, really, when it comes down to is electric cars fork 2 ways: one toward hydrogen fuel cell, one toward battery electric. The big difference here is when you go to refill, it's a whole another world. So, the benefits. Number 1, clean. Hydrogen fuel cell electric cars emit nothing but water vapour and not much of it. This is like a week's worth of driving and yes, it is clean enough to drink. Number 2, renewable. Hydrogen is the most abundant thing on earth. I'm told 75% of the mass of the planet is hydrogen. -That's found in things all around us. It's bound in water. It's bound in plant material and it's bound in everything that say hydrocarbon. -Convenient. Refilling a hydrogen fuel cell car takes a few minutes at the pump compared to hours plugged in for most electric charges. -It's quick, clean and easy and you're on your way in less than 5 minutes. -Now, some challenges. First, distribution. Hydrogen to be useful as a fuel in a fuel cell car, it needs to be highly compressed but naturally it wants to be 14 times lighter than air. It wants to be very gaseous and low density. So it's gotta be managed. It's gotta be created, has to be compressed, has to be kept in that state from the point where it's stored to the point where it's put into the vehicle. That makes it trickier than gasoline which is very happy to be this oily liquid that lives underneath your service station. Durability. Current hydrogen fuel cells are good for maybe 100,000 miles before they're spent. That's rather below what consumers expect from a gas or diesel. Number 3, pollution. Now, I just told you that hydrogen fuel cell cars are incredibly clean, but creating the hydrogen may not be. Depending where you live and what kind of a source your local filling station has for the hydrogen, there is upstream pollution created much as there is with battery electric cars. It'll vary widely by how and where you refill. The holy grail is to run solar powered plants that crack water into hydrogen making no upstream pollution and using a virtually unlimited resource. -This station in Emeryville makes its hydrogen from solar power and water in a process called electrolysis. Other stations make their fuel on site, for instance, from wastewater or even landfill gas. -Cost. Fuel cells, catalytic converters and wedding rings. None of them are cheap because they all use a bunch of platinum. -Divine automakers who are members of the fuel cell partnership are starting to introduce their commercial vehicles. Some of them are for lease now in limited areas where there are stations, but we're hearing them talk about starting to sell them in just about 18 months in 2015. -That's sort of OEM loss leadership will be key. But perhaps more than any other alternative vehicle, hydrogen fuel cell cars will need leadership from government to foster a new network of fueling points and supporting infrastructure. Here's a little date book to watch. If you wanna know when these cars are gonna be in showrooms. By 2015, we're hearing noises that Toyota and Hyundai will have them on the market. By 2017, look for the conglomerate of Ford, Nissan and Daimler working together to be in showrooms, and 2020 is the target date for the partnership of GM and Honda. There's a lot going on out there, Much of it to be honest driven by California requirements for a certain number of 0 emission cars over the years ahead. Coming up, a top 5 that takes us into the site of some undersung innovation in modern cars when CNET on Cars returns. -To tell the story of these roadsters, we have to go back to 1929 in BMW's entry into the world of cars. Because BMW didn't start toffing car because plane engines is where it starts and making World War I fighter engines. After that, it moved in to motorcycles and in the late '20s, it bought a factory. That factory was producing the Dixie which was a licensed Austin 7. BMW bought its way into the car industry. -Move love of cars at cnet.com/xcar. -Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. Starting in this episode, we're gonna do something new. We're gonna bring some of your e-mail into the show. We get a lot of e-mail from the viewers of CNET on Cars and a lot of good points were made, a lot of followups to things we talk about in the show. So let's get started. Our inaugural e-mail comes from Brian Johnson who says, "First off, this is the best car shows since BBC Top Gear." That's pretty high-priced. Thank you for that. "When do you see," continues, "an Android or iOS-connected car when it has at least a 10-inch screen that accepts your smartphone with connected apps plus car control?" Well, here's the thing. iOS 7 just came out for Apple devices and that is something of a breakthrough. Here we have a very popular mobile operating system that for the first time can take over the main screen in the dash that the factory put there; in this case, with Apple navigation, calling and communication and media playback. About 12 car makers have said to be supporting it sometime between late this year and early next. That's in a big coming-soon state right now. That's it. Do not expect your mobile phone to become part of the vehicle's critical systems for operating the drive train or even turning on the headlights and such. That gets into a real dicey area in terms of regulation and liability. Oh, by the way, as far as the big screen sizes, that's already happening. Take a look at the new 2014 S560, the Tesla Model S, talk about a big screen, or any number of Chrysler products; all with huge screens that are around 10-inch or bigger depending on their aspect ratio, so that part is already done. Our next e-mail comes from Steve Keiser who writes in and says his '98 Civic HX averages 36 mile per gallon in Southern California freeway traffic, which is basically stop and go during rush hour. "It has no air-conditioning. No power or anything. No amenities, but it has saved me thousands of dollars through its fuel efficiency. I don't understand why the car manufacturer can't duplicate that lean Civic HX formula today." Well, I'll tell you the HX is definitely proof Steve that you can get great efficiency out of standard gasoline combustion cars with no electrification involved especially if you look at total cost of ownership. However, the reason that cars like that are very rare still, it comes down to 3 things really. I'd say, first of all, profit. Car makers and dealers don't make much money off of stripper models like that which the HX and VX were. Secondly, there's market demand. To be honest, those cars go on the lap but not a lot of them sell. We talk a good game about wanting really high fuel efficiency, but we don't necessarily buy it when it's in the showroom. And thirdly, there's a big trend toward bigger, heavier and faster cars over the last few decades. Like any Math equation, the other factor has to compensate or complement that. And that other factor is MPG, which has not gone up dramatically because of the other three. It's just the physics of moving up to bigger, faster, heavier car. We get what we pay for in showrooms, not what we ask for in research so much. Now, you folks know I spend a lot of time in front seats of cars showing you the latest technology there, but increasingly, you may have noticed we're in the backseat quite a bit. Where there's been a lot of innovation and continues to be more in the future, it makes for a great top 5. Now, when I say backseat innovations, we're not talking about your awkward fumblings on dates back in high school. Instead, the ways car makers have taken the second row and turned it into a much more than just a place to sit by infusing it with tech. I'm gonna rank these by their everyday usefulness 'cause we've seen a lot of these on our car reviews here at CNET. They've got a pretty good handle on which ones you'll actually like. Number 5, a rear cooler. I'm not sure you can use one of these to keep it kind of red bull cold, but don't these really say booze to you? especially since they only really show up on kinda quasi-limos. Now, as you can open the boozy contents of a cooler legally anywhere in the US, this would seem to be a low utility, but they are a crowd-pleaser. Number 4, climate control in the backseat. Now, many cars have had a backseat sort of third zone. Some split that into 2 zones for quad zone but that's still mostly sharing the main HVAC system, the newest rankle is a separate AC system just for the rear on some pretty high-end cars. But I still rank this kind of low because it's kind of BS. I mean a car remains a small undivided space. Eventually, all the air goes to all the seats. Number 3, a Wi-Fi hotspot. Now most of our mobile devices today have their own connection to the internet or can bum one off the other device. But for a number of tablets and laptops, this can be cool. Add in the fact that General Motors is about to make it common on most of its cars and power it with 4G, then you may have just lost your last excuse to take a break from work. Number 2, rear seat entertainment. Now, I'm no fan of those dopey dual-DVD headrest rakes, but let's face it, they aren't there for elegant execution. They're there for parental sanity, so they do have their purpose. But the most interesting systems today have really wide screens and let you plum in your portable as a source instead of just relying on those antique optical discs. Now we're talking. Before I get to number 1, here's one great backseat innovation that touches all the rest and that is great rear seat control panels. Back in 2004 when they revised the Jag XJ. I spotted the breakthrough here. Really sophisticated controls. Flash forward now to the latest Bentley Flying Spur, for example, will this cool detachable wireless controller that even connects to front row tech. One day the best tech in the car might be in the back. The number 1 in cabin tech innovation you will use a lot is recline massage. This is number 1 because backseats have always been purgatory with cramp room and no adjustments to make the most of what little you have. Adjustable rear seats used to be formally the domain solely of super high dollar cars, [unk] and stretch the LS. But now you can fly- ride in comfort in a Hyundai Equus with the same technology. Now, I've never understood massage seats personally but I seem to be the odd man out there, so I'll give those a tip of my hat and now they can have shiatsu massage and all kinds of crazy stuff. Hey, thanks for being with us today and keep those e-mails coming. I might read yours in the next show. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. By the way, they all come to me. I read every single one of them. And our website is cnetoncars.com where you'll find past shows, a whole bunch of those, and feed links so you get all the future ones. I'm Brian Cooley. We'll see you next time when we check the tech.