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2021 Bentley Flying Spur V8 first drive review: All-weather escapism

What do you do with a $272,000 ultraluxury sedan on winter tires in Southern California? Find some snow.

A total winter warrior.
Daniel Golson/Roadshow

It's a beautiful morning in West Hollywood and there's a Bentley Flying Spur parked outside my apartment. Should I take it up the coast? Head out to the desert and stretch its legs on some empty roads? Or should I just cruise through Beverly Hills to blend in with the social elite? Any of these options is a perfect use case for a car like the new Flying Spur. But the answer ended up being a wildcard: None of the above.

See, this specific Flying Spur is accidentally rolling on Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, which aren't exactly useful in sunny Los Angeles. So I decide screw it, I'll just go find some snow, and it's off to Big Bear Lake in the mountains northeast of LA. Turns out the Flying Spur is the perfect car there, too.

New engine, same Spur

The V8 option is new for the 2021 Flying Spur. It's the same twin-turbo 4.0-liter engine found in the Bentayga and Continental GT, as well as a number of other Volkswagen Group products. Here, the V8 makes 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque. Bentley quotes a 4.0-second 0-to-60-mph time and a 197-mph top speed, which are 0.3 seconds and 10 mph slower than the W12's figures. However, the V8 model makes up for the deficit with a 220-pound weight reduction, not to mention better weight distribution. Like the W12, the V8 Spur is only available with a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system.

Despite the slower acceleration times, the V8 Flying Spur feels quicker than the W12. The acceleration is more visceral, and you still get an epic, Porsche-derived, easy-to-use launch control system. All you need to do is put the car in Sport mode, put one foot on the brake and the other on the gas, wait for the revs to hit around 4,000 rpm and release the brake. If you've never experienced wheelspin at every corner while launching a 5,137-pound, 17.4-foot-long luxury sedan before, I highly recommend it.

Bentley's rotating display infotainment system is still really cool.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Highly conspicuous luxury

The Flying Spur eats up the highway miles with ease. The V8 has cylinder deactivation, helping me beat the EPA-estimated 20 miles per gallon highway figure. The winter tires are a little noisy and give the car a bit of a rougher ride compared to the standard all-seasons, but the Spur is still supremely comfortable.

It's about a 30 mile drive from the base of the mountain to the city of Big Bear, and most of that uphill journey is in stop-and-go traffic. It's a clear day and the roads are dry, and there's a steady stream of cars coming downhill. Despite this Spur's subtle silver paint, smaller wheels and black exterior trim, it still turns heads. The vast majority of cars up here are things like lifted Subarus, Toyota 4Runners, Jeep Wranglers and Ford F-150 Raptors, and their occupants point and stare. They can't believe I'm heading to the snow in a Bentley sedan.

Unless you have four-wheel drive and winter tires, snow chains are required on all vehicles in Big Bear this time of year. On the way up the mountain there are many pull-off points where people in family sedans and front-wheel-drive crossovers stop to fit the chains, sometimes with officials to assist. It's pretty hilarious to glide by in a Bentley sedan while getting a massage and listening to some Mariah Carey on the $8,880 Naim audio system, knowing that my car is more prepared for the snow than theirs.

The four-seat configuration is the way to go.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The Flying Spur is perfect for when indoor dining is closed and it's below freezing outside but you really want to eat some french toast for lunch. A three-across rear bench seat is standard, but this Spur has the optional four-seat configuration that replaces the center rear seat with a fixed console. The two individual seats recline and have the same heating and massage functions as the front seats, and features like climate control and media are managed by a removable tablet. The optional $5,470 veneered picnic tables electronically deploy to make lunching even easier, but the tops are finished in leather, which isn't conducive to maple syrup spills.

Big Bear is gorgeous, and there are tight twisty roads surrounding the lake. The Spur feels right at home here. Thanks to the 48-volt anti-roll system and rear-wheel steering -- part of the $7,730 Dynamic Ride Package -- the car doesn't feel nearly as large as it actually is, and the steering is direct and well-weighted. The Bentley absolutely soaks up potholes and dips, partially thanks to the standard adaptive air suspension, and it's just a genuinely relaxing experience, no matter the drive conditions.

This is fine.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Like Snowpiercer, but a car

The next morning I wake up to about 8 inches of snow on the ground -- and on the car. The Flying Spur is huge, so clearing the snow off the car is a bit of a daunting task. I do wish this one had the remote start feature, which isn't available in the US, but at least it's got a standard heated rear window and an optional $810 heated windshield. The air suspension raises at the touch of a button, which is helpful when shoveling the car out.

The Spur absolutely plows through the deep snow, never having an issue starting from a dead stop nor any problems stopping. It tracks straight, doesn't get upset by piles of slush or ice in the road and changes direction with no drama. On some of the snow-covered sweeping corners going down the mountain I goose the throttle to see what'll happen. The tail doesn't step out, the traction control doesn't kick in, the car just accelerates and goes. As crazy as it sounds, this Bentley is one of the easiest cars I've ever driven in the snow.

Once I dip below the 3,000 feet, the skies clear up, the snow melts and the mountain road is clear. I put the Spur in Sport mode and start pushing it a little harder, and man, it's genuinely fantastic and fun to drive. The V8 engine sounds great, noisier and throatier than the W12, and the eight-speed transmission is quick to shift and keeps the engine revving high. The fantastic chassis and steering tuning instill a lot of confidence, and even on the winter tires there's a ton of grip on the slick roads.

V8 > W12.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The true driver's choice

The V8 Flying Spur starts at $198,725 including destination, a $20,700 savings versus the W12 model. I can't see any good reason to pony up for the W12, bragging rights aside. The V8 sounds better, gets better fuel economy, is more fun to drive and comes with almost all of the same standard equipment. Plus, going with the V8 means you have more money to spend on Bentley's extensive options list, not that money is really a problem for the typical Flying Spur buyer.

My Flying Spur has nearly two dozen options totaling $73,185, bringing the total cost to $271,910. The $8,555 Touring Specification (head-up display, night-vision adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automated emergency braking) is a must-have, and the City Specification (360-degree camera, auto-dimming mirrors and other active-safety features) is now standard on all Flying Spurs. The Mulliner Driving Specification costs a whopping $18,130, but it comes with features I really like such as the 3D leather door panels, special seat quilting, leather headliner and sport pedals, so why not choose it? And I'd say that I could do without more frivolous options like the $6,425 rotating infotainment display, $3,610 contrasting stitching and piping, $1,105 puddle lamps and $2,570 mood lighting, but I'd be lying.

My only complaint? This is such a boring spec.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

My biggest gripe with this specific Flying Spur is the overall spec. The pearlescent Silver Frost paint costs $13,625 and doesn't look any more special than a basic silver you'd find on a Toyota Camry. I think the $4,785 Blackline package that turns all the exterior chrome trim gloss black does the Spur no favors either, as it removes a lot of the car's visual drama. And while I'm into the purple Damson interior accents, the main leather color that covers 90% of the interior is a medium gray tone called Porpoise. The Flying Spur's interior is stunning, but this color combo is just plain boring, and the more I spend time in the car the more disappointing it is. I'd pass on the Styling specification, too, which adds the carbon-fiber front splitter, rear diffuser and side skirts. Luckily, all of that can be easily remedied by perusing through Bentley's massive range of available colors and trims.

I knew I was going to like the Flying Spur V8, but I'm coming away from this trip absolutely in love. It's got to be one of the most well-rounded luxury cars on the market. And unless you really need the cargo space, optional third row and ground clearance of the Bentayga SUV, I can't see any reason to get it over the Flying Spur. Even in inclement weather, Bentley's sedan is a total peach.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.