Whether you prefer the term saloon or sedan, the traditional, four-door, three-box car it refers to seems to be a dying breed. With so many new car buyers opting for SUVs and crossovers, it would seem the saloon car should soon qualify for the endangered species list.
Luxury automakers, however, are still holding strong. Be it a BMW 7 Series or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, if you have a fair bit of cash to spend, there are still a number of great sedans to choose from. And at the tippy-top of the premium space, there are cars like the Bentley Flying Spur, which has been completely redesigned for 2020. With this new model, Bentley wants you to remember not just that sedans still have their place in the modern automotive market, but that they can also represent the best of all worlds.
Previous Flying Spurs suffered slightly from lifting too many design touches from the two-door Continental, making it look like a stretched version of that coupe. (It didn't help that, for a while, the car was known as the Continental Flying Spur.) Its uninspiring looks -- not to mention the knowledge that it was based on the Volkswagen Phaeton -- did little to raise the pulse.
The new Flying Spur, however, not only makes better use of Bentley's new design language, first launched on the Continental GT, but takes the liberty of really applying the company's latest signatures to a shape more recognizable as sedan, and a handsome one at that. The power lines down the side draw your eye to muscular haunches at the rear, finishing off an unapologetically robust silhouette. Spec the optional 22-inch wheels and the car has an imposing presence, whether curbside or creeping up in your rearview mirror.
The Flying Spur keeps its external badging subtle, with a neatly hidden W12 emblem along the side, and the company's logo accompanied by elegantly lettered "Bentley" in script on the rear. Up front there's a restyled Flying B hood ornament that now, for the first time, can retract into the hood the same way the Spirit of Ecstasy can retreat into a Rolls-Royce. Although far from a sleeper car, the styling is subtle enough to pass under the radar of the casual observer.
The interior styling is, as one would expect, less subtle. The same sumptuous leather, metal and wood that have been the hallmarks of Bentley for 100 years are fully present. My test car has the new, optional "3D leather" in the doors, a finish that gives depth and curves to an otherwise flat surface. It's firmer to the touch than I'd like, but it's certainly an interesting option -- especially if you want to have something that no other Bentley currently offers.
If you find that, on occasion, you'd prefer to be driven in your Flying Spur rather than drive it yourself, the rear-seat experience is equally exquisite. If anything, the rear seats are even more comfortable than the front, with headrests so soft they feel like they're stuffed with angel feathers.
In addition to removable tablets mounted on the headrests, there's a new removable touchscreen remote control that can adjust a lot of the car's main settings, including navigation data and the raising and lowering of the hood ornament. An onscreen animation shows you what position the ornament is in, which is good, since you can't actually see the emblem from anywhere inside the car.
The infotainment system looks amazing, with a large touchscreen interface controlling virtually everything. It's the same setup as you'll find in the Continental GT -- itself a reworked version of the Porsche Communication Management infotainment tech you'll find in a Cayenne or Panamera. Of course, the Bentley one-ups its Porsche siblings with the three-sided, revolving fascia that can deliver a so-called "digital detox," hiding the screen away in favor of a finish to match the rest of the dashboard, or a set of analog dials.
Another familiar bit is the engine. The 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W12 delivers 626 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, which is certainly necessary considering the Flying Spur's not-insignificant 5,373 pounds of mass. From a standing start the Flying Spur can accelerate to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and it will keep on going all the way up to 207 mph.
Power is delivered to all four wheels through a ZF-sourced, eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission -- one that's also used in the Continental GT, and the same as the PDK gearbox you get in the Porsche Panamera. That's not the only similarity to its Stuttgart sibling, mind you. The Panamera, Continental GT and Flying Spur all share the same chassis.
The Flying Spur gets the 48-volt active anti-roll tech first seen on the Bentayga SUV and later the Continental GT, as well as a new, three-chamber air suspension. On the whole, then, the Flying Spur looks to have very little hardware developed just for itself, and rather has taken all of the best bits of its stablemates in order to reinvent this four-door package. In the Continental GT, these improvements have made a positive improvement to the driving experience, and I'm glad to report the same goes for the larger Flying Spur.
My drive started in Casino Square in the heart of Monte Carlo. Possibly the most fitting place to drive a $200,000-plus luxury sedan. The Flying Spur seamlessly fits in amongst the incredible wealth on display. The deep burble of the W12 engine announces your presence without shouting about it too much, and the incredible sound insulation keeps the chatter of the tourists out of the cabin.
The Flying Spur is fairly large, at over 17 feet in length, but the rear-wheel steering -- a first for Bentley and one feature that is unique to the Spur -- helps out massively when negotiating the incredibly cramped and twisty roads of the tiny principality. With the rear wheels counter-steering at slow speed, the car actually feels no longer than the Continental GT, effectively hiding the bulk of the Flying Spur. Once out in the mountains, the rear-wheel steering makes hairpins a breeze. It seems ironic: The one thing that's truly unique to the Flying Spur actually makes it feel more like a Continental.
The engine's ample torque can hurtle the Flying Spur off the line toward the horizon effortlessly, and the weight of the car is all but forgotten until it's time to hit the brakes. There's a reason this car comes with the largest steel brakes ever fitted to a production car; the Flying Spur uses every last bit of its stoppers to efficiently bring its bulk to a halt.
The 48-volt anti-roll tech keeps the Flying Spur controlled though faster, tight corners, but my preference is to dial back the suspension to one of its softer modes to help manage the shift of mass when really driving hard. The steering has enough weight to make a challenging drive feel well managed, but it's light enough under normal driving to make the experience effortless.
Under everything but the most spirited of drives, the B drive mode ("B" for Bentley) gives a perfectly balanced and comfortable ride. Leave the car in that setting and you'll rarely be disappointed, as the Flying Spur reacts to your inputs and gives you Bentley's best interpretation of what you need.
The transition from Continental GT coupe to Flying Spur sedan reveals a slight loss of dynamic capability. There's a little less response from the steering, a little more labor under braking. In general, however, it's remarkable how similar the two cars feel -- which might be the biggest compliment I can give.
The Flying Spur has lifted most of its new features from the rest of the Bentley stable, and the result is a car that feels extremely familiar. This can't be seen as anything less than a good thing, when the cars it borrows from -- the Continental GT, Bentayga and Porsche Panamera -- are all so great.
But while those three cars do feel very distinct from one anther, the Flying Spur seems like it's trying to deliver the same balance between a dynamic ride and extreme luxurious comfort as the Continental GT. And while it falls slightly short of fully achieving that, the added advantages of a luxurious rear seating experience more than make up for it.
The choice between the Continental GT and Flying Spur would seem be purely down to whether or not you would need to make use of its rear seats. But with newfound athleticism and a style all its own, the 2020 Flying Spur makes a stronger case for itself than ever before.
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