When Bentley met to review options for a place to launch the 2006 Continental Flying Spur, it settled on Venice, Italy. Why Venice? Is it the elite exclusivity of the canalled city, where around every corner of every liquid street there breathes heroic architecture and classic sculpture?
Maybe. That description's not a bad metaphor for the newest Bentley and its subtle-yet-elegant middle linebacker stance — broad shoulders, a long hood and a face dominated by piercing bi-xenon headlights and a massive, ominous grille.
A Bentley Is a Bentley (Is a Volkswagen) Is a Bentley
You can look at the Flying Spur as a four-door interpretation of Bentley's Continental GT or as a super-upscale Volkswagen Phaeton, and you'll be generally correct, but you will have missed the point.
Yes, the Flying Spur is a stretched Continental GT with central pillars, two more doors and acres of rear legroom. And yes, the Flying Spur's suspension and Quattro all-wheel-drive system — like the Continental GT's — share more than a passing relationship to the Phaeton's chassis, and all three cars are brought to life at the hands of VW's 6.0-liter W12 engine.
And it's here in our story that the Flying Spur gains its unique, independent identity as a Bentley. Though Volkswagen owns Bentley outright, and the expense checks are signed in Wolfsburg, the Flying Spur's accent is decidedly upper-class British monarchy rather than Bundes Republik German. And nowhere is that accent stronger than on the open six-lane stretches of Italian autostrada that lead out of Venice and into the steep, tightly knotted roads that scale the Dolomite Mountains to the west of the city.
The Power of the Monarchy
With a few engineering tricks — including redesigned cylinder heads — and a pair of intercooled KKK turbochargers, Bentley engineering in England redrafted VW's W12 to 552 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 470 pound-feet of torque that peaks at just 1,600 rpm.
For good measure and great acceleration, the Flying Spur employs a ZF six-speed automatic transmission with an especially aggressive first gear (14.68 to 1) and steering wheel-mounted paddles to let you crack the whip manually even when you leave the Tiptronic shift lever in "drive."
The extreme effects of such an execution of power are a snap-launch off the line — Bentley figures it's got a 4.9-second 0-to-60 car here — and a forward rush that finds itself a home in virtually any gear all the way up to the engine's 6,500-rpm redline. At the top end of top gear, the Continental Flying Spur has been witnessed reaching 195 mph.
An Intimate Interior
From inside the Flying Spur, however, you'll notice a grand total of none of this acceleration drama. Rather, you'll be entranced by the flood of premium leather covering everything from the seats and door panels to the rear parcel shelf and headliner. That which isn't leather appears to be wood — unbleached, unstained and mirror-matched (door-to-door) farm-grown walnut, with other veneers available.
Your pleasure-seeking side will be further shocked into complacency by the Flying Spur's multizone climate control, a top-flight audio system with six-disc CD changer in the glovebox and a Breitling analog clock in the dash. The Bentley's front seats feature 16-way electrical adjustment, plus heating controls, lumbar adjustment and a pulsing massage at the touch of a button. The rear seats also cater to passengers' whims of warmth adjustment and legroom.
Better still for the enthusiast aristocrat, the seats are magnificently supportive when the roads get twisty but the speeds don't drop.
Wielding Tight Control Over the Masses
The double-wishbone front and multilink rear air spring suspension, too, supports your non-patrician leanings into high-speed corners. The setup is cockpit adjustable to four settings from comfort to sport, but the change is so transparent from in the cockpit that it's hard to really appreciate unless you are following another Flying Spur into a good corner on a bad road. That way you can watch the road surface try to shake loose the car's poise, and fail virtually every time.
The combination of the Bentley's suspension, its full-time all-wheel drive, and its ESP traction and stability system narrows the number of off-road-incidence excuses to one: stupidity. The Continental Flying Spur is an easy car to drive fast and an easy car to drive quick, but it's also an easy car to drive easy.
Likewise, the Bentley's steering and brakes favor the edgy proposition of treating a $165,000 luxury sedan like it was a Group B rally car. Its steering is well damped with excellent feel, and the turn-in is surprisingly good for a land yacht with 19-inch, 275mm-wide tires.
Bringing 5,456 pounds of Bentley to a stop is never a pretty picture. But the Flying Spur — with Bosch ABS, the safety of BrakeAssist, and the intelligence of electronic brake-pressure distribution — manages the Herculean effort using front discs the size of a large pizza, 15.9 inches in diameter. There's a bit of initial freeplay in the brake pedal before the clamping action starts, but after that it's all business; no fade, no fear.
Powerhouse With Elegant Tranquility
In its historic heyday, Venice called itself La Repubblica Serenissima — the most serene republic. It was a world-class powerhouse with a character of elegant tranquility. So, too, abides the 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur.