China loves the Flying Spur. While the U.S. is still Bentley's largest market, Bentley expects China to overtake it within the next two years. And while Americans fawn over Continental GTs and GTCs, the chauffeur-driven Chinese plutocracy feasts its eyes on the Spur, which is why Bentley sells more in Beijing than any other city and why that's where you'll find its biggest dealer.
Further proof is the obvious enthusiasm of the Chinese trucker and his pal, who are both chain smoking and spewing thick black diesel fumes in the next lane. We don't understand a word they've said, but judging by their smiles and the international language of erected thumbs it appears they like our car.
We're on the outskirts of Beijing cruising around in the all-new 2014 Bentley Flying Spur, which might look like the next step in the logical progression of the model's evolution, but it's not. The clue is in the title or, rather, what's not. No longer the Continental Flying Spur, Bentley has cast its super sedan adrift from its convertible and coupe stablemates to start a new life on its own: a life of sobriety, common sense and reason.
A Change of Concept
Why? Because that is what the customer demands and, in this case, that customer is more likely to be a man sitting in the back going nowhere fast in a Beijing traffic jam than anyone anywhere else on earth. It's also why Bentley chose to launch the car to the world's press in and around China's second-largest city.
The thinking behind the new 2014 Bentley Flying Spur is that it should appeal as much to those in the back as the front, and be as good to look at as it is to drive, something even its predecessor's most love-struck devotee would not claim. So the skin is entirely new and much sleeker, the intended effect being to make it look almost coupelike in proportion.
Inside it's almost equally new, with only armrests, grab handles and sun visors surviving the transition from one generation to the next. It's all still recognizable as "Bentley" and the placement of all the controls will seem familiar, but it's all a bit more refined than before and the in-cabin electronics no longer feel and function like they're 10 years behind the rest of the industry. Plus, the driver seat isn't only heated and cooled, but it'll massage you if you wish.
This time around the engineering effort wasn't aimed at making the car faster (though it is) or more fun to drive, but quieter and more comfortable. Acoustic glass and acoustic paneling under the car join a slight stiffening of its structure and new cabin seals to reduce interior noise by a claimed and staggering 40 percent.
Every suspension component that could be softened — springs, roll bars and even the bushings — has been softened. Even the tire profiles have been raised by 5 percent. In the press conference three Bentley spokesmen got up to talk about the car, and not one mentioned the way it handled. So we asked and were told we'd see when we drove it.
Zero to 100 MPH in 9.5 Seconds
The first feelings from behind the wheel are those of relief.
Plain old Flying Spur it may be, but it has the full house 616-horsepower 6.0 liter twin-turbo W12 motor used in the Continental GT and GTC Speed model. Sure it weighs 5,451 pounds (an unimpressive 112 pounds fewer than the last model), but it can still get up and go.
Despite its new eight-speed gearbox, which it shares with the Audi A8, with so much inertia to overcome the Spur still feels a bit lethargic off the line. But it's quicker than it feels. Bentley claims a 4.3-second 0-60-mph time. And the W12 begins to produce its peak torque (590 pound-feet) at a ridiculously low 2,000 rpm, so it doesn't take much of a shove on the gas pedal to spill your passenger's Grey Poupon all over his $60,000 Saville Row suit.
Bentley also claims the Spur only needs 9.5 seconds to hit 100 mph from rest and it can touch 200 mph. That's right. Bentley says this is a 200-mph sedan.
Make no mistake, there's still a vast, clunking fist inside that new satin glove. When it goes on sale this August, the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur will be one of the quickest and fastest sedans in the world. Hell, it'll be one of the quickest and fastest cars in the world. And at a starting price of $200,500 ($211,430 for the top-of-the-line Mulliner) it's also one of the most expensive.
Despite the additional power, fuel mileage is better than before by more than 13 percent, but with EPA ratings of 12 city/20 highway/15 combined mpg, the Spur is still no Prius.
So it's the quickest, fastest and most powerful Bentley sedan ever, but is it still a driver's car? Well, yes and no.
It still steers surprisingly well for such a heavy car because Bentley is still in that dwindling club of manufacturers who've not yet succumbed to the scourge of electric steering, but while there appears to be little or no additional body roll, the rate at which the car keels over within those parameters has clearly increased. And it seems to change direction less eagerly.
One reason old Flying Spurs rode so poorly is because they were set up stiffly enough to ensure all that mass stayed under iron control, and if you relax that grip as Bentley has quite consciously done, a loss of some of that poise is an inevitable corollary.
There are four settings for the Spur's air suspension. Putting it over in the sportiest setting does take out most of the slop, but every time you restart the car the suspension defaults to the Comfort 2 setting, which is a bit too limolike for our taste.
There's plenty of grip to go around. The massive tires and all-wheel-drive system, which sends 60 percent of the power to the Spur's rear wheels, certainly gets this big, heavy car down a twisty road with some pace. And its massive brakes seem impossible to overheat. But the old Spur was a bit more fun to drive. A bit more fun to toss around.
But that old Spur could also feel crude at times. Too often its suspension felt overly stiff and its noisy interior too down-market. The new Spur's newfound sophistication is definitely a better compromise.
Sitting in Back
The improvement in ride quality, even on $5,561 worth of optional 21-inch wheel rims, is noticeable before we are out of the parking lot, and the improvement in refinement evident as soon as we're clear of the Beijing traffic.
From the backseat this is a Bentley with ride and civility like no other in history. We spend the time controlling a $7,480 Naim sound system with a smart detachable touchscreen remote control and tapping out words on the $2,000 veneered picnic tables. We wouldn't have felt better looked after in a Rolls-Royce. Which, to Bentley, is job done.
Back there it's actually quite easy to forget this is a Bentley, which means it comes from a brand with six wins at Le Mans to its credit and one which, having been run into the ground by Rolls-Royce, rebuilt its reputation by offering something other limousines did not: real driver appeal.
A Fair Price To Pay
The new 2014 Bentley Flying Spur is still good to drive but we'd not be doing our job if we failed to point out the pity in Bentley producing a car that's less fun, and therefore less of a Bentley, than the car it replaces.
Of course, stuck in a Chinese traffic jam or cruising along an American interstate, you'll just be grateful for the fact the car is so much nicer to look at, listen to and, above all, travel in. And we should remember this is a four-door sedan: A commensurate loss of driving pleasure in a Continental coupe or convertible would be far more serious.
China loves the new Flying Spur and America will, too.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.