Bentley clearly loves a complex powertrain strategy. While most carmakers are trimming their engine lineups in the face of tighter emissions standards and trickier homologation, Bentley is still introducing new ones. So although the company recently dropped both the Mulsanne's venerable 6.75-litre pushrod V8 and the diesel V8 briefly offered in the Bentayga, it is now introducing a new hybridized twin-turbo V6. One that, confusingly, is almost entirely different from the hybridized twin-turbo V6 it already has in the line-up.
That's because the existing Bentayga Hybrid uses an Audi-derived powertrain, while the new Flying Spur Hybrid gets a far punchier Porsche system, closely related to the one in the Panamera 4S E-Hybrid. This features a different 410hp 2.9-litre V6 with its turbochargers packaged within the vee of its cylinder bank, with assistance coming from a 134hp electric motor that sits between the engine and an eight-speed twin-clutch transmission, another key difference over the Bentayga's torque converter auto. The result is a combined peak for the Flying Spur Hybrid of 536hp - 93hp more than the Bentayga Hybrid, and just 6hp less than the Flying Spur V8. Bentley promises the plug-in Spur's other specs will be similarly close to its pure combustion sister, with a modest 50kg weight penalty and an official 4.1-second 0-60mph time just one tenth slower than the V8. Pricing isn't confirmed yet, but expect it to be only slightly higher.
In short, Bentley has effectively created two radically different answers to the same question - although ones clearly designed for different audiences. In many parts of the world the Hybrid's appeal will be largely down to tax efficiency, with its targeted 25-mile WLTP EV range and doubtless low CO2 rating winning concessions (and the prospect of vastly lower benefit-in-kind.) But the Hybrid is also clearly aimed at those with the means to buy any car, but who want to make a greener choice with the future in mind. The rest of the range will catch up soon enough; Bentley has confirmed it will produce its last combustion-engined road car as soon as 2030.
Not that the Flying Spur Hybrid does much virtue signalling. The only visual giveaways are ones that only the most attentive are likely to spot: the presence of what looks to be a second fuel filler cap on the left, positioned lower than the existing one on the other side and covering a charging port. There is also a tiny 'Hybrid' badge at the bottom of the front wings, although one so small it is indecipherable at a range of more than about ten feet. Beyond that the only clues are the presence of a new E Mode button on the centre console and the fact the digital rev counter now features a rendered charge/regen flow display and a high voltage battery level gauge.
Not that there's any doubting the presence of the new powertrain when you set sail. That's because, like lesser plug-ins, the Hybrid defaults to its EV mode every time it is started, meaning that it moves off without any noise. The drive at the press launch took place in Beverly Hills - apparently the most Bentley-dense part of the U.S. - and on the congested urban streets of the first part of the route the e-Spur was almost freakishly quiet. Bentley reckons cabin noise under gentle electric acceleration is just half that of the hardly rowdy V8. The first question is answered well before reaching the 405 Freeway: electrification suits the Flying Spur unarguably well. That said, I did find it harder to make a seamless chauffeur-spec stop than I remember it being in the V8 or W12, possibly because of the low-speed switch from regenerative to pure friction braking.
Away from urban trundling, keeping the Hybrid in its EV mode isn't the easiest task. It doesn't use full accelerator travel when driving electrically, or anything close to it - more than gentle top-end pressure fires the V6 into life and switches the car to its blended Hybrid mode. Unlike the Bentayga Hybrid there isn't a haptic resistance point in the accelerator to indicate when this is about to happen; the only way to tell when the electric motor is giving its all is by looking at the flow meter. And while combustion power arrives seamlessly and almost undetectably at gentle speeds, pushing for sudden acceleration - like trying to merge onto a busy freeway - creates a noticeable pause as the engine fires and the gearbox tries to work out its kickdown strategy at the same time.
Nevertheless once everything is flowing the Spur Hybrid is unarguably fast, the electric motor filling torque while the turbochargers build boost. Even when prodded the soundtrack doesn't get close to the drama of a hard-worked V8 or W12, to no great surprise - the V6's exhaust note is keen, but muted - but nor does it feel any slower than the V8 when fully extended, even though the Hybrid's 177mph top speed is 21mph slower.
While the Hybrid's ride is pliant and plush over bigger undulations, my test car's monstrous 22-inch optional alloys gave a noticeable edge to the low speed compliance over high frequency bumps; the standard 20s or optional 21s would probably have coped better. But body control was impressive for something so large on some of the quiet, interesting roads around the hippyish town of Ojai. Although the Hybrid misses the 48 Volt active anti-roll system which is optional on the V8 (and standard on the W12) it doesn't lean excessively, even at enthusiastic speeds. Despite the all-wheel drive system's rearward torque bias it never felt close to being oversteery, and pushing to an un-Bentley level of tyre squeal confirmed the front end runs out of grip first. While the Hybrid will always be more of a cruiser than a bruiser, it definitely isn't lacking in pace.
As with the maker of pretty much every other PHEV, Bentley is predictably keen to talk about the percentage of journeys the Flying Spur Hybrid will be able to conduct electrically if fully charged. But the scenic drive to Santa Barbara was long enough to turn the 14.1kWh battery pack into high tech ballast, the electric range down to 0 miles, with the Spur Hybrid lacking the ability to substantially recharge it using engine power (enough margin is always kept to ensure performance remains unchanged.) There is a Hold mode to save the battery for later use, and if a destination is entered in the sat nav the Spur will make the most efficient use of its EV range on the way there. But, like the plug-in Bentayga, the Flying Spur Hybrid isn't actually very electric.
Yet for its target audience, it is likely electric enough. Bentley is predicting the Hybrid will do well even in those markets where buyers won't receive substantial tax benefits by choosing it, and the core proposition feels very nearly as special as those of the pure petrol versions. The cabin remains spectacular, for my money much better designed and easier to use than the austere interior of the much pricier Rolls-Royce Ghost. And even the pickiest millionaires should be able to find an ideal Flying Spur spec from a configurator that contains literally trillions of possibilities.
Don't worry, I didn't buy a second-hand bridge when I was in the 'States. The Flying Spur V8 remains the more charismatic choice and, money aside, the one that most PHers would likely choose if seven numbers came up - I'd actually take one over a W12. Yet the Hybrid gets impressively close, even without considering its environmental virtue. If Bentley can keep up this rate of progress then the Continental Hybrid we'll be seeing soon might be the pick of its range.
Specification | Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid
Engine: 2894cc V6, twin-turbocharged with electric motor
Transmission: Eight-speed twin-clutch, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 410bhp @ 6000rpm (ICE), 134bhp (electric); 536bhp (total system)
Torque (lb ft): 406b-ft @ 1750rpm (ICE), 295lb-ft (electric); 553lb-ft (total-system)
Top speed: 177mph
Price: TBC (but around 3 percent more than Spur V8)
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