At the end of last year, I went to Canada to drive the then-new Bentley Bentayga extended wheelbase. That car was officially touted as Bentley’s top-flight model, which, as I said at the time, made me a little sad. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Bentayga was an extremely fine thing. And the honest truth of it is that an SUV offers a better experience for chauffeur-driven luxury travel than any saloon I’ve ever been in. SUVs just have a better, more natural seating position because of their taller roof lines and higher-set seats. It makes sense when you think about it. But big saloons are what I think of when I think about a Bentley, so it’s a good thing that Crewe still produces at least one.
The Flying Spur might not be the pinnacle of the range these days, then, nor its most popular model (yep, the Bentayga again) but it’s the one that I have the most want for. And the new Bentley Flying Spur S is now the pinnacle of the Flying Spur range. Unlike the recently introduced Continental GT S that NC drove in February, the Flying Spur S is available as a V8 or a plug-in hybrid. So obvs, we went for the V8 then? Well, no. We know the V8 engine is a sonorous delight but this hybrid is where the smart money goes these days.
I drove the standard Flying Spur Hybrid last year and liked it a lot, but I’d still have the V8, of course. That's because I am neither smart nor moneyed. The difference this time is a sportier look, with more black than the chrome of the regular Flying Spur. That includes a set of gargantuan black 22-inch wheels, a black grille with mesh behind the vertical vanes, black tailpipes and red calipers. The headlights and taillights come with a malevolent black tint as well. For those that still haven’t worked out that you’re a fat cat who likes high-octane thrills, this car’s Imperial Blue cloth seats (yes, cloth seats – can't remember the last time I saw a new Bentley with cloth seats but I wholeheartedly approve), red piping and turned aluminium fascia ramp up the sporting flavour to nigh on Olympic levels.
There is one mechanical change. The S comes with a different exhaust system for a more characterful sound. Otherwise, it’s the same hybrid system comprising a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6, electric motor and 18kWh battery, adding up to a total of 543hp and 553lb ft. Performance is not lacking, then, even in a car that weighs 2,500kg. The V8 has a few horsepowers advantage on this and knocks a tenth off the Hybrid’s 4.1 second dash to 60mph, yet it cannot match the Hybrid’s instantaneous shove. Nor, more pertinently, its untroubled speed on a light (ish) throttle, which is quite something.
After my last experience of the Flying Spur Hybrid, I moaned – only very slightly – about the noise its V6 made. I normally dislike V6s because they aren’t naturally balanced engines, and the standard Spur sounded a wee bit buzzy. Yet I found myself enjoying the way this S sounded, which made me think I was going soft in the head. You see, it was only after my drive that I was told the exhaust has been changed, so it wasn’t my imagination after all. This engine sounds smoother – enough to think it could be six-in-a-line up front – and while I still don’t think a V6 per se, even a good one, is entirely suited to the Bentley ethos, the parp from the S's tailpipes is definitely a sweet one. To be fair, you hardly notice it when you’re not exercising the engine fully. Then it’s nothing more than a distant, background murmur, thanks in part to the 140hp electric motor working silently to assist you along.
Granted, this isn’t a full-on driver’s car because the handling isn’t exciting. It’s geared to understeer and feels heavy when you really chuck it about round a roundabout. So the sporty looks aren’t truly backed up with substance, but no one’s really going to drive it hard are they? At best they might press on at a seven-tenths lick down a country road, just as I did, and when you do that it flows. Floods of grip, a well-connected steering set-up with good heft at speed (but also very light when you’re in town), plus tidy body control all inspire confidence. There’s some roll, of course. Yet even in the standard ‘Bentley’ balanced driving mode – when the adaptive dampers aren’t primed like a boxer's right arm – it doesn’t wallow and has the compliance to absorb challenging undulations.
It also isolates you wonderfully from the outside, too. As the world beyond the double-glazed glass blurs past in your peripheral vision, there’s very little wind and road noise. I felt like I was sat watching the start of the Italian Job – corners coming and going, straights being eaten up hungrily, and the only noise being Quincy Jones’s dulcet tones emanating from the extremely high-fidelity (as it should be for £6,680) Naim stereo. When it’s in full EV mode it’s even quieter. And far from feeling hard done by driving a mute Bentley, its ability to deliver first-class travel is stepped up somewhat by electrification. After all, that’s the reason the most coveted luxury cars had softly spoken V12s in the past – because customers didn’t want to be reminded of all that awfully uncouth sucking, squeezing, banging and blowing going on up front. Well, now they really aren’t, because for around 25 miles it simply isn’t happening. That, by the way, is both its official range on a full battery and almost exactly what I achieved.
Almost exactly, because there were occasional short interludes from the petrol side, even in EV mode. Not enough to subvert that real-world range figure hugely, but it’s surprisingly easy to wake the V6 up without meaning to. In normal, everyday driving, the electric motor has more than enough torque to push you along sublimely on its own, no question about that. But it’s not as quick as a full EV, so if you need an extra bit of urgency – and I am not talking the foot-to-the-floor kind; three-quarters throttle at most – the engine fires. And rather than cut off just after you’ve backed off, it’ll stay running for a good minute even when you’re merely laying the sole of your shoe gently on the accelerator.
That hints there’s still a little bit of set-up work required to perfect this drivetrain’s integration. What confirms that the engineers need to get cracking on some updates are the jolts you get every now and again. It's very much an occasional thing, but come on you Bentley boys: if Kia can sell a slicker hybrid for less than a quarter of the price of this Spur, I bet you can do better. I'm not pretending the job of integrating two separate systems is easy – and most of the time the two sides of the propulsion coin do seem joined at the hip. When they are progress is, it must be said, seamless.
While I am on the negatives, the brakes could also do with some fettling. Again, they’re not bad because most of the time you can slow the car without thinking about what’s going on, it’s just the pedal action isn’t consistent. Once, when I was feathering the brakes in a 20 zone, the pedal seemed to sink beneath my foot (with no loss of retardation I should say), and when I went for a heavy stop with a firm initial hit, the regenerative side made the pedal go the other way and feel rock solid.
My final niggle concerns the ride. The extra weight of the hybrid won’t help matters here, but that’s just the way it is if you want any zero-emissions ability. And let’s face it, it’s heavy enough as a V8, so another 175kg of battery and motor isn't much in the grand scheme of things. Like telling someone who’s morbidly obese to drink Diet Coke once in a while, it’s a minor part of a much bigger problem. No, I think the main issue here is those frankly ridiculous 22-inch wheels. It seems that, when it comes to wheels, the little things do matter because the Flying Spur Hybrid I drove before had 21-inch rims and it rode a lot better. It didn’t thump over broken roads as much as this one does, so my advice is don’t waste the £4,770 it costs to enlarge them.
However, even the silly truck wheels can’t spoil the Spur’s abnormally good high-speed ride. I have a test when assessing a car’s suspension, which is to rest my head gently on the headrest and see how much my noggin gets knocked forward. A bad car, like some of the earlier Tesla Model 3s I drove, will punch your head off the headrest like the plunger on a pinball machine. The good ones give it a gentle shove every now and then. In this car you can lay your head on the headrest and along the motorway there it stays, in touch with the surface at all times. This is important. If the front and rear axles are working as one, and the body is rising and falling evenly, when you’re in the back hoping to kick back and nod off, you won’t be kicked in the head over every bump. The result: a restful snooze. And sleep isn't for wimps, as the city boys might have you believe. It's jolly important to a long life, so this Bentley could make you live longer.
You might also want to take in the ambience, too. Oh my, that’s very nice indeed. Everything about the Flying Spur shouts quality. So even if this car’s specification is a little blingy for your taste (and mine), it’s still a beautifully made thing. I love that the doors thud satisfyingly and, once you’re ensconced within, that the materials are almost all enchanting. I love the swathes of Alcantara and the precision switches. And while I’m a man who loves highly-polished woodwork, I won't grumble at the turned aluminium facia and door cappings because they're so brilliantly executed. I love the precision with which everything lines up as well. Take the infotainment screen as an example. That revolves like James Bond’s DB5 number plates, so it’s there if you want to use it and hidden if you don’t. The point is it moves, and that introduces variance, yet the gaps either side of the screen are always completely uniform and the surfaces line up dead flush. I appreciate things like that.
My only criticism is that some of the chrome trim is plastic. Back in the day, when I was selling SZs, almost every bit of chrome was metal. If I had the money to pay £200,000 for a car, I reckon I’d be happy to stump up another five, or even ten grand to have the same here. After all, you’re buying a Bentley to have unquestionably the best, and plastic chrome just leaves the notion hanging that it’s questionably the best.
I won’t question the driving position, however. It gets all the basics right and has so much adjustability on top (plus a great massage experience) to allow you to finesse it. The modern digital instruments are clear and classy, and there are switches everywhere. It’s like being back in the 1980s sitting in the front of the Flying Spur, and that’s no slight. After half an hour or so behind the wheel I’d learned what they all do, and from then on using them largely by feel was a piece of cake.
Perhaps the thick pillars and high door tops make it feel a little claustrophobic, and certainly blight your vision out, but there’s plenty of actual space. In the front it’s generous, and in the rear it’s enormous. There aren’t many cars where I can have the front seat far enough back to accommodate my unusually long legs, yet still have at least 100mm of knee room in the back. The Flying Spur isn’t just about space, though. By heck the rear seat is superbly shaped, soft and enveloping, and therefore extremely comfortable. The seat cushions felt softer to me in this car than the previous Flying Spur's. Now that may be something to do with it having cloth upholstery rather than leather; it may be that Bentley has changed the seat cushions; or it may be that I am losing the plot. Probably it’s the last one.
I don’t think I am completely losing the plot by giving a thumbs-up to the Flying Spur S Hybrid, though. Yes, I’d still plump for the V8 but I tell you this much: if they ironed out the creases in the drivetrain, I could easily be persuaded. As I said earlier, I liked wafting around silently in electric mode, and I don’t care about the extra weight because it’s not a driver’s car as such. And even after the battery was exhausted, I was achieving 25mpg sat in the fast lane of the M4 for three hours – I reckon I’d have seen 30 if I hadn’t been in such a hurry. I thought that was pretty impressive considering what this car is: a Bentley. I just like the Flying Spur, S or otherwise. It’s a lovely place to be and it’s properly big saloon. So it isn't just a Bentley, it's a proper Bentley.
Specification | Bentley Flying Spur S Hybrid
Engine: 2894cc V6, twin-turbocharged with electric motor
Transmission: Eight-speed twin-clutch, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 416hp @ 5,500-6,500rpm (ICE), 140hp (electric); 544hp (total system)
Torque (lb ft): 406lb ft @ 2,000-5,000rpm (ICE), 295lb ft (electric); 553lb ft (total-system)
Battery size: 18kWh
0-60mph: 4.1 seconds
Top speed: 177mph
MPG: 85.6 (WLTP)
CO2: 75g/km (WLTP)
Electric Range: 25.5 miles
Price: £195,100 (price as tested £222,885)
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