In Speed form, Bentley's Continental Flying Spur has pace and panache to burn. Steve Walker reports.
Ten Second Review
Bentley saloons aren't usually cars that beg to be driven quickly and even in sports-orientated Speed guise, the Flying Spur is at its best when cruising. The car does have a more aggressive edge and connects with its driver better than the standard Flying Spur. It's brutally quick in the straight line as you'd expect from a 600bhp Bentley and the way all that weight is handled so neatly in corners by the air suspension is miraculous.
Bentley doesn't make ordinary motorcars, this much we know, but some are still less ordinary than others. For those customers who find that a 552bhp Continental Flying Spur isn't quite enough, Bentley have a ready made solution in the imposing form of the 600bhp Continental Flying Spur Speed. As you can probably imagine, it lives up to its name. The Speed models in the Bentley range aren't merely an exercise in pushing back horsepower boundaries. They're designed to tighten up the package and shunt the whole thing in a sportier and more dynamic direction. These are still Bentleys and customers would never be handed the keys to something that fell below the highest standards of comfort and refinement but there's room within the marque's luxury car vision for something a tad naughtier and the Speed is it. There are Speed versions of all the Continental models so that's GT coupe, GTC convertible and the car we feature here, the grandly titled Flying Spur saloon.
Some fast cars snarl, others roar, a few scream but models fitted with the Bentley twin-turbo V12 tend to whoosh. It's not purely an acoustic thing, although the Flying Spur is comparatively gentle on the eardrums even when gaining speed like a baby grand tossed from a 12th floor window. It's more to do with the irresistible force that takes over when the throttle is fully stomped. The Flying Spur Speed is a 2,500kg car but the engine's power (600bhp at 6,000rpm) and torque (750Nm at 1,750rpm) act upon it like it's a balsawood model. The 0-60mph sprint takes 4.5s and standstill to 100mph is a 10.5s task. The Speed derivatives also feature revised springs and dampers to sharpen the handling, a weightier steering system and 19" wheels fitted with Pirelli UHP tyres. It feels slightly disrespectful to fling the blue-blooded Bentley down a tightly twisting B-road and even with its tauter set-up, the Speed model doesn't feel particularly at home in such a scenario: few luxury saloon cars do. It's a more enjoyable drive than the standard Flying Spur, producing a closer connection between driver and road, but it still feels like a very big saloon car when asked to corner fast and change direction quickly. The air suspension and the silky smooth gearbox with its surprisingly flimsy and poorly located paddle shifters do their best to smooth out the experience and if you take the hint and take things a bit easier, the Flying Spur Speed really shines. It's a car that covers ground seriously quickly and on open roads where it can get into its stride, it's nothing short of imperious.
Design and Build
There's a whole range of styling features designed to separate the Continental Flying Spur Speed from the standard model. The grilles are in a dark tinted chrome and the exhausts are larger. Inside, the old-school wood gives way to metallic detailing and the leather seat facings and door inserts are in a diamond quilted design. Drilled alloy pedals, a three-spoke sports steering wheel and 'Speed' tread plates on the door sills also feature. Overall the cabin is a fantastic place to be and goes further than any other aspect of the car to justify its premium over a top line Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7-Series. It feels special and no detail has been left to chance. It's said that Bentley's designers even took a tape measure to a team of New York basketball players to ensure that headroom is acceptable even to those at the extremes of the morphological scale. The Flying Spur can be specified with three seats across the back or a rather cosier two seat configuration with a beautifully finished centre console. Even with the Speed upgrades, the exterior isn't particularly striking. Rather than being an afterthought, the saloon was designed alongside the Continental GT coupe model and a full foot has been grafted into the wheelbase to ensure rear seat occupants never run the risk of deep vein thrombosis. The lines are dignified without being notably distinguished and the rather amorphous treatment of the front and rear lights seems a long way from cutting edge.
Market and Model
All Continental Flying Spur customers are invited to personalise their vehicle from the gargantuan catalogue of materials, trim finishes and technological add-ons. The manufacturer is particularly proud of the stereo system on the latest model. Created specially for the Flying Spur by premium British hi-fi manufacturer Naim, it has 15 speakers driven by a 1,100-Watt amplifier. If that's not entertainment enough, the optional rear-seat entertainment package provided 7" TV screens mounted in the headrests, a 6 DVD multi-changer and headphones. Safety equipment includes an advanced ESP system that can be placed in Dynamic mode on the Speed model to allow an extra element of wheel slip and help drivers make the most of the performance. The car is also fitter with some of the biggest brakes found on any production car. The front discs are 405mm by 35mm.
Cost of Ownership
There's no getting away from the fact that the cost of Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed ownership will be high but the people who can afford to buy one in the first instance are unlikely to be unduly fazed either by its 17mpg combined economy or its 396g/km emissions. Repair costs in a car this advanced are also predictably high but part of what you pay for with a Bentley is the service and owners can rest assured that their Bentley dealer will treat them like the royalty that they could quite conceivably be.
Handing out a 50bhp power boost to most cars would have a major effect on them but Bentley's Flying Spur Speed isn't most cars. With power upped to 600bhp, the big Bentley is as unruffled and luxurious as ever. The stiffer springs, sharper steering and sports-orientated tyres do produce a more connected driving experience but the Speed is nothing so vulgar as a sports saloon. It's a car that makes going fast seem spookily easy. At £17,000 over the standard Flying Spur, the Speed isn't cheap, even for a Bentley customer. It comes with an array of upgrades including a 50bhp power boost and measures to hone it dynamically but it doesn't transform the character of the car in too dramatic a fashion. This Bentley is still at its best when wafting elegantly about the place rather than being cornered on its doorhandles.