Monte Carlo, Monaco – What’s the real meaning of luxury? To some people, it’s feeling comfortable in your own skin, or it could also be indulging in the simple things in life, or even more ‘simply’, being able to get away from it all.
This is particularly relevant in an age that sees us (willingly or not) constantly connected and shackled to all manner of digital devices, which now even includes the very cars we drive.
So it’s interesting that in this issue, we experience two interpretations of the luxury limo, from the old world charm, plush ‘luxo-bargism’ and intimate luxury of the W12-engined Bentley Flying Spur, to the electronic, all-electric Porsche Taycan Turbo S.
As technically impressive as Porsche’s electric tour de force is, we’re pretty sure there are some readers who still prefer the Flying Spur’s good ol’fashioned bebop groove to the Porsche’s electronic beep-boops.
The Flying Spur looks perfectly at home as it lounges at the iconic Casino Square in front of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. There’s a relaxed elegance to its demeanour as it relaxes amidst the bustle of gawkers and passers-by as its mighty W12 engine waits to be roused for the day’s charge through the Route de Napoleon.
This is the third generation of Bentley’s lux-limo and like the latest Continental GT Coupe, boasts an engaging and eclectic fusion of technology with charming, old-world character.
(Click HERE to read our review of the W12 Continental GT Coupe)
Bentley is probably the only one in the Group to continue to focus on its traditional charm, albeit with a modern tech twist, for a whimsical package that is as big on mod-cons as it is on nostalgia.
(Click HERE to read our review of the W12 Continental GT Convertible)
Oversized chrome grilled aside, the Flying Spur’s body is shaped by the same ‘Superforming’ – a hot metal forming technique – as the Continental GT, and features crisp power lines down its rear flanks that couldn’t otherwise have been achieved using conventional means.
We like that we see hints of the original S1 Continental Flying Spur from 1958 in this new Flying Spur’s profile, and to our eyes, it’s more resolved in the rear than the second generation FS.
However, we already like these latest two generations a lot more than the first modern Continetal Flying Spur of 2005, which was too much a four-door derivative of the Continental GT Coupe of that time.
Little surprise too then, that with the second generation onwards, ‘Continental’ was dropped from the name so it is just known as the Flying Spur these days and should be regarded as a model in its own right.
If you’re averse to all that chrome bling, there’s a sporty Blackline specification that blacks-out all the shiny bits on the exterior, including the ‘Flying B’ hood emblem, which makes its (re)-appearance on this car and can be electronically raised/lowered as an anti-theft measure, as well as in the interests of pedestrian-safety.
Entering the Flying Spur’s cabin is like taking a step back in time (and not in a bad way either), with sumptuous leather seats, luscious book-matched wood panels, ornate pull-stops and exquisite knurling the order of the day.
There’s an earthy and cosy warmth to the ambience that is pleasantly welcoming, with intriguing nuances to the details that are perfect, and not too fussy.
It is this straddling of the fine line between ‘flawless versus frippery’ – or ‘aspiration versus appliance’ – which differentiates a brand like Bentley, because it already comfortably panders to the ‘haves’.
Materials and craftsmanship do matter, but those alone aren’t enough, because class and luxury are intangible qualities, and the rarefied segment of buyers the Bentley operates in requires a lot more than just the latest gadgets to impress it.
Well-sorted cars require little fiddling with drive settings, but those that try to do too many things end up having too many permutations to play with.
Case in point, one of the adjustable settings on a recent car launch we attended was, believe it or not, brake pedal modulation.
Is this even something the owner of a luxury sports tourer will muck around with, or is it just a novelty to be bragged about? It's a fine line, to be sure, but this tit-for-tat oneupmanship is a game that Bentley doesn't play... simply because it doesn't need to!
However, this is not to say the Flying Spur is lacking in the latest innovations – far from it, in fact. We appreciate how Bentley has introduced a concept of ‘digital detox’ to the cabins of the Continental GT and Flying Spur, where they become places of solace and refuge if need be, where the only communication is between car, driver and the open roads – still one of the great luxuries of our times.
Technology aids and abets us in our daily lives, but shouldn’t require an astrophysics degree to operate, take centrestage in the cabin and be in-your-face, unless that is, you’re the type that still takes pleasure in showing off your latest iNote+ gadgets.
Technology should be like the quintessential British butler, always present and on hand to get things done, yet never present... and most of all, not attempt to usurp the proceedings.
To us, the Bentley Rotating Display option is a must-spec, because it presents a solid wood panel when you first enter the car.
However, this can be ‘rotated’ between the plain fascia, a panel featuring a trio of analogue gauges or 12.3-inch touchscreen display.
Remember what we said before about luxury being about the simple things in life, well, Bentley has applied this philosophy to the FS’s driving programme too.
Like the Continental GT, the FS features a ‘Bentley’ driving mode marked by the brand’s ‘B’ motif, which delivers sublime, all-rounded performance on fast winding roads.
‘B’ delivers just enough body-control on top of Comfort, but not too firm a ride that you’d experience in Sport, with an active rear-steer system making ‘short’ work of the car’s 3194mm wheelbase so it handles like a smaller car.
Besides, even though it makes a good attempt of it, the Flying Spur isn’t the type of car to point-and-squirt around in as you would in a hot-hatch.
Instead, you’ll want to ride the swell of the turbo’d 12-cylinder’s vast wave of torque as it wafts from one corner to the next, and it accomplishes this in a stupendously fast fashion.
The accompanying W12 soundtrack is also a nice shock to the senses, because it’s amazing that such a soulful howl can come from a car as austere as the Flying Spur, even as you’re enjoying a spirited session of rough-house with the Flying B.
As impressive as the W12’s prodigious performance is the car’s braking prowess, with the combination of 10-pot/4-pot callipers and front 420mm/rear 380mm rotors reining-in the 2.4-tonne limo, even after repeated hard braking manoeuvres.
Now for (literally) the million dollar question: Who buys a car like the Flying Spur? For those to whom a regular 7 Series, A8, Panamera or S-Class are too mundane in terms of execution, even if not in performance. With 635hp/900Nm on tap, the Flying Spur is touted as a fast, four-door grand tourer.
(Click HERE to read about our time in the S 63 AMG 4Matic+)
While its performance credentials let it stand toe-to-toe against its rivals’ M Performance, AMG and S models, there’s a well-controlled refinement to its road manners that afford its occupants comfort, yet dynamic enough reflexes to please an enthusiast driver. If you’re someone who wants even sportier performance from a car like the Flying Spur, we reckon there’ll be a ‘W12 S’ model before too long.
(Click HERE to read about our drive in the M760Li xDrive)
What’s also notable is the brand’s appeal to an ever-younger buying audience, which clearly appreciates Bentley’s dapper dandy style and its strong commitment to tradition that incorporates just the right amount of technology and performance in its cars.
(To read about the Alpina B7 LWB, click HERE)
Ultimately, the Flying Spur isn’t just a limo to be driven around in, but it’s always ready and willing to let you live out your ‘Flight of the Rumble B’ fantasties on your favourite winding roads in all its frenetic fun and frenzy.
Bentley Flying Spur
Engine 5950cc, twin-turbo W12
Power/rpm 635hp/ 6000rpm
Transmission 8spd dual-clutch
Top Speed 333km/h
Fuel Consumption 14.8l/100km