By REED BERRY
Is Dom Perignon just a beverage? Is beluga caviar merely a snack? Of course not, and the vehicle I'm driving for this report is not just a car, it's a Bentley. To appreciate that, you either have to see the price of the vehicle (an amount that, in some places, will still buy you a townhouse), or understand that in the automotive world, Bentley is known for exceptional craftsmanship and attention to every detail. And this is not just any Bentley; it's the Continental Flying Spur – the fastest four-door sedan in the world.
If you're thinking that the Flying Spur closely resembles the popular Bentley Continental GT, you are correct. Both cars were designed together so they would share some similar qualities and have a distinctive appearance, but there are some differences as well. While the Continental GT is a sporty two-door coupe, the Flying Spur is a spacious four-door sedan. The Flying Spur seems to combine everything one would look for in a high-end luxury car: Practicality, superior performance and timeless styling.
Bentley's ability to blend classic features with modern conveniences is impressive. Sure, you have all the high-tech gadgets you expect in a car like this. There's a CD changer discretely tucked away in the glove compartment, a power rear window sunshade and even a GPS navigation system. But to start the car, there's no need to use the key, thanks to a traditional Bentley feature – a simple Start/Stop button located on the center console. Just apply the brake, push the button and listen to the sound of the powerful 12-cylinder engine.
And speaking of the engine, what exactly makes the Flying Spur fly? How does a six-liter, twin-turbocharged, 552-horsepower engine sound? Well, to be honest, it sounds like more power than any car really needs. Admittedly, all that power gives one an added feeling of confidence on the road, and it makes for a rather exhilarating drive. This car claims a top speed of 195 mph. In the interest of safety and, since our test venue consists of the streets of Southern California, validation of that claim will be left for another day.
Instead of pushing the speed envelope, it seems to make more sense to luxuriate in the passenger compartment. The use of wood veneers and leather hides give the interior a elegant, contemporary look. According to Bentley, it takes more than 11 hides to make a complete set of upholstery. Well, at least those animals gave their lives for a good cause, because these seats are very comfortable. A high-end sound system with speakers optimally placed throughout the quiet cabin makes the drive even more pleasant. Tchaikovsky anyone?
Each passenger has individual climate controls within easy reach, but today we chose to push the button directly above to open the power sunroof and enjoy a beautiful L.A. afternoon. Back seat passengers benefit from unusually spacious legroom. If the rear passenger compartment was any roomier, this vehicle would have to be classified as a limousine. And with all the interior space, Bentley couldn't have left much room for a trunk (or, as they call it in the UK, the boot), right? Guess again – there's an impressive 16.7 cubic feet of cargo space. And just to make your life even easier, the trunk opens and closes with the push of a button.
As for safety, the Flying Spur has numerous advantages. The 12-cylinder engine provides plenty of power to pass other vehicles quickly. The vehicle's handling and overall performance, combined with stability control and advanced braking system, may help you take the necessary actions to avoid collisions. There are airbags throughout, including full-length curtain airbags and thorax airbags for front and rear seat passengers. And get this – an occupant sensing system in the rear seats provides added whiplash protection by automatically raising the headrests.
As I drive into the city of Maywood to pick up a friend, I realize a couple of things. First of all, I probably shouldn't be driving a Bentley in Maywood (I just saw someone driving a
Datsun) and, secondly, this car certainly turns quite a few heads. And with good reason. Not only is the bold styling of the Flying Spur an attention-getter, but Bentley's legendary “Flying B” insignia represents a vehicle of uncompromising quality and a unique driving experience that most people can only dream of.
I must admit, when I first heard that that Bentley had been aquired by Volkswagen, I became a little nervous. Driving this vehicle makes it quite clear that my concern is unwarranted. Bentley continues to offer classic luxury to those who can afford the very best. The Continental Flying Spur is a solid, quiet, confident automobile that will certainly appeal to the discriminating motorist. – Reed Berry
SIDEBAR COMMENT: SUCCESS STORY
It’s one thing to make all the right moves. It’s another when you make a wrong move and have the moxie to turn it into a right move. There’s no better example of this than what Volkswagen AG did with the Bentley brand.
Flashback to 1998, when BMW and Volkswagen got into a bidding war to purchase Rolls Royce. Just when it looked like BMW sealed the deal to purchase Rolls Royce, VW made an offer that the Rolls Royce shareholders couldn’t refuse. Unfortunately, VW failed on the due diligence end. It appeared VW purchased the factory without obtaining the rights to the Rolls Royce name, which remained with BMW. To avoid a protracted legal battle, the two auto makers agreed to allow VW to own Rolls Royce until 2003. Thereafter, BMW would take over Rolls Royce ownership, while VW retained rights to the Bentley brand. Bentley and Rolls Royce would then go their separate ways.
By all accounts, VW was on the losing end, having lost the coveted Rolls Royce ownership it sought. Or so it seemed. What ultimately developed was hard to predict.
After the agreement between BMW and VW was struck, Volkswagen AG went hard at work to uplift the Bentley mark to a level it hasn’t seen since its early years. First on the agenda was the development of the Continental GT. Second was to win the creme de la creme of auto racing: The 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Bentley dominated Le Mans back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but effectively retired from the event thereafter. To come back and take the checkered flag would be an historic event, not to mention a monumental task. In 2003, however, Bentley made history by taking first and second at Le Mans. Thereafter, Bentley went back into retirement as the undefeated champion.
The new Bentley Continental GT turned out to be a stunning design and a runaway sales success. The Bentley brand has emerged from all of this at the top of the coolness pyramid, with rap artists, superstar sports figures and actors gravitating toward the brand.
With the addition of the four-door Continental Flying Spur, the transformation is complete. With the Bentley brand, the proprietors have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. -
For more information about Bentley automobiles, visit www.bentleymotors.com.
Name of vehicle:
Bentley Continental Flying Spur
Twin turbo 6-liter W12, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
552 hp @ 6,100 rpm
479 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
All wheel drive
ZF 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic feature
Speed sensitive power-assisted rack and pinion
Progressive air springs; Continuous damping control, four settings, adjustable
Wheels and tires:
Wheels size: Standard 9J x 19
Tires: 275/40 R 19 Pirelli or Michelin
Front: 15.9″ vented discs
Rear: 13.2″ vented discs
Curb weight (lbs.):
EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 11/18
0-60 mph: 4.9 seconds
0-100 mph: 11.3 seconds
Top Speed: 195 mph