Whatever the tiny principality of Monaco lacks in size (it covers just 2 square kilometres), it more than makes up for in ostentatiousness. Even the ritziest locales in other parts of the world pale in comparison with the gob-smacking wealth and splendour that’s on show in this little slice of the French Riviera.
So, what better venue for Bentley to make an emphatic statement with the launch of its all-new Flying Spur? The third-gen model follows in the wheeltracks of its Continental GT sibling launched early last year and Bentley execs say the new limo’s only real competitor is the Mercedes S65 AMG. What about the Rolls-Royce Ghost? Too frumpy and staid to go head-to-head with the new Flying Spur, according to Bentley’s top brass.
As per the latest Continental GT, the Flying Spur borrows its MSB platform from the Porsche Panamera, but this is the biggest dimensional stretch to date of that hardware as the Bentley saloon spans a massive 5,316mm from bumper to bumper (+21mm versus the oldie) and 1,978mm (+2mm) in width. Meanwhile, its 3,194mm wheelbase means there’s an extra 129mm between the front and rear axles compared with its predecessor. This makes for ample sprawling space inside, but more on this later.
If one were to critique the old Flying Spur, one could point out it looked too much like a Continental GT with an extra pair of doors added on. One could also argue that its interior lacked the sense of occasion one might expect of a car in this price segment. There was little wow factor and too many shared VW Group switches and buttons throughout the cabin.
It takes little time to establish none of that applies this time around. The revamped Flying Spur exudes quality and expensiveness. The new car has head-turning appeal, and this becomes immediately obvious as a small throng assembles in Casino Square around the fleet of Flying Spurs that our journalistic posse will shortly be piloting up into the winding mountain roads of the Alpes-Maritimes.
Bentley’s designers may have missed the mark with the ungainly looking Bentayga, but they’ve absolutely nailed it with the Conti GT and Flying Spur. The acres of sheetmetal that go into making a 5.3m long luxo limo usually results in a slab-sided behemoth that has road presence due to its sheer size, but little in terms of style or ‘want factor’. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. Have a good, long look at the accompanying images and chances are you’ll agree the latest Flying Spur has elegance and musculature in equal measure. Yes, there is naturally a family resemblance with the two-door Conti GT, yet this time around the big saloon has its own identity. The face is no longer a copy-paste of its coupe sibling (as was the case with past generations), while the flanks and rump are totally divergent.
Before setting off on the drive, I spend several minutes walking around the car and scanning it from different angles and, to my eye, there isn’t a single jarring element. The Bentley brims with visual flair, yet it’s not cluttered with pointless character lines or an overly elaborate face. And even though the Flying Spur is a huge car, it manages to look lithe rather than lumbering.
The positive impressions carry through to the interior, which is nothing less than a quantum leap forward from its predecessor. The drabness and pilfered VW Group bits that marred the oldie’s cabin have been banished, and what you get instead is a cockpit that’s thoroughly modern, yet there are still some nods to the past — most notably in the chromed rotary vents, impeccable walnut veneer (you can have piano black instead) and diamond-quilted leather seats. There’s an arsenal of mod-cons — such as 14-way electric seats with heating/cooling and massage functions, top-view camera, self-parking and a detachable touchscreen remote control — while an additional spend will get you a boomtastic Naim audio system, fridge, mood lighting and rear-seat entertainment. There’s a veritable tech bonanza packed into the Flying Spur, yet it’s all been subtly incorporated to not dilute the cabin’s classical ambience.
The inner environs of Monaco are rather congested, so a 5.3m long and 2m wide car could feel somewhat cumbersome around here, but the four-wheel-steer that comes standard in the Flying Spur make easy work of navigating out of Casino Square and out towards the more open roads leading towards the Alpes-Maritimes.
The 6.0-litre W12’s thumping outputs of 626bhp and 900Nm enable the Flying Spur to dispatch the 0-100kph dash in 3.8sec and hit 333kph flat out — numbers that seem more applicable to a supercar than a limousine. Yet this massive oomph is deployed with such effortless refinement and lack of fanfare that it’s easy to be deceived about how fast you’re actually travelling. Peak torque comes on tap from just 1,350rpm, so you can imperiously waft past slow-moving traffic with no more than an ankle-twitch.
Criticisms? The eight-speed dual-clutch auto can occasionally get confused by sudden applications of throttle, and the result is a moment or two of hesitation, followed by a somewhat jerky downshift. One can’t help but feel a conventional auto — such as ZF’s excellent eight-speeder — would have been better suited to the Flying Spur, but its Porsche-designed MSB architecture has been engineered to accept the dual-clutch ‘box, so there was no easy (or cost-effective) way around this. And, while the W12 engine has barrel-loads of grunt, it tends to get a little coarse if you wind it out to the upper reaches of its rev range. For my money, the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 (already offered in the Continental GT and later destined for the Flying Spur) is a better powerplant as it’s smoother, more sonorous and places less weight over the front axle. Speaking of weight, the Flying Spur is no waif at 2,437kg, yet some clever chassis tuning — bolstered by the provision of three-chamber air suspension and a 48-volt active roll stabilisation system — enables the Bentley juggernaut to carve up mountain roads with surprising pace and agility. A 3.2m wheelbase isn’t the ideal recipe for an alpine drive route filled with tight hairpins, but the four-wheel-steer again makes its presence felt here, getting the sizeable chariot around without having to apply armloads of steering lock. Pile into corners with a bit too much speed and you’ll encounter a trace of understeer, but the rear-biased all-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring-by-brake system helps the car to retain its composure even if you’re driving it with a level of vigour inspired by Rallye Monte-Carlo delusions.
The big takeaway from our thrash across the mountains is that this is a car to drive, rather than just be driven in — as was the case before. Yes, the superbly crafted cabin leaves an indelible mental imprint, yet it’s the Flying Spur’s agility and sports-saloon-matching dynamics that prove the real eye-opener. Jolly good show, chaps.