Bentley Flying Spur V8 S: The Last Night of the Proms, remastered by Kraftwerk
THE Bentley Flying Spur is not simply one impressive car; it is a great bunch of cars, writes William Scholes.
It is a garageful of cars in a single super-sized slice of glorious excess and hand-crafted luxury, complete with gravity-defying performance, stupendous running costs and the option to have bespoke crystal champagne flutes and a fridge installed between the rear armchairs for £7,600. A Ford Mondeo it is not.
Bentley is among the most storied of all the great British marques. Steep price tags, exclusive clientele and success in the gruelling Le Mans 24 Hours race - its cars won in 1924 and from 1927 to 1930 - didn't stop it going bust and falling into the clutches of arch-rival Rolls-Royce in 1931.
After that, the Bentley badge was used mostly on cars that were little more than rebadged Rolls-Royce motor cars.
Arguably there are worse fates to befall a car, but the net effect was a diminution of Bentley's sporting, high performance credentials.
During the 1980s, a more conscious effort was made to differentiate Bentley from Rolls-Royce, with models such as the Mulsanne and Turbo R.
The arms race between BMW and the Volkswagen Group in the 1990s eventually ended with the two brands going their separate ways again in the early 2000s: Rolls-Royce fell under BMW's control, with Bentley entering VW's orbit.
While Rolls-Royce headed off in the super-luxury direction, the 'new' Bentley cars were grand tourers in the classic tradition.
The big 12-cylinder Continental GT coupe arrived in 2003, soon to be followed by a four-door saloon version named the Continental Flying Spur.
When that car's second generation was launched in 2013, the 'Continental' prefix was dropped and more stylistic distance placed between coupe and saloon.
The combination of classic British heritage, luxury and craftsmanship - it takes more than 130 hours to build a Flying Spur, which is around 10 times longer than a 'normal' car - with German engineering has proved a winner for VW-era Bentley. It's the Last Night of the Proms remastered by Kraftwerk.
The resilience of the brand is underlined by the fact it has managed to survive a period in which its cars were the default choice for taste-bypassed Premier League footballers; a Bentley, presented in a correct colour combination, remains a highly-desirable, classy device.
As with the Continental, every Flying Spur comes with four-wheel-drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Under the long bonnet is either a V8 or a W12 engine; each is breathed upon by twin-turbos, and each is startlingly fast.
Actually, 'startlingly fast' doesn't really do justice to what happens when you sink the throttle towards the thick pile of the Flying Spur's carpet. The Bentley takes off like Wile E Coyote strapped to an Acme rocket in pursuit of Road Runner.
As ever, top speed doesn't really reveal that much, though even the slowest version is capable of 183mph.
The fastest does 202mph; and then bear in mind that this is a car which weighs more than 2.5 tonnes, and which has a footprint more than 17ft long and greater than 7ft wide.
No, it is the acceleration which will take away the breath of your passengers. The benchmark 0-60mph sprint is done and dusted in anything between 4.2 seconds and 4.9 seconds.
For something the size of your living room, and probably more comfortable, that is just bonkers. It is also very amusing.
If anything, the rolling acceleration - say, from 30mph to 70mph when joining a motorway, or overtaking - feels even more savage, and more incongruous. Beep beep, indeed, Road Runner.
'Startlingly fast' doesn't really do justice to what happens when you sink the throttle towards the thick pile of the carpet. The Bentley takes off like Wile E Coyote strapped to an Acme rocket in pursuit of Road Runner
'My' Flying Spur was a V8 S (4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo, 521bhp, 502lb.ft, 190mph, 4.6 seconds, don't-ask mpg) and it is easy to see how it could be regarded as the pick of the range.
The V8 engine is lighter than the mighty W12 unit, aiding agility, but gives away very little in terms of performance in everyday use. It also sounds better.
'S' specification, which denotes a power hike, a sportier chassis and some styling tweaks compared to non-S models, is well worth having, too.
The options list that the kindly gentlefolk at the Bentley showroom will point you towards is long and extensive. And expensive. On it are items that you won't find even in the gift section of House of Fraser, and the combinations of leather, paintwork and wheels are practically unlimited.
The test car's low-key dark blue 'Marlin' paint and 21-inch black machined alloys was pretty much spot on, though I was unconvinced by the colour of the light blue 'Brunel' hide trim inside.
In all other aspects - if you overlook the rather dated in-car tech, that is - the interior is exquisite.
The quality of the leather and carpet, the consistency of the stitching on the trim and the sheer comfort help to explain how Bentley can justify its prices.
Whoever specified the car plainly enjoyed themselves sufficiently to balloon the V8 S's 'base price' from £142,800 to a final tally of more than £190,000. The £48k options bill alone would buy one, or more, very nice ordinary cars...
I think I could bring myself to live without the £7,600 fridge and bespoke champagne flutes, but the £10,825 carbon ceramic brakes would be essential, at least if one intended to enjoy the car's performance.
Even whoever is supposed to be masterminding the UK government's Brexit strategy could work out that the Flying Spur's size, weight and crushing performance would make even the most doughty steel brakes wither; ceramics are far more sensible for a car of this potential.
Even whoever is supposed to be masterminding the UK government's Brexit strategy could work out that the Flying Spur's size, weight and crushing performance would make even the most doughty steel brakes wither; ceramics are far more sensible for a car of this potential
Ultimately, despite the chassis engineer's best work, the Bentley's size and weight mean that on Northern Ireland roads you pretty soon come up against the limits of what is sensible for car and driver; this can be a little frustrating, for you know that the Flying Spur has plenty more to give.
Weirdly, in an effort to put running shoes on the Flying Spur, Bentley may have compromised the car's ability to serve up the sort of magic carpet ride which buyers of luxury saloons that can also play the role of limousine expect.
That's not to say the Bentley is jarring or uncomfortable - it categorically is not - but a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series, each of which is available with technology to scan the road ahead in order to prime their suspension, is even smoother.
Mercedes and BMW can sell you models with price tags that overlap with what you might spend on a Flying Spur but, prestigious as their badges are, they don't have the cachet or ultimate luxury of Bentley.
Plus, no-one who spends £150k-plus on an upmarket saloon wants to run the risk of being mistaken for a taxi, which is a risk you run with the Mercedes.
Flipping to the performance side of the Flying Spur's personality, Porsche and Aston Martin have four-doors which rival it. However, they don't come close to the Bentley for passenger space or luxury.
With the cheapest Rolls-Royce starting at well over £220,000, it means the Flying Spur sits in a rarefied market all on its own. In fact, perhaps its only real competition comes from within, and Bentley's own Bentayga SUV.
More so than most other cars, there is little point in trying to assess a vehicle like the Flying Spur in purely rational terms: price, performance, size, running costs, depreciation, conspicuousness, luxury, engineering integrity - all are excessive, most wonderfully so.
No-one really needs a car like this, but the fact it exists should be cause for celebration for anyone with even a smidgen of petrol in their veins.
AT A GLANCE
The options list that the kindly gentlefolk at the Bentley showroom will point you towards is long and extensive. And expensive. On it are items that you won't find even in the gift section of House of Fraser…
Bentley Flying Spur V8 S
Price: £142,800. As tested: £190,765, with £47,965 of options including: carbon ceramic brakes £10,825; refrigerated bottle cooler with frosted glass and crystal champagne flutes £7,600; Entertainment Specification with rear seat entertainment and premium audio system £7,530; Mulliner Driving Specification pack with 21-inch alloy wheels, diamond-quilted leather trim and alloy foot pedals £6,885; Comfort Specification with ventilated seats with massage function and front passenger seat adjustable from rear compartment £2,140; adaptive cruise control £2,125; hand cross-stitching £1,485; vehicle tracking system £1,400; dark stained interior wood veneer £1,375; dark tinted front and rear lamps £1,335; rear-view camera £945; digital TV tuner £920; climate boost for rear passengers £635; space saving spare wheel £520; gloss exterior mirrors £500; storage case to centre console £480; boot carpet trimmed to match interior trim £420; deep pile over-mats front and rear £370; hand stitched steering wheel £155; Sim card reader with Google Maps £120; first aid kit and warning triangle £105; battery charger £95
Engine and transmission: 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 521bhp, 502lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 190mph, 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 25.9mpg (EU combined); 22mpg (real world); 254g/km
Car tax: £1,700 in first year, then £450 annually
Benefit in kind: 37 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Not yet tested