DOWNSIZING: my dear, simply everyone is at it. Even Bentley — never famous for reining in when reining out is an option. The Flying Spur, its thunderous, big-haunched, 17ft-plus oligarch’s chariot, is now available with the smallest engine that Crewe’s luxury car builder has yet used: a 4-litre twin-turbo V8 that, though hardly bashful or modest by most people’s standards, is four cylinders and 30kg lighter than the flagship Flying Spur’s W12 unit.
Romantics are free to interpret this change (along with the similarly belt-tightening decision to step down from 20in wheels to 19in wheels) as a generous nod to the future of our planet, creating, as it does, an über-saloon in which you might plausibly be able to drive for more than 400 miles before needing to refuel. (In a W12 it’s about 400ft.) Note, too, how the carbon dioxide emissions descend by 89g/km to 254g/km, which, though it’s unlikely to have the world’s endangered species lining the road to applaud you as you go past, does at least show willing.
Non-romantics, however, will notice that Chinese tax laws punish engines above four litres and that China is Bentley’s second-biggest customer after America. And somewhere in between those two points of view comes Bentley, which insists that by pricing the new car south of the psychologically significant £140,000 mark — and nearly £5,000 lower than the W12 — it is generously opening up the possibility of Flying Spur ownership to a whole new market.
Bentley insists that by pricing the new car south of the psychologically significant £140,000 mark — and nearly £5,000 lower than the W12 — it is generously opening up the possibility of Flying Spur ownership to a whole new market.
Of course you trust the company to have done the research, but I’ve got to confess I’m struggling to get my head round the demographics here. I guess the idea is that people who were about to order a high-spec Mercedes S-class at £88,395 might notice this new price crash in the Bentley showroom and decide to spend more than a third as much again. Is that how it works?
Anyway, the point is, if the enticement works, they’ll get a car that is startlingly like that bigger, less enlightened, less China-friendly one, and that is certainly as quiet. It has soundproofing in common with the W12 version (same deflecting glass, same floor linings, same additional stuffing behind the door panels) and accordingly the V8 achieves to the same extent the acoustic properties of a country house library, by no means ruling out an entirely whispered conversation, even during periods of prolonged and heavy acceleration.
And naturally the V8 version is steeped just as deeply in high-end luxury fittings, all the way from the silvered side vent, which is the car’s version of a little flash of antique cufflink, to the glove compartment, which clicks shut like a jewellery box.
The version I drove was draped in “Magnolia” leather that was in some ways like sitting in a tub of vanilla ice cream, though unarguably more comfortable than that. A variety of other shades of hide are available, and indeed, in accordance with Bentley’s unparalleled attention to bespoke requirements, if you desire a colour that it doesn’t have, it will almost certainly go out and flatten a bull to make it.
The version I drove was draped in “Magnolia” leather that was in some ways like sitting in a tub of vanilla ice cream, though unarguably more comfortable than that.
Or, rather, many bulls. Apparently it takes 14 bull hides to fit out just one Flying Spur. Which is, as they say, an awful lot of bull. And while we’re flashing the thought-provoking figures suggestive of painstaking ultra-British craftsmanship, Bentley proudly points out that there are no fewer than 326 individual patterns involved in a Flying Spur’s leather outfitting, and no fewer than 24 leaves in its wood veneer.
Mind you, I think the company slightly spoils it when it also reveals that 31 Flying Spurs are built every day. From an exclusivity point of view, you would prefer to imagine that it was just one, say, every seven years, wouldn’t you? Preferably with at least two of those years spent on sitting around waiting for the lacquer to cure.
The engine delivers power in the form of an almost impossibly stable, stately surge. There’s less power, of course, in this diminished format, but it remains heroically stable and stately. And, as in the W12, you end up marvelling at the physical alchemy involved in getting something this big to go this fast, this smoothly. (And a Flying Spur really is big: the boot would plausibly go on the market at an asking price in the region of £275,000 if sold as a studio apartment in London.)
Your chauffeur, then, is barely going to notice the difference. But what about everyone else? How shall the world at large know that you waited your moment and came in at the cheap end? By the redness of the Bentley badges on the car’s nose and boot (they are black on the W12) and by the twin exhaust pipes that have been squeezed slightly in the middle to give the mild impression of a figure-of-eight tipped on its side — and which if anything are more covetable than the plain old unsqueezed pipes on the bigger-engined version.
Incidentally, having driven the car, I was given the opportunity to experience it while stretched out in the absurd comfort of the rear cabin — or “lounge”, as we might think of it. Therein I can report that, from a standing start, I fell asleep in a time of 0.073 seconds. For comparison purposes, I recently rode similarly in the back of a professionally driven Mercedes S-class, where I fell asleep in 0.087 seconds, so the Bentley wins narrowly in this area by 14-thousandths of a second.
Not a lot, but it’s all about fine margins at this end of the business. Fine margins and Chinese tax laws.
Don’t worry – it still flies
Bentley Flying Spur V8 specifications
- Engine: 3993cc, V8, twin turbo
- Power: 500bhp @ 6000rpm
- Torque: 486 lb ft @ 1750 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed manual
- Acceleration: 0-60mph in 4.9sec
- Top speed: 183mph
- Fuel:25.9mpg (combined)
- CO2: 254g/km
- Vehicle tax band: L
- Price: £136,000
- Release date: On sale now
Bentley Flying Spur V8 rivals
- Jaguar XJ Supersport LWB, £95,895
For Distinct design; attractive interior
Against No four-wheel drive; not as refined or comfortable as Flying Spur
- Mercedes S 500 L AMG, £88,395
For Competitvely priced; fuel-efficient; range of advanced technology
Against Looks like an airport taxi; ride not as smooth as in the Bentley