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The Bentley Continental Flying Spur is a grand car that recalls a heroic age, a throwback to a time when big sedans were more art than science. Yet the Flying Spur also adds performance, technology, and even utility to this formula, and the result is a car that is uniquely practical as well as uniquely beautiful.
Beneath the Flying Spur's dramatic sheetmetal, you'll find the latest developments in automotive technology. A W12 engine incorporates twin turbochargers to produce some 552 horsepower. All-wheel drive delivers excellent traction in all kinds of weather. A sophisticated suspension with air springs and electronically controlled dampers produces extraordinary driving composure.
Moreover, the Flying Spur is a car that's meant to be driven. The driving experience is effortlessly intuitive, the performance is powerful yet controllable, and the interior is useful as well as comfortable. Compared to other prestige cars, the Flying Spur can be used on a daily basis just like a conventional sedan.
The Bentley Continental Flying Spur belongs to a rarified group of automobiles that are signatures of wealth and style. Bentley and Roll-Royce have dominated this market for decades, but now German and Italian manufacturers have joined the game for reasons of both corporate image and national pride. When a British holding company sold off the long-time Bentley/Rolls-Royce concern in 1999 because investment funds for the future weren't available, Volkswagen purchased Bentley while BMW bought Rolls-Royce. This event inspired a re-making of the whole prestige-car marketplace, as Mercedes-Benz invented Maybach, while Fiat decided to join the game with Maserati.
Since its takeover by Volkswagen, Bentley has been conspicuously successful. Much of the reason has been the Continental model, which was greeted with wide acclaim when the two-door GT was introduced in 2003. The four-door Flying Spur enjoyed similar success when it was launched in 2005. Evidence of this success can be found in the U.S. market during 2005, where Bentley sold 2144 Continental GTs and 1217 Flying Spurs during the year. In the same time period, Rolls-Royce sold 382 Phantoms, while Maybach sold just 152 cars.
It should be duly noted that price is a part of the Bentley Contintental's appeal, for while the Flying Spur is twice the price of a Lexus, it is just half the price of a Rolls-Royce.
This Bentley is an example of automotive art, yet it also illustrates the way in which prestige cars are becoming more affordable, practical and useful in response to ever-increasing sophistication from consumer-grade sedans built by Audi, BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz.
The Bentley heritage is all about driving. Back in 1930, Bentley chief executive Woolf Barnato (whose family fortune came from diamond mines in South Africa), once raced his Bentley Speed Six sedan across France against the famous Blue Train, and won. In the early 1950s, the 120-mph Bentley Continental R became the fastest, most luxurious way to travel across Europe. Like these historic cars from Bentley's past, the Continental Flying Spur is meant to make the same kind of active, high-performance statement.
Bentley's unique twin-turbo 6.0-liter W12 engine makes this possible. Essentially this engine looks like two V6 engines mounted side-by-side and connected by a single crankshaft, and it has a natural balance that makes its vibrations almost undetectable. The engine starts with the push of a button, a design feature that Bentley brought back from motoring history and which has since been copied by many other car manufacturers. Once the engine comes to life, a specially tuned exhaust system gives it a delicious note of audible authority.
Turbocharging helps the W12 produce some 552 horsepower, more than the engine of any other sedan except for the 604-hp, 6.5-liter, supercharged V8 in the $180,000 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG. The Bentley W12 has enough power to accelerate even this incredibly heavy 5456-pound car to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, speed to 100 mph in 11.3 seconds, and reach a top speed of 195 mph.
More important, this engine makes 479 pound-feet of torque at only 1600 rpm. As a result, the Flying Spur has the ability to move through medium-speed traffic with incredible directness, accelerating to 70 mph from 50 mph in only 2.6 seconds. The car calmly hurtles forward as if propelled by pure physical force.
The car's dual personality is reflected in the ZF-built six-speed transmission, which affords either conventional automatic shifting or manually selected gear changes through fingertip-actuated paddles mounted on the steering wheel. You can drive slowly and let the transmission do the thinking, or you can drive hard and determine the gear you need.
On the open road, the Flying Spur delivers a reassuring feeling of stability. The long wheelbase, front-biased weight distribution (56 percent front/44 percent rear), and all-wheel drive combine to help the car track straight and true. Meanwhile, the Bentley's prodigious 5456 pounds of weight help to smother any disturbing ride motions stirred up by small pavement imperfections. At higher speeds, the suspension's air springs help the car absorb the deflection from larger inputs with a composed, naturally progressive action. The suspension dampers also can be electronically tuned to four different settings to vary the overall ride quality from cushy to controlled.
At high speed, the light-effort, speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering has enough road feel to reassure the driver about his ability to control the car. At low speed, a turning circle of 38.7 feet delivers reasonable maneuverability. At any speed, the dual-pane glass ensures the drive is quiet.
Despite its size, the Flying Spur is capable of enthusiastic driving, as its electronic safety net of stability enhancements helps to keep the car responsive to the brakes and steering. The proper emergency procedure in almost any circumstance is to stand on the brake pedal and then start steering, and the car itself will help you deal safely with the situation. When the stability system engages, its action is progressive and predictable, and it doesn't panic the driver.
While the Continental Flying Spur challenges the laws of physics with its performance on the road, there are some natural laws that can't be circumvented, so it's no surprise that the car's fuel economy is rated at just 11 mpg on the EPA's city cycle.
The Continental Flying Spur has the kind of visual grandeur long associated with Bentley, yet this car also functions with complete competence as a daily device for everyday travel. It is a commanding blend of style, technology and utility, a completely modern automobile. The Flying Spur's price is equally commanding, yet it's relatively affordable in its class, and this makes it a car of aspiration to a greater number of people than ever before. When the owners of big sedans from BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz go to sleep at night, the Bentley Continental Flying Spur is the car they dream about.