Fast luxury saloon sheds four cylinders and 107kg, but are these losses really a gain?
We know how this goes, don’t we? A big Bentley arrives and we like it a great deal. Then a big Bentley with a smaller engine arrives and we like it even more.
And thus we welcome the latest Bentley Flying Spur V8, the third generation of Bentley’s saloon that, with the demise of the Mulsanne, effectively becomes the flagship limo.
Fortunately, we already know it is a much, much better car than either of its previous iterations, which, charged with being both a luxury saloon and a car capable of 320km/h or thereabouts, couldn’t do isolation well enough in the face of the physical demands placed upon them. In being fast, they were insufficiently luxurious.
This time, our experience of the early 6.0-litre car means we know it can do both, on account of it being based on the MSB platform developed for the Volkswagen Group (of which Bentley is a part) by Porsche, with heavy and early input from the brands that will use it.
We’ve already found that with vast arrays of active dynamic technology, including rear steer and 48V active anti-roll bars, the 6.0 W12-engined car is deftly sprung and quiet, despite a triple-ton top speed and 467kW.
But, as ever, the 4.0-litre V8 fitted here gives very little away. Power is ‘only’ 404kW and torque a mere 770Nm (rather than the 770Nm of the W12) but it has 107kg lighter kerb weight to move around. The official weight here is 2330kg but we put a W12 on the scales at 2500kg exactly so let’s call it 2400kg, which means 166kW per tonne rather than 179kW per tonne.
Peak torque arrives at the same 2000rpm as in the W12. There’s very little in it, then, in terms of performance (it’s a not-quite 320km/h car rather than an only-just 320km/h car) but also, rather more pleasingly, it’s a slightly nicer car to drive.
The noise is muted at low revs, a little V8-ish at high revs, but most of the time you’ll be unaware how many tiny bangs are taking place in front of you. You just have enough power any time you want it. The dual-clutch auto is good, too; perhaps marginally less refined than a full auto in town, but unnoticeably so most of the time.
Speak to vehicle dynamics engineers about their favourite cars in any given range and it’s no surprise to learn that it’s usually the lightest one that they like the most. That’s how, once again, we feel here. The Flying Spur V8 feels just as well isolated and quiet as the bigger-engined alternative, with genuine luxury to its ride quality, albeit not quite as much silence or waft as you’d find in a Rolls-Royce Ghost.
But despite a 2.2m width across the mirrors and a length of 5.3m, plus that kerb weight, what’s impressive about the Flying Spur is the way it can be coaxed along relatively modestly sized back roads while feeling like a smaller car than it is.
It steers smoothly and confidently, corners well and goes over crests with well-contained body movements. You can feel its four-wheel steering getting involved to virtually shorten its wheelbase and aid agility but, it’s not an entirely unnatural feel.
Fit and finish, meanwhile, are as strong as ever, so all the metals look like metal and it’s an occasional surprise when they don’t feel like it.
Current work practice means I couldn’t be driven while sitting in the rear seats, but there’s a whole bunch of leg room back there, and adequate head room, although the window line is quite high, so if you’re a backseat operator, the Flying Spur is for those who want a private limo rather than for show-offs.
I think this is less ostentatious than a Rolls-Royce. But you probably knew that.