2023 Bentley Flying Spur Speed Review

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The end is near for Bentley’s W12 engine, but not before appearing in the British luxury car maker’s Flying Spur one last time.

The knell has tolled for Bentley’s W12 engine. By spring 2024, two decades after its debut in the original Continental GT, production will end and Bentley’s resources will switch to producing more hybrid powertrains as the firm hastily approaches its electrified era.

Naturally, there’s a big send-off planned in the shape of its largest ever outputs, with 552kW and 1001Nm squeezed out of the 18 final engines. Those will be found exclusively beneath the taut lines of Mulliner’s handcrafted Batur coupé, which costs almost £2 million (AUD$3.56 million) and has long since sold out. Because of course…

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Five years after its debut in the Continental GT, the rotating dashboard remains a joyful flourish. Hiding the touchscreen brings an extra layer of bliss.

Maybe you’re looking at the W12’s more relatable finale, though. Sure, the Batur is the latest example of an illustrious line of exclusive coachbuilt Crewe specials, but I’d argue that if most of us were to idly sketch the profile of ‘a Bentley’ it’d resemble a limo not unlike the latest Bentley Flying Spur.

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The first-generation Spur spawned a Speed iteration in 2008, using a 449kW W12 to breach the 320km/hbarrier. This is the first and seemingly only time the latest-gen car enjoys the same treatment, only here the Speed supersedes the standard Flying Spur W12 (while an S iteration replaces the stock V8 further down the range), and if you want an underwhelming headline, then nothing vital has changed in the process. There’s certainly no additional power or – more peculiar still – speed. But anyone craving an extra slice of either after even a short spell in the car, front seat or back, probably possesses the kind of insatiable appetite that’s already accrued the wealth necessary for a Batur.

Spotting the latest Spur Speed is a reasonably simple task with its new suffix stitched into the seats, etched into the sill plates and fixed to the dashboard in an appropriately dynamic font. Silver details morph into black and the steering wheel is now lined on its outer edge in Dinamica Pure, a 73 per cent recycled alternative to the Alcantara usually found covering the rim of performance car specials. There’s also a unique 22-inch alloy wheel design, although our test car is wearing 21s to accommodate winter tyres here. Because to really let this engine exit with an overdramatic flourish, we’ve driven it in the deep snow and high altitudes of Colorado ski country.

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A morning of slapstick slides on a carved-out course proves the Spur’s active all-wheel drive system has our best interests at heart. Switch the knurled dial into Sport and the rear axle always receives at least 69 per cent of the power. Ally such bias to a long wheelbase and big, silly drifts are as accessible as you’d hope, but the best news is that you get a small but arguably even more satisfying taster of this ability on road.

On the slushy, gritted roads nearby, slightly looser ESC reins allow just a hint of oversteer in second- and third-gear corners before all four wheels hook up and haul you forwards with nary any fuss. Four-wheel steer is carried over from other Spurs and allows the Speed to deftly play the role of a sports saloon, albeit one that doesn’t stampede firmly across a road, instead working assuredly with it. It’s uncannily good fun for something nudging 2.5 tonnes and it’s ceaselessly impressive that a car so focused on cosseting comfort can provide such interaction when you demand it.

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That’s the crucial bit. At all other times this is the effortless limo you’d rightly expect it to be at such a stern price point, but the distinct personalities uncovered by switching the drive mode dial between its default Bentley and Sport settings provide some neat duality. A duality that’s echoed in the W12 that we’ll soon be talking about in past tenses and reverent tones.

Indulge yourself in a Launch Control start – or more realistically, get a little overexcited after a long wait at a freeway red light – and there’s a classy snarl and some heart-warming upshift wuffles as the engine and smartly tuned ZF eight-speed automatic combine to prove the car’s startling, sub-4.0sec acceleration. But the moment your foot eases from the throttle, tranquillity is restored. The tachometer sits well below 1500rpm on a 110km/h cruise although you might inadvertently leave the transmission in the more dynamic map of Sport mode. That it’s just as hushed sat in sixth gear as eighth really hammers home how refined this thing is.

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All told, this is a supremely engineered powertrain reaching its zenith, and it’s of great credit to the rest of the Flying Spur’s dynamic traits that they meld so convincingly around it to form a deeply satisfying whole. The lighter, freer-revving Flying Spur V8 S is probably more dynamic still, but a drive in the Speed can’t help but be underlined by its context. Bentley says W12 build slots are now supremely limited, whichever of its cars you feel like hurriedly slotting one into. I’d want it to be this one.

Stephen Dobie

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