Driven: Continental Flying Spur Speed
There is a conundrum that carmakers, especially those who make uber-premium luxobarges, are likely to face. When you state that what you offer the customer is the ‘ultimate' in luxury, what will you offer them after that? Doesn't that imply there's no scope for adding any more luxury to the car?
Bentley, the byword for extravagant motoring, seems to be facing such a challenge now. Its Continental Flying Spur has been around for some time. And during the period between the Arnage's demise and the Mulsanne's birth, this grand saloon was the Crewe carmaker's flagship motor. Now that the Mulsanne is here and is the new benchmark for luxury, Bentley needed to devise something clever to retain customer interest in the Flying Spur. And the Series 51 is what they came up with. So when Bentley offered me the 2012 Continental Flying Spur Speed trimmed in the Series 51 embellishments, I wanted to see if there was anything more in there than cows with smoother hides and trees that are a decade older.
So, what's new in the 2012 Flying Spur? Well, nothing much, at least not in the way it looks from outside. It doesn't get the revised face that the Continental GT and the new GTC have, nor does it have the new LED-lined headlights. But, it's got the exclusive range of colour and trim options that have been introduced in the Flying Spur for the first time. Apparently there are 14 different options that you can specify for the car from the Series 51 palette. As you'd expect, special veneer and the starkly contrasting two-tone diamond-quilted leather upholstery set the tone inside. And taking centre stage on the dashboard is a new 30GB touchscreen infotainment system — the same one that's in the Conti GT. That and the 51 badges on the side skirts distinguish the new range. If you want to add a bit more sportiness you can spec it with blue brake callipers (ours had red ones) and front wing vents personally styled by Bentley's head of exterior design.
But would I pay all that extra dosh for these superfluous trappings? Not really. But what I would pay for is the Speed pack that my test car came equipped with. The boffins at Crewe have taken the regular Flying Spur and worked their magic on the engine, the suspension, as well as the steering. And the difference is nothing short of magical. The 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 has been uprated to a monstrous 600bhp and an astonishing 750Nm of stomach-churning torque. That's 48 horses more and a substantial 100Nm above the ‘regular' car.
The effect of these changes and the lowered suspension is apparent the moment you hit the throttle. Imagine yourself lounging in your comfy armchair looking out of the double-glazed window of your library, and suddenly the whole room gets shot out of a gigantic cannon. That pretty much sums up the acceleration of this 2,525kg behemoth, which now darts to 100kph from a standstill in just 4.8 seconds and goes on to an incredible top speed of 322kph. The retuned speed-sensitive steering and the all-wheel drive system keep the nose-heavy colossus well planted all the way. However, despite Bentley's claim that the 10mm lower suspension and uprated springs and dampers improve the Flying Spur Speed's handling dynamics, the truth is, as lithe as it is for its weight, it couldn't inspire enough confidence in me to test its limits in the twisties. And the flip side to the solid mounted front sub-frame and stiffer rear bushings is that the ride suffers. As strange as it might sound, the Volkswagen Phaeton, with which it shares the platform, offers a far plusher ride.
So why should you buy this car? There are many cars out there that offer the same luxurious ride for less than half the price, and they accelerate as quickly. But, if you're in the market specifically for a Bentley and you've a lot of spare cash to lavish on exclusivity, the Continental Flying Spur Speed with the added Series 51 options pack is worth a look.