LONDON, United Kingdom—You know what it’s like once you get a Bentley really rolling at speed, right? The big engine hums silently, the car surges forward with irresistible force, and the feeling comes to you that you’re not just in an automobile but instead in some kind of locomotive.
Probably this should be no surprise, as W.O. Bentley himself started out as a locomotive man in the early 1900s, and the city of Crewe where every Bentley is built today once was famous for the locomotives it manufactured. Over the years, we’ve driven various Bentleys across France, up along the coast of California from Los Angeles to San Francisco and even in the desert outside Las Vegas, and every one felt like a locomotive, only impossibly luxurious.
But the 2015 Bentley Flying Spur V-8 is the first car from Crewe that doesn’t feel like a train, and as we drive the two-lane roads that unroll across the pastoral English countryside southwest of London, we’re thinking that this is a very good thing.
500 hp, no waiting
When you look down into the engine bay of this model of the 2015 Flying Spur, you find a V-8 instead of the W-12 to which we’ve become accustomed since the Bentley Continental Flying Spur was introduced in 2006. It’s the latest direct-injection, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 that we also find under the hood of the Audi RS 6 and Audi RS 7. The V-8 makes 500 hp @ 6000 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque @ 1750 rpm in the 2015 Bentley Flying Spur V-8, which measures up against the Bentley Flying Spur W-12’s 616 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque.
Where the W-12 delivers irresistible power with turbine-like smoothness, the V-8 is alert and alive, twisting tighter with a refreshing cadence of sound as the tachometer needle swings around the dial. You’re aware of the way the engine rpm changes as the eight-speed automatic transmission does its work, and this newfound personality brings this Bentley sedan alive. Suddenly the Flying Spur feels like a car, not a locomotive.
This direct-injection, 32-valve, DOHC V-8 represents the latest thinking in intercooled, turbocharged V-8s, as its two IHI turbos are packaged within the 90-degree angle between the two cylinder heads, which shortens the intake tract for better throttle response. Meanwhile, the V-8 also has variable displacement technology, so it transforms itself into a V-4 under light-duty cruising, which helps deliver EPA fuel economy of 14 mpg City/24 mpg Highway and 17 mpg Combined.
A Flying Spur that’s built for flying
In case you failed to notice, the second-generation Bentley Flying Spur introduced for 2014 is nothing like the stodgy-looking sedans that have had the winged Bentley badge (first created by legendary British illustrator F. Gordon Crosby) since Rolls-Royce took over the company in 1931. This Flying Spur looks sleekly speedy in a modern way, even as it projects a traditional understated elegance. If you were attending an afternoon garden party at Buckingham Palace where the gentlemen wear Savile Row and the ladies wear hats (we drove right by such an event), the Bentley Flying Spur would be the car you’d drive – always appropriate, yet distinctly modern.
Within the Flying Spur, the interior architecture is faintly nautical, with a band of veneered wood that circles the five-passenger cabin with a flourish, plus the traditional, uniquely Bentley, chrome-trimmed, circular ventilation grilles. The materials are utterly natural in the way that’s so unique to British style. The Flying Spur is also a surprisingly spacious car, though perhaps more notable for the cabin’s length than its width, as if it were designed for the rear-seat passengers this car will carry in China rather than drivers who will command it from behind the steering wheel in America and Europe.
A quarter-horse for Ascot
After wending our way through London from Regent Street and across the Thames, we find ourselves on the two-lane roads that unwind through the countryside to the southwest. After lunch in a country hotel in New Forest, not far from the English Channel, we make our way back toward London to Ascot, where the horses run during the Royal Ascot meeting late in June.
On the few occasions when we encounter a motorway, the Flying Spur V-8 shows its long-legged, English-style thoroughbred stuff, easily capable of sustaining effortless 100-mph cruising. More surprising, the Flying Spur V-8 can also transform itself into an American quarter horse, getting to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds (0.6 second more than the Flying Spur W-12), which isn’t too bad for a car that weighs 5341 pounds.
We had our reservations about driving a car that measures 208.6 inches from stem to stern from the unfamiliar right-hand seat on narrow English lanes, especially with stone walls intimidating us from the left-hand verge of the road. But the car steers predictably and always feels stable and poised, even though its suspension rates are on the order of ten percent softer than before.
The Flying Spur rides well, though sharp impacts can still be felt. The brakes were ready to do business, and the long-travel throttle pedal helped us to get just the right kind of power from the 500-hp V-8. You can make this car almost dart back and forth on the lanes, and it has a secret hoodlum personality that made us want to do donuts on the lawn in front of the Georgian manor house at the estate of Coworth Park, where we stopped for tea.
We visit the land of Thomas the Tank Engine
Later we took the train to Crewe, where every Bentley is built these days. We kind of expected the Bentley facility to be simply a kind of craft shop, where old codgers bolted together parts from Germany and then added leather and wood trim. You know, a kind of old railway town in the spirit of the tales told in Thomas the Tank Engine, the series of 1950s children’s books.
So imagine our surprise to find a modern plant, humming along as more than 4000 people build about 10,000 cars per year. We walked through the wood and leather shops, and learned that it takes a couple hours to stitch a leather cover onto the magnesium core of a Bentley steering wheel, but we were even more impressed by the big facility that welds up the body in white of the gorgeous Bentley Mulsanne.
Bentley’s facility at Crewe appears to be a modern enterprise created through prodigious investment by Volkswagen. The forthcoming Bentley sport-utility will also be built here in a new facility that soon begins construction. The town seems to love its car company, and the car company seems to love its town right back.
Style and grace for a new century
It’s easy to be mesmerized by any Bentley, as its combination of English style and tradition tells a story that everyone can find appealing. When you drive up to the doors at Crewe, walk through the extensive museum-style display that tells Bentley’s story and then see the cars being built, you just can’t help it.
Like every true Bentley, the Flying Spur V-8 is meant to be driven, not just experienced from the rear seat. The people who drive a Bentley are achievers, not just owners, and this includes women as well as men. (Hey, Queen Elizabeth II has two, one of which she actually paid for.)
It’ll be interesting to see what transpires as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class closes in on the pricey market inhabited by the 2015 Bentley Flying Spur V-8 with its $195,100 MSRP. We have the feeling that Mercedes-Benz might not only put a very special Benz in the hands of a few more owners but also bring quite a few more people to Bentley as well.
2015 Bentley Flying Spur V8
- Base Price: $195,100
- On sale: Fall 2014
- Engine: 4.0L, turbocharged DOHC V-8
- Power: 500 hp @ 6000 rpm
- Torque: 488 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
- Transmission 8-speed automatic
- Drive: All-wheel
- Steering: Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion
- Front suspension: Upper and lower wishbones, air springs, active dampers, anti-roll bar
- Rear suspension: Multi-link, air springs, active damping, anti-roll bar
- Brakes: Ventilated discs, ABS
- Tires: 275/45ZR-19
- L x W x H: 208.6 x 77.8 x 58.6 in
- Wheelbase: 120.7 in
- Track F/R: 64.7/64.6 in
- Weight: 5341 lb
- Passenger volume: 102 cu ft
- Cargo volume: 15.6 cu ft
- 0-60 mph: 4.9 sec
- Top speed: 183 mph
- EPA mpg: 14/24/17 City/Highway/Combined