2020 Bentley Flying Spur First Drive Review: Ultraluxe, Redefined

Bentley's most driver-focused sedan has reached new heights of lavishness.

Basem WasefWriterThe ManufacturerPhotographerRichard PardonPhotographer

MONTE CARLO, Monaco—Imposter syndrome is real. So is wealth so extreme, it upstages virtually everything in its wake. Case in point: I'm about to climb into the 2020 Bentley Flying Spur I'm borrowing for the day, a $214,600 sedan finished in a fetching shade of Verdant over Cambrian. In case you're not steeped in the vagaries of posh hue-naming conventions, those are varying shades of green, the color that signifies life, renewal, and yes, money. In this case, the theory of vehicular relativity takes on a vast scale. A quarter-million-dollar Bentley is small potatoes compared to the $800 million, 328-foot, double-helipad equipped superyacht parked in the nearby marina. But it holds its own. This is not my beautiful car—but that is, indeed, my beautiful wife beside me, and my eight-year-old son belted into the back seat. Welcome to my surreal life.

In case you missed the obvious, things in this 0.7-square-mile corner of the world are more than a bit warped, which might explain Bentley's choice of location for the global drive of its all-new übersedan. The whiff of wealth is overwhelming in these parts, with Monaco claiming the most expensive real-estate market in the world, pricier than second fiddles like Hong Kong and Tokyo. And while the latest, greatest hypercars dot the valets around the Casino Monte-Carlo, there's also a smattering of striking oldies— a casino regular hops out of his light blue Ferrari 275, leaving the keys in the ignition; a red Ferrari F40 blasts past. You get the picture. There's also strong contingent of faded-glory Bentleys and Rollers, from grand dames like the midnight-blue '90s-era Azure parked before the Hotel de Paris to peacocks like the butter-yellow Corniche running parade laps by the harbor. They're just keeping it real, y'all.

Though the Mulsanne takes the top prize as the marque's most coveted four-door, housing the venerated 6.75-liter V-8 that's been a hallmark of the brand for decades, the W-12-powered Flying Spur (and inevitable V-8-powered spinoff) is the volume model. That said, the new iteration takes crucial steps towards becoming more of a driver's car, which might explain the circuitous course plotted out for us along the Route Napoleón that snakes through the nearby French Maritime Alps. It's a daunting set of switchbacks for such a large saloon, but more on that later…my familial audience is still soaking up the freshly redesigned interior, which claims design novelties like three-dimensionally sculpted leather quilting and a rotating display panel that alternates between a 12.3-inch touchscreen, three analog gauges, and a plain and simple stretch of veneer offering Bentley suggests as detox from the light-emitting alternatives.

The talking points are many between the three of us; the wheelbase has grown a considerable 5.1 inches versus the previous Spur's, stretching the rear legroom so the kiddo can't reach the 5.0-inch multifunction touchscreen remote (which is well enough, although I later illustrate the 14-way adjustable rear seats and five massage modes that operate in near silence). If a car deserves a "most improved" award for tech it might be the Flying Spur, as its predecessor—first introduced in '05, and refreshed in '13— was quickly becoming the Methuselah of the car world. The modernities of the new model are seemingly countless. Between the new digital dashboard (which loses the lovely jewelry-like nature of physical gauges but adds niceties that include an Audi-sourced virtual dashboard display), indirect lighting that steps up the nighttime ambiance, and a (mostly) quick-to-respond infotainment system with all the requisite bells and whistles, the Flying Spur's cabin blends old-world veneers and hides with tech that finally steps into the 21st century.

The revised W-12 powerplant producing 626 horsepower and a robust 664 lb-ft of torque now links to a dual-clutch gearbox, and claims 15 percent greater fuel economy. Though mostly smooth and swift of the takeup, we encountered some unexpectedly perceptible low-speed gearshifts that perhaps will be refined before the Spur reaches our shores. Press the right pedal into the wool carpet and an astoundingly smooth well of torque shoves the 5,373-pound sedan forward. "Nice burst of speed!" the rear seat exclaims, although the twisty roads ahead eventually trigger some gastrointestinal butterflies. Should've settled your tummy with more croissaint, kid.

There's a remarkable amount of variability to the new suspension system, whose three-chamber air springs boast 60 percent more volume than before. The effect ranges from cushy compliance in sketchily paved hamlets to disarmingly flat, responsive handling, all of which is aided by 48-volt electronic actuators that act on the front and rear anti-roll bars. Lay into this big-boned beast, and it responds with counterintuitive maneuverability. Also helping the handling is a new four-wheel-steering system that turns the rears counterphase to the fronts at lower speeds for maneuverability, and in phase at higher speeds for enhanced stability. Unlike the tuning of such steering in other VW Group cars (we're looking at you, Lamborghini Urus), the Spur's setup feels intuitive and natural. Further aiding the rotational proceedings is an active torque-vectoring system to help the dance moves, not to mention a new aluminum chassis that counteracts the mass gained by the additional equipment and makes the new model some 83 pounds lighter than its predecessor. The larger brake rotors now measure 16.5 inches in diameter, making them the largest iron stoppers on the planet.

Though expensive and imposing by most of the world's standards, the new Bentley Flying Spur manages to come across as more elegantly supple than overstated and brash, at least in Monte Carlo's over-the-top surroundings. The redesigned Flying B emblem sits slightly low on the horizon, perhaps for improved aerodynamics, but the effect softens the imperiousness of Bentley mascots of yesteryear. In keeping with real-world reality, the mascot, which now illuminates at night if you so desire to project your eminence, also tucks discreetly into the body at the push of a button. Maybe most in Monte Carlo will choose to fly the flag at full mast, and perhaps others around the world will feel similarly compelled. But at least from my Walter Mitty perspective on Bentley's newest sedan, the real treat awaits the car's occupants—and especially the lucky gal or guy behind the wheel—not the gawkers outside.

2020 Bentley Flying Spur Specifications
ON SALE Spring 2020
BASE PRICE $214,600
ENGINE 6.0L DOHC twin-turbo W-12; 626 hp, 664 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 14/20 mpg (city/hwy, est)
L x W x H 209.2 x 87.4 x 77.8 in
WHEELBASE 125.7 in
WEIGHT 5,373 lb
0-60 MPH
3.7 sec (mfr)
TOP SPEED
207 mph (mfr)
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