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2020 Bentley Flying Spur Driven, This Time Through the Lens of Social Distancing

Revisiting ultraluxury in a time of pandemic is an eye-opening endeavor.

Basem WasefWriterManufacturerPhotographer

LOS ANGELES—It was a perfect storm of sky's-the-limit grand touring.  Emerging from the Hôtel de Paris in the heart of Monte Carlo, we slinked our gleaming new 2020 Bentley Flying Spur up the Côte d'Azur, veering onto the sinuous Route Napoléon, and lunching at a renaissance villa before looping back through the jagged hills above the Mediterranean. Given the meticulously curated experience, how could you not fall in love with Bentley's $216,400 super sedan?

Our first drive of the 2020 Bentley Flying Spur was just last October, a time that seems incomprehensibly distant from the pandemic that tilted Earth's axis and tranquilized the global economy, shuttering carmaker factories—even the fancy, low volume, boutiquey ones—along the way. It wouldn't be a stretch to say the intervening months have seen the automobile as we know it swap roles from great social connector to personal isolation machine. These are strange times under any circumstances, but particularly weird ones for ultraluxury vehicles that are objects of lust, not items of necessity.

A big dollar sedan like the Spur has always been a monumental indulgence. But just before the world went epically south, I found myself revisiting the 2020 Bentley Flying Spur with an at-home loan. Prolonged real-world contact seemed like an ideal way to put a finer point on how the big luxury sedan sits in the microcosm of its segment. But little did I know I was getting an early lesson in social distancing in an age-old grand touring way.

Implicit haughtiness aside, the Spur's new focus appeals, at least to this driving enthusiast, because it aims to weed out many of the ungainly elements that made it feel bigger and clunkier than it had to be. The soon-to-be-defunct Bentley Mulsanne was always the elder statesman in the lineup, a handbuilt, larger-than-life vehicular imposition that went head-to-head against that edifice of imperiousness, the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Despite having a 5.1-inch longer wheelbase, the Flying Spur is now 83 pounds lighter and enlivened by a new four-wheel steering system that aids cornering rotation while bolstering stability at higher speeds. Because no man is an island, especially when sequestered within a rolling luxobarge, Bentley's big sedan offers a palpably more spacious cabin for you and up to four of your closest quaranteam; sliding the front axle forward nearly half a foot can do that.

Armed with a generously equipped Launch Edition Flying Spur in our home town for nearly three weeks, my family and I became unwitting test subjects for its isolationist capabilities. To put it another way: Through the prism of the coronavirus situation, there may be surprising pleasure (and safety) to be had by staying home, but there's arguably more pleasure in holing up inside a big, expensive three-box sedan with moving picture windows than there is in hunkering down in your living room.

Our tester, finished in Moroccan Blue over a Linen interior, looks pretty fly on city streets. But it also costs a pretty penny as equipped, with some $73,505 in options on top of the $214,600 starting MSRP, bringing the grand total to a lofty $290,830—just $20,000 shy of the Big Daddy Mulsanne flagship. Considering the Mulsanne is on its way to pasture, it makes more sense to see the new 2020 Bentley Flying Spur nudging into its sphere. At 209.29-inches stem to stern, the Spur is still some 10 inches shy of the Mulsanne—and let's face it, shaking its image as a (relative) volume model will still take some time. But the new model does sit rather expansively in my driveway, sprawling its footprint with a stately, devil-may-care spread. Maybe I need more acreage for it to look "to scale."

Inside, there is a palpable sense Bentley has created a more special space—starting with the fact there is simply more of it, especially for those who find themselves in the rear seats. If your passengers can be bothered to reach forward for the removable 5-inch touchscreen tablet, they get controls for climate control, seat massage, and the sound system, which you can option up to a 2,200-watt, 18-speaker Naim setup. The handheld screen is no flip phone: it's equipped with a proximity sensor and 3-axis accelerometer, and it can even summon or hide the motorized Flying B mascot on the bonnet, which is now an optional item for the first time in a half century. The Bentley emblem is still hand-polished stainless steel, but has been updated with up-lit crystalline insets for a slightly more imperious effect at night. However, it's curiously out of the line of sight from the front seats, perhaps positioned down low for aerodynamics.

The cabin's quality feels like it is leaps and bounds beyond the old Spur's, with novelties like 3-D-sculpted leather quilting on the doors (a similar treatment is coming for wood) and the rotating bezel display, which alternates between a 12.3-inch touchscreen, analog gauges, and a clean, "digital detox" veneer surface. The 2020 Bentley Flying Spur is a lovely place to be, the only nitpicky weak points being several pieces of steering wheel switchgear shared with Audi, and the Park button on the knurled shifter that's all-too-easily pressed when clicking into Reverse.

There's no interior experience without the context of your outside surroundings, at least when you're driving in a populated city, let alone a car-centric metropolis like Los Angeles. Unlike the previous Spur, whose smooth skin had a subliminal suggestion of sportiness, the new sedan's styling is a bit grander, with more sculptural flourishes and character lines that add a sense of both muscularity and innate fanciness. "Beautiful Bentley!" I heard repeatedly from onlookers, though there is also an inevitable sense of inequality when rolling on these 22-inch, 10-spoke bright machined alloys. As casual as I personally became with the Flying Spur during my time with it, I never felt that ease extended to strangers around me. A massive blue beast with a big shiny grille has a strange way of doing that—and speaking of shiny, can we call a moratorium on glossy plastics masquerading as metal? While the Spur's interior does an outstanding job of using authentic materials that are what they look like, the exterior's faux-metal parts are far better off finished in the optional Blackline specification package, which is worth every penny of its $4,735 asking price.

Back to the big idea at hand: getting away from humanity in a supersedan. As happenstance would have it, my time with the new 2020 Bentley Flying Spur included a jaunt into the desert for a visit to the Empire Polo Grounds (better known as the site for the Coachella music festival) to check out pooches at the Jack Bradshaw Dog Show. The experience was a pre-coronavirus revelation, primarily because nobody cares about your schmancy ride when you're halfway between L.A. and the near-zero population Mojave Desert. Here in the outskirts of Desert Hot Springs, where Palms Springs isn't visible on the horizon (but is disarmingly close), the only life forms for miles are giant wind turbines that cast mile-long shadows and hum an eerie song of solipsistic rotation. It's all nature and monolithic energy-capture devices; nothing really strokes your ego out here, especially not that $300,000 ride.

Yet somehow, the vastness of these surroundings can be complemented by the Bentley's insulation. Within the double-glazed glass and layers of soundproofing, the Flying Spur feels like its own private Idaho, a vacuum of sound and vision, and possibly the ultimate way to not only socially, but also socioeconomically, distance yourself from the world beyond your windshield. While it doesn't have Tesla's so-called Biohazard Defense mode, which is essentially a HEPA-filtered HVAC system, the 2020 Bentley Flying Spur feels more vault-like than the next big sedan, creating a cone of five-passenger peace and silence from the outside world, overcoming the harshness of desolate surroundings with a stiff upper British (German?) lip and a 207-mph top speed.

My perspective would likely have been skewed had I been driving the big Bentley during the coronavirus health crisis, a time where social distancing isn't a cute conceit about getting away from it all but rather an issue with potential life or death implications. With so many people hurting and the long-term challenges the country faces, it's almost a relief that my extended time with the Spur came before these seismic societal shifts. It will be some time before non-essential movement through cities becomes socially acceptable again, a feeling that will no doubt be accompanied by a certain measure of self-awareness. If you can get over its inherent grandiosity, the 2020 Bentley Flying Spur makes a hell of a case for being in the world, but not of it.

2020 Bentley Flying Spur Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $214,600 (base)
ENGINE 6.0L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve W-12/626 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 664 lb-ft @ 1,350-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, AWD sedan
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
TOP SPEED 207 mph