Bentley: Speed and effortless elegance

By Damien O'Carroll

Damien O'Carroll hits the track in Bentley's latest luxury GT monster

It is a rare and wonderful thing indeed when you - completely unintentionally - stumble across a single moment that perfectly sums up the philosophy behind an entire brand.

But that is something that happened recently at the launch of the Bentley Flying Spur at the magnificent Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell. And it happened from the passenger's seat of a 1926 Bentley 3-litre.

The beautiful old girl had been rolled out for rides around the track while the assembled journalists waited for a drive in the V8 Continental GTC, W12 Continental Speed and there, the new Flying Spur.

It was my turn in the passenger's seat, and we had done a few laps when the GTC caught and passed us. The belligerent roar of the twin-turbo V8 and the sheer fury of the passing speed of the GTC was entirely at odds with the effortless serenity with which the car did it, just as the elegance, grace and age of the 3-litre belied the way it was being driven, despite the fact that it no doubt costs more than I have earned so far in my entire working life ... And that is Bentley. Blatant speed and effortless elegance.

Remarkable ability with a regal demeanour. Cars that are meant to be driven - and driven hard - regardless of their age, value or perceived place in society.

Bentley's resurgence under Volkswagen's ownership has been a sometimes painful but mostly gratifying thing to observe. The Continental did attract an unfortunate number of footballers' WAGs to the table, but the strong racing spirit that has been quietly rekindled (the 2003 Le Mans win and the forthcoming Continental GT3 race car) is now starting to shine through again.

When launched in 2005 the Continental Flying Spur was a four-door version of the Continental GT coupe. Based on the same platform (the VW D1 platform that also sat under the Phaeton) and sharing a front end, engine and drive train, the Flying Spur brought a welcome dose of rear seat space and regal elegance back to Bentley. And it went down well with customers too, with the company sell close to 20,000 Flying Spurs since its introduction.

But now it is time for the Flying Spur to go its own way and become its own model - the "Continental" has been quietly dropped from its name and it features separate styling to the coupe and convertible with the new incarnation, and it is all the better for it.

The Flying Spur is still powered by the mighty 6.0-litre, twin turbo, W12 engine that produces now a truly epic 460kW of power and 800Nm of torque. According to Bentley, the W12 has undergone a complete engine management system upgrade to the latest Bosch ME17 interface, resulting in improved torque management, turbocharger control, driveability, emissions performance and an improvement in low speed responsiveness.

The W12 is hooked up to a ZF-produced eight-speed automatic transmission that, in turn, sends all that power to all four wheels, courtesy of Bentley's AWD system that has a standard torque split of 60 per cent to the rear wheels and 40 per cent to the front, but can vary this division up to 85 per cent to the rear axle or 65 per cent to the front depending on available traction.

The result of all of this is simply stunning. Push the throttle down into the plush carpet and there is the slightest of pauses as the big Bentley gathers its thoughts, then the relentless charge forwards begins. A deep, distant and thoroughly refined bellow wells up from the depths of the oily bits as all twelve 12 cylinders work in complex W-shaped unison to punch out every single bit of that colossal power through all four wheels on to the road.

The Flying Spur surges forward with a remarkable alacrity and serious intent for something weighing close to 2.5 tonnes and will charge from a standing start to the legal limit in 4.6 seconds. As astounding as the 0 to 100 time is though, it is overshadowed by the 100 to 160 sprint. Nail the throttle at 100km/h and the big guy will propel you to an instant loss of licence in a further 4.9 seconds ...

Of course, all of this is thoroughly immaterial from inside the Flying Spur. Things like 0 to 100 times are vulgar and unnecessary here, and the rapidly increasing numbers on the speedometer feel utterly theoretical - and, at times, surreal - simply because it's completely serene inside, regardless of whether the speedo is pointing at 20km/h or the thick end of 200km/h.

In fact, it would be fair to say that the entire outside world doesn't really matter from inside the Flying Spur. You are so beautifully isolated from the trivialities of the outside world - wrapped in a superbly comfortable cocoon of fine leather and shiny wood - that you could be forgiven for thinking that the rapid passing blur of the outside world is merely something that happens to other people.

When Bentley first launched the Flying Spur they copped some criticism regarding the relative lack of technological toys in comparison to other luxury sedans on the block. This time they have countered that by jamming it with technology.

Central infotainment is controlled via an 8-inch touch-screen, with satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and voice activation.

An eight-channel, eight-speaker audio system can play music at ear-rupturing volumes from a wide range of media, including an on-board hard drive, CDs, DVDs, SD cards and iPods. A new detachable touch screen remote allows passengers to control different systems - from climate controls and seat heating and ventilation through to the satellite navigation and multimedia systems - and view the speed of the car. Bentley say that owners can also download an app for iPhone that operates the same way as the TSR once paired with the system.

The range of interior options is staggering, with it being easier to sum up by saying "whatever you like" than attempting to list anything.

- NZ Herald

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