When I told my dad I’d pick him up at LaGuardia airport in a Bentley, he expected extreme luxury, refinement, comfort and beauty. What I expected when I took delivery of this particular car — the Flying Spur V8 S, which is roughly the same length and weight of a standard Cadillac Escalade — was all of the same, plus some vaguely sporty bits and maybe a nice exhaust note. We expected to be amazed. We didn’t expect to become so deeply attached to a quarter-million-dollar land yacht. And we certainly didn’t expect to be drifting around highway off-ramps.
It’s the “S” designation that’s to blame for our attraction to the Flying Spur V8 S; it’s the “S” that’s to blame for a paradigm shift from “just a stuffy luxury car” to “holy hell this is quick.” That one letter is responsible for a modest 21 horsepower bump and only 15 extra lb-ft of torque over the standard Flying Spur. Yet along with a blacked-out grille, wheels and other styling cues, it’s also responsible for a 190 mph top speed. It’s responsible for making me laugh with glee and for forcing Dad to grab the plushly appointed door handles when I decided to stomp on the too-tempting accelerator. In fact, Dad put it plainly: the V8 S was “unexpectedly fast — really fast. It corners with some roll that belies its ability.”
But a capable car can be fully exploited only if it is enabled by fitting environs. In this case, the right setting was in no short supply: we stalked the Hudson Valley in Upstate New York for three days, wringing out country roads, mountain passes and small-town main streets with the dominant purple presence of what Bentley can very justifiably call their newest “sport sedan.”
Last week I drove a BMW M3 around Manhattan for a photo shoot. The M3 is perhaps the definitive sport sedan: lots of power, low weight, four doors, mean looks. What the V8 S loses in lightweight-ness, it gains in body control, steering feel and pure, unforgiving acceleration. And it is in its acceleration that the essence of the “S” is fully realized. In “Comfort” mode, the big Bentley is the definition of stately: not only will it fit a six-foot-plus adult in back, legs crossed — indeed, it will gently, imperceptibly chauffeur all passengers in a lurch-free manner, as the throttle is mapped to gently roll on as you depress the pedal, and the transmission is set to shift as lightly as a feather tickling the back of your hand. In Comfort mode, the optional carbon ceramic brakes on our car (which do a stunning job of bringing all that mass to rest in short order) seemed savage and out of place. But dial everything into “Sport” and the world warps.
In Sport, throttle response is lively as the M3’s; steering is tight as cars half the Bentley‘s size; shifts, while not lightning-crack fast, slam by like velvet-coated rifle bolts firing away. It’s in Sport mode that I just barely broke the rear wheels loose on sharp corners — and I truly mean just barely, since the all-wheel-drive system keeps the chunky chassis in line like a strict but fair Mother Superior. I felt completely in control at all times, despite the car’s considerable bulk — even in Manhattan traffic jams, where the difference between purely stressed-out drivers and irate, post-fender-bender drivers is measured in inches and single miles per hour, I was able to keep my cool and navigate with aplomb.
It’s the “S” that’s to blame for our paradigm shift, from “just a stuffy luxury car” to “holy hell this is quick.
Styling is subtle yet beautiful and masculine, like the car has been ground and polished from billet steel. “The interior yields exotic wood finishes and super soft, pleasingly beautiful leather in terrific colors; the exterior beauty becomes more striking with time,” Dad said. All very true. Still, I found some of the technology — the navigation, phone-pairing procedures — maddeningly out of date or unintuitive, and the thin, plastic bits around the window switchgear uncharacteristically chintzy. Were those qualities offset by the $10,000 champagne cooler option? I want to say yes, but I’d rather have nice materials than tipsy passengers.
We covered a lot of ground in our deep purple V8 S. Eventually, I found that the best combo for cruising was to dial up Sport throttle response and suspension dampening while keeping the transmission in normal mode — that way I could accelerate and maneuver with confidence but keep jarring gear transitions to a peaceful minimum.
I expected to love the drive, to have a blast with my dad (my parents do love cars) and to enjoy wafting around the Hudson Valley — I got all of that and more. I didn’t expect to become a proselytizer of the letter S. In the past I’ve been jealous of the ballers in the back seat of a Bentley; now all I really want to do is turn the key myself.