Any working car can get you there. That is, after all, the point of a motor vehicle: to provide transportation, which inherently involves the travel between two points: here, where your journey begins, and there, where you want to be. All too often, there is somewhere you need to go by obligation, and here is someplace you'd rather not depart. Sometimes, however, there is a place you desperately want to be, and here is a place you need a break — temporary or permanent — from. In those cases, your car isn't just your ride; it's your method of escape.
But it takes a certain type of car to make the act of escape itself part of the escape. Gran turismos, roadsters and off-roaders are, of course, the most obvious; whether it's bringing you places you couldn't drive otherwise, bringing you closer to the wind and air, or simply providing a capsule to make the drive as effortless, comfortable and relaxing as possible. Thing is, while two-door grand tourers have traditionally been the choice for the latter mission, many of today's sedans (and even some station wagons and SUVs) are just as ready to take up that role...with the added bonus of extra usability the rest of the time.
Case in point: the Bentley Flying Spur. Closely related to the Continental GT coupe and convertible, the Flying Spur uses the same powertrains — a choice of twin-turbo V8 or W12, tied to all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic — and indeed, could be mistaken for its relative from the head-on view. All that suggests that, like its GT-badged relation, the Flying Spur would be an excellent carriage for escaping, say, the home that one has been largely isolated in for the entire winter of COVID-19 — especially when that home happens to be a Manhattan apartment.
But as the old saw goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So I climbed into the Flying Spur and set out for some of the best driving roads in the Catskills to the north to see if an escape from New York could be quite as nice as Kurt Russell once made it seem.
The Flying Spur, like its two-door sibling, offers buyers a choice when it comes to what sits under that imperious hood: a twin-turbo 6.0-liter W12 making 626 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque, or a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 making 542 hp and 568 lb-ft.
While the eight-pot's missing 84 hp and 96 lb-ft may seem like an unpleasant deficit, in person, it's hard to imagine wanting the V8 to be any quicker; ample power is found anywhere above roughly 2,000 rpm, with the shove in the back rising to unexpectedly fierce levels the closer the tach edges to redline. Bentley claims a four-second-flat dash from 0 to 60 mph, and considering the brand's other recent claims have often proven conservative, I'd bet the V8 could break below that mark if you felt like trying a launch-control holeshot on summer tires in your house-priced Bentley sedan.
Regardless if the 12-cylinder car is quicker, the V8 does score points against the W12 on two other parts of the fight card: sound and fuel economy. The V8's burble sounds delightful at full whack, even more than the W12's throaty roar does. And you'll be able to cruise farther without stopping for gas, thanks to tricks like cylinder deactivation and a generally efficient (for its size and power) engine; my test car rolled up with a full tank that, the trip computer claimed, could carry me 515 miles. Considering Car and Driver found a Continental GT V8 of similar weight and equal power could get 28 mpg at 75 mph, I believe it.
This is the first Flying Spur of recent Bentley history (i.e. since the VW Group took over the brand and starting investing real money in the product) to not use the name Continental — presumably, in both an attempt to make it seem more like a standalone model rather than a variant and a move to shorten its name.
Not that there's anything to be ashamed of. Both cars are built on excellent bones — specifically, a Bentley-specific version of the same platform as the Porsche Panamera, which is about as solid a foundation as you can get for a big, sporty cruiser. The Flying Spur, however, has an extra 13.5 inches of wheelbase and 19 bonus inches of length — enough to make it a very imperious ride.
It's also enough to provide second-row accomodations capable of comfortably seating someone six feet tall or more — even with someone of equal height in front of them. My tester came with the optional center-console extension that stretches it out to fill the space where a third seat would be, and I highly recommend checking that box; the hump seat looks awkward and uncomfortable in pictures, while choosing the longer console enables more storage space for the two remaining occupants (and also gives them better-bolstered seatbacks for added comfort).
Few cars can match the mix of driving qualities that help define a modern Bentley. Some cars in this class and price range emphasize performance; others prefer to concentrate on a comfortable ride. A Bentley, however, splits the difference in a way that sometimes may not seem as appealing as going to extremes on paper, but often proves the Goldilocks choice in the real world.
The dual-clutch gearbox is ever-so-slightly less smooth than the creamiest automatics, a fact I wouldn't bother mentioning other than the fact that some buyers may be cross-shopping it against cars like the Rolls-Royce Ghost that do emphasize soft, seamless shifts. If you're looking for snappy performance when called upon, though, the dual-clutch delivers with precision and fast action. (Which makes sense, considering the VW Group has more expertise tuning dual-clutch gearboxes than pretty much anyone else.)
While nobody is likely going to take their Flying Spur to a track day (if you are planning on that, I'd like to meet you), this big sedan has more moves than you'd expect, given its size. Twist the metal drive mode knob into Sport mode, and the air suspension and dampers tighten up nicely behind the scenes — something you only notice when you pitch it into a tight corner and find less body roll than expected. I drove the Flying Spur down some of the same country roads I tested the Porsche 911 Turbo on, and while it was no match for the Porsche on those roads, it certainly managed to carve a nice line through the tight turns even at speed.
More importantly for the way most people drive their Bentleys, however, is how planted and comfortable it feels on the highway. The New York Thruway is notorious for its fast-moving drivers, but even while hanging with packs of motorists traveling at, let's just say, brisk velocities, the car (and its occupants) felt as relaxed as tooling down a country lane at 45. Between the effortless power, ample space, voluminous fuel tank and near-silent cabin, it's hard to think of a better conveyance for four people looking to cross a large state or small continent.
Speaking of the cabin: If you were expecting coach class inside the Flying Spur, well, sorry to disappoint. That said, afraid I'll have the same message for anyone expecting a drastic difference from the Continental GT; at least from the driver or front passenger's perspective, the two interiors are largely identical, from the shifter to the button layouts to the expensive-as-a-used-car-but-so-worth-it three-way rotating infotainment display.
Like every Bentley, there's a stunning amount of interior trim options to choose from between all the leathers and carpets and woods and metals and so forth, and they all dazzle your senses. (If you've ever wondered what wealth smells like, stick your nose in a new Bentley.) Unlike the stock photo seen here, however, my Flying Spur boasted a black-on-black-with-red-contrast interior with carbon fiber trim in place of the wood veneer spanning the dash. It certainly gave the car a sportier feel, but in all honesty, it felt a dash out of place in such an otherwise-sybaritic interior. Save the carbon fiber for the McLarens.
Base Price: $201,725
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8; eight-speed dual-clutch automatic; all-wheel-drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
Seats: 4, in extreme comfort
The future has arrived, and from the looks of it, S-Class buyers won't have much to complain about.