Although the Bentley brand languished behind Rolls-Royce for several decades, the tide has turned in recent years. While Rolls-Royce (now part of BMW) hasn't gained as much traction in the ultra-luxury market, Bentley has surged in popularity under the control of the Volkswagen Group. The Continental Flying Spur sedan and the Continental GT coupe have been key to that success.
The 2009 Bentley Continental Flying Spur is a long, wide, and very rakish sedan, with a streamlined version of the traditional upright Bentley grille in front and bright chromed mesh grilles and air intakes flanked by quad-oval headlights. A character line runs around the front wheel well and to the taillights, which are rounded trapezoids, and the back of the trunk is distinctively clean and neat. Overall, the big Bentley is conservatively ostentatious and racier than you might expect, but it's not particularly flamboyant--even when you're up close and see all the detailing and the assertive stance. Arguably, the more contemporary exterior styling is starting to look dated, at least for those in the know; the general public will still be wowed.
Under that rather low hoodline is a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W12 engine making 552 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, and it's delivered through a six-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive. The unusual "W" engine layout uses offset engine cylinders that allow the engine to be naturally very well balanced and silky-smooth--and far more compact than other V-12 designs. Despite a hefty 5,400-pound curb weight, the Flying Spur can rocket to 60 mph in less than five seconds and hit a top speed of 194 mph.
New for 2009 is the Bentley Flying Spur Speed, a model that ups the output of the engine to 600 horsepower and 553 pound-feet, achieving 0-60 times of 4.5 seconds and a 200-mph top speed. To make all that extra power a little more enjoyable, there's a lowered suspension, a retuned suspension, and new 20-inch wheels, along with available carbon-ceramic brakes.
Despite the Flying Spur's capabilities, the driving experience is all about refinement and sophistication. "Strong," "silent," and "very fast" are all words that come to mind. The 2009 Continental Flying Spur cruises quite effortlessly at 100 miles per hour, and it feels so solid, stable, and quiet inside that without a frame of reference of how quickly the road is ticking by, you'd think you were doing 70. A low rumble comes out of the twin oval exhaust tips at idle; the turbos kick in more noticeably and the exhaust note changes from a smooth whoosh to more of a rumble, though it's all very muted inside. No smoky burnouts here--it's sophisticated business, and the all-wheel-drive system is hard to fluster despite all that torque, which pins you back in the seat.
This much power requires good brakes; Bentley claims the huge ventilated discs to be the largest on any production car for sale today. The steering doesn't transmit any real feel of the road (no surprise), but it's precise for such a big car and the Flying Spur is surprisingly maneuverable for a vehicle that's well over 17 feet long. Out on the open road, the Flying Spur's heft pays off; it feels tremendously stable and stays glued to the road even when the surface is rough, thanks to a sophisticated computer-controlled suspension system.
The 2009 Bentley Continental Flying Spur has a very well-designed cabin, with room for five if need be. Front seats are soft and plush but also supportive, and plenty of adjustability will bring a good driving position for all, but legroom is a bit tighter than expected in back and lacks the requisite drinks cabinet of the pricier, stodgier models--this is a vehicle in which the wealthy can drive themselves. However, backseat passengers can control the Spur's entertainment system. Switchgear is quite straightforward, though critics will spot that some of it consists of fancier versions of what Volkswagen installed in its Phaeton flagship a few years back (the two are related).
In terms of features or technology, you'll find most of the luxury and safety equipment you might get in a car like the S-Class or 7-Series, such as separate rear climate-control settings, power latches for all the doors, lumbar-adjustable seats with massage function, a navigation system, and a screen-driven control system in the middle of the dashboard. Adaptive cruise control is now offered, as well as a "Naim for Bentley" audio system. The limit is really the depth (or width) of your wallet. The way Bentleys are sold, the technology and luxury features come standard, while options are treated as means of personalizing the car.
The tremendous detail and craftsmanship are what really separates the 2009 Bentley Continental Flying Spur from lesser (cheaper) cars--including your typical Mercedes or Lexus. While a $30,000 sedan might have leather upholstery and even bits of real wood trim, the Bentley outdoes that with hand-fitted hides available in a wide range of colors (Linen and Imperial Blue are new hues for '09) and wood veneers that are sure to impress the most jaded passengers. Whereas wood trim in new cars is typically very heavily treated and coated, Bentley uses only natural, unstained, and unbleached veneers. In the Flying Spur, the walnut or chestnut veneers are precisely hand-cut and matched to create a mirror-image grain symmetry across the vehicle. Then there are details like the Breitling timepiece at the top of the center console, the hand-stitched leather steering wheel, stainless-steel pedals and footrest, and real chrome handles for the air vents.
Because the 2009 Bentley Continental Flying Spur is a very low-volume (and very expensive) model, it hasn't been crash-tested by any of the major agencies. A full roster of airbags and safety features--including side and side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control--is included.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Bentley Continental Flying Spur merges Bentley's racing and motor sports heritage with its more recent history of strong, silent, and spacious luxury sedans--and it works splendidly.