In the world of ultra-luxury sedans, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class stands out as a coddling cruiser, bristling with the latest in automotive technology. It offers V-8 power in most models, but the top-of-the-line model features a V-12. For most of us, that’s the pinnacle of luxury.
But wait, because there is another stratosphere of luxury sedan that exists above even this proven heavyweight. This rarefied air is occupied by Rolls-Royce and Bentley, sedans that cost at least $200,000 and are known for their silky smooth 12-cylinder engines.
For the 2015 model year, Bentley is bringing its Continental Flying Spur slightly to a lower stratum of luxury sedan by adding a base V-8 engine below the existing W-12. That brings the starting price of the Flying Spur down $20-grand, to $195,100. Incidentally, that’s around the upper end of the spectrum for a loaded W-12-powered Mercedes S600.
But should a V-8 engine power a car as exclusive as a Bentley? Bentley invited Daily News Autos to London to drive the new Flying Spur V8, tour the company’s factory, and judge for ourselves is a mere eight cylinders is enough for a high-end luxury car.
It’s hard to imagine that any sedan can truly be worth $200,000, but when you consider the time and effort that goes into creating the Flying Spur, that kind of financial outlay begins to make sense. In a time when robots do the majority of automotive assembly, Bentleys are built primarily by hand in the company’s factory in Crewe, England. Some 1600 workers spend a total of 132 man hours to build a base Flying Spur.
Each car is also built to spec, and buyers consult with Bentley personnel to choose their interior and exterior colors. Bentley offers 17 standard-line exterior colors, an extended range of more than 100 additional colors, as well as the choice to specify a completely custom hue. During our factory tour, a Bentley representative noted that one customer ordered a light blue color to match that of his high-end blender.
Buyers can also choose amongst 17 colors of leather, including 12 two-tone patterns, to upholster the Flying Spur’s luxurious interior. Rolls-Royce may be Bentley’s natural rival (in fact, the high-end luxury brand owned Bentley from 1931 to 1998), but Bentley’s true enemy is bovine in nature. The Flying Spur’s cabin is upholstered in leather from 13-14 bull hides. Leather covers the seats, much of the dash, the doors, and even the headliner. In case you were wondering, bull leather is used instead of cow because cow leather stretches and distorts too easily. And that’s no bull…sorry, we couldn’t resist.
Bentley is also known for the wood in its cabins. Nine different wood veneers are offered, and each is applied so that its grain pattern is symmetrical left to right and front to back. The veneers are covered in five coats of lacquer and buffed to mirror-like shine. It takes three weeks and 18-20 hours of labor to complete the wood for one Flying Spur. Unfortunately, our test car had a piano black finish that effectively covered up the wood. Such a travesty should be outlawed.
The rest of the Flying Spur’s interior trim is top notch as well. The shift knob is a solid, knurled aluminum piece that feels great in the hand. The switchgear moves with precision and is ringed with chrome, and all of the interior components are assembled with absolute care. However, the fancy extras cost a pretty penny.
Bentley charges $655 for embroidered Bentley logos on the seats, $650 for an integrated sunglass holder that takes the place of the cupholders, $1800 for that piano black wood veneer, $2040 for a pair of wood veneered airline-style tray tables in the rear seat, and $1940 for contrast stitching. When you consider that the stitching adds 37 hours to the build process, the hefty pricing starts to make more sense. That seems to be a theme with this car, doesn’t it?
Since 1998, Bentley has been part of the Volkswagen Group, which includes Audi, Porsche, and Lamborghini, among others. That relationship pays off in shared technologies, not the least of which is the Flying Spur’s infotainment system. It features a dashboard touchscreen at the bottom of which are buttons to take users to the communications, entertainment, and navigation screens. The system is fairly straightforward and works quite well.
Of course, a large luxury sedan must also offer plenty of space, and the Flying Spur delivers. The front passengers have loads of head and legroom, and they sit on comfortable, carefully constructed bucket seats. The rear seat also has lots of head and legroom with either the 4+1 seating arrangement, which features two defined seats with a flatter center seat, or the four-passenger option, which has a rear center console in place of a middle seat. The Flying Spur’s space is rounded out by a deep and useful 15.6 cubic foot boot, er, trunk that’s big enough for four sets of golf clubs.
Many owners will spend their time in the rear seat, and Bentley makes it quite a desirable place to be with a media hub with USB, HDMI and SD card ports, as well as a CD/DVD player, in each front seatback. Rear seat occupants also have a remote control shaped like a smartphone that runs the infotainment system, the rear climate system, and the optional $7,445 rear DVD entertainment system (Bentley calls it the Multimedia Specification).
On the road, the Flying Spur offers the dynamic characteristics of a fine luxury sedan. Though large, handling is well controlled. Yes, there is some body lean in turns, but not so much that passengers will feel like they are being tossed about. The steering is direct and the feel is somewhat light. Ride quality is, predictably, superb. The Flying Spur doesn’t so much negotiate bumps as pound them into submission. Softer spring settings and higher profile tire sidewalls help make this generation Flying Spur even more supple than the last. All things considered, the Flying Spur is an easy car to drive smoothly, which is expected for a high-end sedan that will often be piloted by a chauffeur.
The engine is part of that formula. Bentley buyers are used to the smooth, willing thrust of a W-12 engine, and they’ll get the same from the new V-8, along with improved fuel economy. The Flying Spur’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 is another benefit of Bentley’s Volkswagen Group affiliation. It’s the same engine used in the Audi S8 and RS7. In the Flying Spur this engine produces 495-horsepower and 488 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s 121 horses and 102 lb.-ft. of torque fewer than the W-12, but it’s still more than enough power to move this 5341-pound car with ease. Fuel economy is rated at 14 mpg city/24 highway, 13 percent better than the W-12’s 12/20 figures.
The V-8 is plenty fast, though not as ridiculously powerful as the W-12. It vaults the car from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds compared to 4.3 for the W-12, and the top speed is a merely absurd 183 mph versus the supercar-like 200 mph of the W-12. The power comes on immediately and is delivered effortlessly. The engine is generally quiet, but it lets out a refined growl during heavy acceleration.
The V-8 sends its power through an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and kicks down quickly to provide the gearing needed for passing maneuvers. Given this engine’s excellent performance, we see no point in spending the extra $20,000 for the W-12. However, Bentley buyers tend to choose everything from the top shelf, so the 12-cylinder will likely continue to attract a healthy percentage of buyers.
So, does a V-8 engine belong in a car as exclusive as a Bentley? Bloody well yes! The Audi-sourced V-8 will bring in more buyers, while delivering better fuel economy and deep reserves of power. Maybe the better question going forward should be, why bother with the W-12?