Chasing a sports car through the canyons in a 5,000-pound sedan is a fool’s errand. You want me to do what with who? But any red-blooded gearhead also can’t resist a showdown, no matter how mismatched it may be. Vehicular David versus Goliath? Sign me the heck up.
So I was fiddling with the presto-chango rotating display in the 2021 Bentley Flying Spur V8 when friend and precision driver Sarah Fairfield flew past my turnout in her fetching Sepang Bronze BMW Z4 M coupe. Quicker than you can say “unfair disadvantage” I jammed the knurled shifter down into D (and again for Sport mode), spun the drive mode selector to Sport, and yanked the hand-stitched wheel toward the M car’s callipygian tail. Target acquired.
The Z4 M was built for tight corners, and Sarah is a rockstar driver. But my five-seat steed has soaked up no fewer than 15 years of development since the Continental Flying Spur crashed the ultra-luxury scene in 2005. When Sarah’s Bimmer rolled off the assembly line in 2006, Bentley was only three years into its VW-fueled renaissance; since the third-gen Spur debuted in 2019, this car has evolved into an all but unrecognizable form of its original self.
What A Difference 14 Years Makes
Since those early 2000s days, the third-generation Spur has assumed the MSB platform shared by the Porsche Panamera. The latest Bentley is more lavishly outfitted than ever, with expansive dimensions that attempt to cover some of the ground lost by the late, great, range-topping Mulsanne that was put to pasture in 2020. The deeply carved character lines, substantial footprint, and wistful curves still evoke some of that old world grandeur. However, it doesn’t quite fill the void left by the great grande dame, which was six times rarer than the Spur before it was discontinued.
Our tester’s Blackline Specification package ($4,785) modernizes the look by trading shiny metal and plastic for discreetly darkened accents; another $4,910 blacks out the retractable Flying B mascot. The cabin gains a host of luxe upgrades, like the surprise-and-delight rotating display ($6,425). There’s a ton of range to these options, which include so many hides, veneers, and finishes that the cabin feels as natural with a 19th century drawing room vibe as it does with a minimalist mid-century aesthetic. Burr walnut? Carbon fiber? The mood – and look – is varied.
The V8’s 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque pale against the 12-cylinder’s 626 ponies 664 lb-ft, but there’s a subtle V8 rumble that counterpoints the eerie seamlessness of the W12.
Though it claims a 5.1-inch-longer wheelbase than its predecessor, the W12 ditches 83 pounds of weight this time around. The V8 shaves a further 220 pounds over the 12-cylinder, dropping the boat anchor motor for a more balanced setup. Further aiding maneuverability is an available 48-volt active suspension system and four-wheel steering ($7,730), must-haves if you live anywhere with roads that bend. But it’s not all about poise.
The V8’s 542 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque pale against the 12-cylinder’s 626 ponies 664 lb-ft, but there’s a subtle V8 rumble that counterpoints the eerie seamlessness of the W12. In Sport mode, with the barkier exhaust, the V8 Spur becomes more soulful – and thus, quicker-feeling than its 4.0-second run to 60 miles per hour might suggest. Blame (or credit) the W12’s sensory deprivation tactics for removing some drama yet achieving the sprint in a brisk 3.6 clicks. For what it’s worth, the V8’s sensorial feedback is even more pronounced in the sportier Continental GT coupe.
Back to the chase at hand: Crewe’s 17-foot sled swings dramatically behind the Teutonic two-seater, but the feeling inside the cabin is less dramatic than you might expect. There’s no shortage of power on hand for straightaways, and there’s nary a reason to tap the eight-speed dual-clutch’s knurled shift paddles in Sport mode, as the gear changes are quick, smooth, and appropriately timed. The active suspension maintains an uncommon amount of body control, and there’s enough steering feel to accurately portray how those hulking 275-millimeter-wide Pirellis are clawing into pavement.
Yet despite all the tech, somehow something felt missing; the Spur just didn’t dig in quite like I hoped it would, especially when compared to the bigger, heavier W12 model. I managed to hang with the Bimmer – no small feat – but I couldn’t cling to its bumper quite like I expected to. I later checked the onboard tire pressuring monitoring system and the readout revealed the issue: It was calibrated to 21-inch wheels, and my tester was rolling on 22s. Resetting the computer to the correct diameter revealed a startling deficit of 10-12 psi per corner, enough to throw the handling out of whack.
It’s like the proper tire pressure jettisoned 500 pounds from the trunk, freeing the Spur to feel athletic, engaging, and glued down.
In the interest of science (always!), I topped off the tires and revisited the mountain a few days later to tackle the same canyons at a similar pace. The difference was palpable within the first turn of the steering wheel: The crisp response, progressive turn-in, and surefooted exit all linked up for more intuitive dynamics. It’s like the proper tire pressure jettisoned 500 pounds from the trunk, freeing the Spur to feel athletic, engaging, and glued down.
Despite the improvements, the Spur is still a large, long sedan that requires a fair amount of attention to hustle. But it moves in ways that defy its heft, especially when the driver puts faith in the systems that coordinate these feats of physics. The four-wheel steering, the sport setting on the stability control, the active anti-roll tech – they conspire to deliver a level of performance that was impossible with the previous model. The only weak link during the canyon jaunt now was the brakes, which could have used more initial bite.
The plush stoppers might be explained by the extraordinary demands placed on them. Using brake vectoring to help rotate a vehicle of this heft is taxing on rotor temps, as is bombing through corners better suited for sports cars. But also, let’s keep it real. The chances of a Flying Spur tailing a BMW M car through canyons are as likely as finding one on an autocross course, which is to say, slim to none.
Being A Bentley
Cooling the brakes off and hitting the highway, the Flying Spur relaxes into a more graceful, sedate state. And this is where it shines, swallowing long expanses of road and making passengers feel like hours in the cabin are okay because, well, who could complain about silence interrupted by a sublime 19-speaker Naim sound system ($8,880), or having a refrigerated bottle cooler ($2,415) nearby to quench your thirst? One legit one-percenter complaint: Unlike Rolls-Royce’s always-on massagers, Bentley’s time out after 12 minutes or so, importuning the occupant press a button to restart the kneading. The indignity.
On a more relevant note, one significant discrepancy between the Bentley Flying Spur and the Rolls-Royce Ghost is how the latter handles potholes with a tad more isolation, soaking up the bumps with ease. However, the Roller can’t compete with Bentley’s sports car–like handling on winding roads. Though its cornering characteristics have vastly improved in this latest iteration, the Rolls’ strength remains its plushness, not its driver focus. The V12-powered Ghost also starts more than $100k above the V8 Spur’s MSRP.
Regarding the Flying Spur family, what the V8 lacks in the W12’s monstrous passing power, it makes up for in its discretion. Apart from the small V8 insignia behind the front wheels and the figure-eight shaped tailpipes, the V8 is nearly visually identical to its 12-cylinder counterpart, which is $22,200 dearer. Even the combined EPA mileage numbers are only 2 mpg apart. But in a world where special paint costs $13,625 and so-called Mulliner Driving Specification runs $13,160, does a $22k gap in drivetrains hold any consequence? Not really. Our tester, which bore $73,185 in options, totaled a hefty $271,910 all-in.
The Flying Spur’s more relevant metric relates to the disparate soul of its powerplants, not the dollar increments between them. On one hand, the expressive V8 appeals to enthusiasts who crave sedans impersonating sports cars; it’s simply more interactive than the refined W12. However, the W12’s combustion chamber count marks the pinnacle of a rarified engine-building tradition that will die when Bentley makes good on its promise to abolish gasoline and embrace electrification by 2030.
Therein lies the crucial question: Are the V8's amplified attributes more valuable than the mechanical excess of a 12-cylinder? The Flying Spur V8’s character and agility make it a no-brainer for sedan shoppers who love driving fast, at least until the inevitable Speed version materializes. Meanwhile, the W12 achieves the supersedan’s mission of swift, seamless isolation. Both engines mark the last dying gasps of internal combustion.
Choose wisely, this moment won’t come again.
Gallery: 2021 Bentley Flying Spur V8: First Drive
2021 Bentley Flying Spur V8