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We drive Bentley's new R2.7m limo

2005-04-18 09:35

Egmont Sippel

Coming to South Africa soon!

Bentley's Continental Flying Spur - a 6-litre 12-cylinder four-door sport-limousine born from Crewe's stunning Continental GT coupe - has just been revealed to the world media.

The Spur will be available in South Africa from September this year, at a cost of R2.7 million, from local distributors Pearl Automotive.

Raul Pires - a 36-year old Brazilian who has followed Bentley's design director, Dirk van Braeckel, from Skoda to Crewe - was responsible for the exterior of both the GT and the Spur.

Pires drew some styling inspiration from the 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental and the 1957 four-door Continental Flying Spur. His vision for a modern Bentley, he says, was slightly more radical than other in-house design proposals.

Yet it's easy to see that Pires's re-interpretation still captures the sleek splendour and timeless beauty of the '50's legends.

The design language is thoroughly modern, of course, but the look encapsulates the spirit of Bentley as a top prestigious brand, combining extraordinary craftsmanship and power into a single formidable package.

In a one-on-one interview with me four years ago, then-CEO Tony Gott described the design as "stunning".

So it turned out to be.

And even more so in the Spur than the GT coupe.

Platform and styling

Both the Spur and GT is built on VW's Phaeton platform. The front overhang has been shortened though, by a 100 mm. At the same time, the GT's wheelbase is 200 mm shorter than the Phaeton's, whilst the Spur's is a 100 mm longer.

All in all, the Spur measures 5.3 m in length - roughly equivalent to a Benz S-class plus 12", or one foot.

This growth has been necessitated, of course, by the Spur's four-door architecture. In the process the wheelbase had been stretched to a massive 3.1 m. Contrary to the GT's rather cramped 2+2 rear cabin, the Spur boasts enormous legroom in its backyard.

Spur buyers can also choose between a four- or five-seat lay-out. The latter does away with the cabinet console between the two rear chairs, though the four-door evokes more of a posh gentleman's club ambience; very classy and sumptuous, with independent chairs that can be adjusted in every which way.

Apart from providing space and comfort superiority, the Spur's dimensional differences also have a huge impact on appearance. The stretched wheelbase endows the saloon with better-balanced proportions and therefore a more complete stance.

Long and flat rear door windows above a high metal shoulder also do much to create a sporty character, especially from inside the car.

On top of that, the Spur's side-on look is a lot cleaner and sleeker, following Pires's decision to drop the pronounced haunches hooking over the GT's rear wheels.

The front end too, gains from a small visual enhancement in the form of a lip, or little ridge, running horizontally across the bumper, subtly supporting the headlights as well as the beautifully finished honeycombed grille in stainless steel.

Technology and craftsmanship

Technically, the changes vis-a-vis the GT is also small, the main differences being a 10% softer damper setting on the air suspension's rebound, a fractionally slower gear change for even smoother propulsion and some chassis components being manufactured from aluminium and now even magnesium.

These improvements - which help to limit the Spur's weight increase over the GT to 90 kg, instead of 150 kg had the relevant parts been carried over unchanged - will in due course also be transferred to the coupe.

With more absorbent settings though, comes less body control. In lieu of the Spur's softer ride in "Comfort" and "Normal" damping modes ("Sport" remains the same), the saloon's lateral body movements are countered by thicker anti-roll bars.

A tiny measure of lateral sway was nevertheless detectable over very rough roads in Italy, which is understandable in view of the Spur's massive 2.5-ton body. Get such a mass out of kilter, and it is difficult to regain an even keel quickly.

If the car has a weakness at all then, it might be ride quality and especially heavy tyre roar penetrating the cabin on broken-up surfaces.

I never got the chance to compare standard-issue Pirelli's with standard-issue Michelins, but do keep in mind that 40-profile rubber militates against ride quality and that 275 mm wide tread - times four, actually (and being leaned on by 2.5 tons) - generates a lot of road contact and therefore rumble.

Given these forces, and the Spur did an imperious job of wafting along on the highways and byways around Venice, seemingly impervious to anything but really bad patches of torn tarmac.

The splendid cabin though, remains a cocoon of relaxed refinement. Passengers are well and truly ensconced and materials, except possibly for center console plastics, are of the most magnificent grades and quality: exquisite woods, sparklingly beautiful stainless steel and sumptuous leather upholstery, hand-stitched together from 11 different hides, all imported from insect-free northern Europa.

From handpicked materials to jewelry-like finishing detail, the interior exudes impeccable design, harmony and artisanship, underwritten by impregnable quality.

The Spur is opulent, make no mistake, but never vulgar. As such, the Continental cabin is a paragon of taste, class and style.

Engine, gearbox and performance

This style, this refinement, has always been part of the Bentley gene. But the self-same gene also thrives on brutal power and performance. In this sense, the Spur is even more of a blue-blooded Bentley than ever before, what with 411 kW/6 100 r/min and 650 Nm/1 600 r/min pumping through all four wheels; the engine is identical to the GT's in every respect, even mounting points.

However, the twin-turboed 48-valve 6-litre W12 hurtles the 90 kg heavier Flying Spur from 0-100 km/h in a breathtaking 4.9 secs - and onwards to an astounding 312 km/h, making it the fastest four-door on earth and also Bentley's fastest four-door yet.

Transmission is controlled by a 6-speed ZF-Tiptronic outo-box that has been carried over from the GT without any changes to gear ratios.

Shifting points are different, though. In situations where a kick-down might drop two cogs in the GT, the Spur would rather use the W12's massive torque to accelerate. Coupled to a slightly slower change, this preponderance to hang on to a gear facilitates an even smoother passage.


Drop all of these elements into a single equation - brutish power delivered with such finesse, stately propulsion on such a fine ride, and truly refined class and quality expressed via such effortless style - and the Flying Spur might well emerge as the best car in the world.

Others, like the Phantom and Maybach, may provide more - but at a price, including a slightly off-centre image. Yet others, such as the Audi A8, come close at far lesser cost - but without the cachet of Bentley Wings (or Feathers, if you like).

For our money then, the Continental Flying Spur flies high and mighty. It has captured the high ground in the super-luxury segment.

Now, if Crewe can only hurry up with the refinement of the boot's power mechanism for self-closing - a feature that was conspicuously absent in test cars (because it's still too noisy, Bentley says) - the Spur would just about be perfect, even at R2.7 million!

  • Egmont Sippel is the motoring editor of Rapport

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