We're powering through the English countryside an hour or so south of London in the 2015 Bentley Flying Spur V8 and a question springs to mind: When would anyone ever need a car with more than 500 horsepower – particularly a car intended more for comfortable cruising than outright speed?
And who might be a likely purchaser of this latest entry into the ultra-luxury segment? In doing so, we were, essentially, mirroring the work done by Bentley two years ago, when planning for this generation of the Flying Spur sprinted past the midway point.
In 2012, the company introduced a V-8 version of its Continental GT, the immensely popular coupe previously powered exclusively by a twin-turbo W12 engine. With the Flying Spur V8, it's travelling down this same road again, cutting the number of cylinders from 12 to 8, bringing a degree of increased environmental awareness to the table while instituting a lower price point.
The experiment with the Continental GT proved successful; in all markets, sales of the W12-powered sedan are evenly matched by those for the V-8 version. In some, the split is 50/50; nowhere does one version have more than a 60 share. Cue the Bentley Flying Spur V8, an "entry-level" version of its most accessible luxury sedan, which received a makeover just last year.
While we were imagining that the V8 might persuade existing customers to shun the W12 – lighten the load on the environment and the pocketbook, and all that – the facts don't bear this out. Bentley says a significant portion of customers opting for the V8 will be new to the brand. When you compare the two versions of the Flying Spur, this makes sense.
The twin-turbo W12 develops 616 horsepower, so it's a significantly faster car in a straight line than the 500-horsepower twin-turbo V8. The sprint to 100 km/h is 0.6 seconds faster in the W12. Top speed is higher for the W12, too – 322 km/h to 295 km/h. This gap is a reflection of how much better a more powerful engine is at sending a substantial executive sedan hurtling down the road. (The Flying Spur is loaded to the gunwales with features such as chrome pulls knobs and portable solid metal ashtrays.)
You see, what's truly important for this class of car is something the manufacturers themselves like to call "effortless performance" – the Flying Spur has it, the Flying Spur V8 doesn't, really.
Nevertheless, there are significant advantages to ordering the lesser of two goods here: In almost all other respects, the two cars are mirror images. Both come equipped with full-time all-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and a wealth of ultra-desirable interior amenities, including mirror-matched wood trim pieces and lambs' wool carpeting.
Sure, the Bentley logo is a different colour (red for the V8), the tailpipes are different (they look like a pair of 8s on their side for the V8) and the front grilles are dissimilar. But the key difference really comes down to more power and efficiency.
So, the question remains – should the new Bentley buyer opt for the W12 or the V8?
The V8 is probably the wiser choice. With 40 kg less girth and the added benefit of cylinder deactivation technology, the V8 promises a 10 per cent gain in fuel efficiency.
More importantly, the Flying Spur V8 will cost about 10 per cent less than the W12 in most markets – and 10 per cent of more than $200,000 is not chump change. In Canada, the difference is about $25,000 and that should help offset running costs until the next Flying Spur appears on the horizon.
2015 Bentley Flying Spur V8
Type: Luxury sedan
Base price: $236,170
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V-8
Horsepower/torque: 500 hp/408 lb-ft
Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
Drive: Front-engine / All-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 litres/100 km, combined (EU cycle; combined driving)
Alternatives: Audi S8, BMW 760iL, Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG, Rolls-Royce Ghost
Looks: The Flying Spur stopped traffic in London, a city with no shortage of sights to see, but the executive sedan class is not the prettiest out there.
Interior: Immaculate materials and handcrafted workmanship define the car's character.
Performance: It's slower than the twin-turbo W12, but delivers 10 per cent better fuel efficiency.
Safety: This is a handmade British bulldozer – woe betides whichever car might be on the receiving end in a crash.
Cargo: There's plenty of room to stretch out, lots of storage compartments and a massive boot, er, trunk.
Infotainment: As expected, the Bentley offers a wealth of options, including a touch-screen remote for the rear entertainment system.
The Verdict - 8.5 - The Flying Spur is one sweet ride – but the other version is sweeter still.
You'll Like This Car If:
- You like being chauffeured around in something that doesn’t have mirrors on the ceiling.
- You want all the Bentley cachet, but at a (relatively) budget price.
- You take a no-compromises approach to preserving the environment.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker
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