To drive or to be driven? A 21st-century problem indeed – but one that the good folk at Bentley Motors deemed worthy of addressing in the development of its all-new Flying Spur four-door limo, the first examples of which are due to hit the streets early in 2020.
Of the two prestigious British marques, tradition has it that Rolls-Royces were generally favoured by rear-seated plutocrats, while Bentleys were cars for sporting owner-drivers. In fact, so defined was the separation that, when motoring-mad cousins Bruce and Colin Nicholson placed an advertisement in a 1934 issue of Light Car magazine announcing their intention to set up a club for enthusiastic drivers, the pointed postscript read: “Rolls owners need not apply...”
These days, however, there are perhaps fewer chauffeurs and a greater number of owners to be found behind the wheels of the current generation of decidedly dynamic Rolls-Royces. But Bentleys still have the edge when it comes to really getting a shift on – and the new Flying Spur certainly shifts.
This latest car to carry the Flying Spur name – first used by Bentley in 1952 – which succeeds the original Continental GT-based four-door introduced in 2005, is light years ahead of its predecessor both in terms of technology and driving pleasure.
Predictably opulent inside, its plush fluted leather seating offers the sort of comfort that inspires the crossing of continents – and passengers shouldn’t get bored too easily, thanks to a choice of superlative sound systems (the range-topper being a Naim setup with a rock concert-worthy output of 2,200 watts), de-mountable rear infotainment console, multi-configuration “mood lighting”, remote-controlled window blinds and an optional panoramic glass roof.
The Flying Spur’s interior pièce de résistance, however, is the “rotating display” that takes centre stage in the dashboard. First seen on the latest Continental GT, the system revolves in the style of James Bond’s number plates to offer the choice of a high-definition instrument panel with digital touchscreen, a set of beautifully engineered analogue dials or – for when you’ve simply had too much information – a plain wood veneer finish.
But it’s under its (relatively) lightweight alloy skin that this car reveals itself to be truly special. A high-tech aluminium and composite chassis, programmable air suspension derived from that of the Porsche Panamera, all-wheel-drive and all-wheel-steering make for near sports-car handling, while the six-litre, twin-turbo W12 engine whisks it from standstill to 100kmh in just 3.8 seconds – and on to a top speed of a pleasantly rounded, Lamborghini-shaming 333kmh, or 207mph.
In fact, this car is so all-round excellent that it makes deciding whether to drive or be driven almost impossible to fathom.