Taking Flight

Art, power and prestige make for the perfect marriage in the all-new Bentley Flying Spur. But with engineering and design expectations at such a pinnacle of perfection, interior design team leader, Brett Boydell, admits to many hours of perspiration in order to get to this ultimate point.

Identity should never be a problem for a Bentley. But the first two generations of the Flying Spur luxury saloon have appeared a little too derivative of the Continental GT sports-coupes for some.

But the first two generations of the Flying Spur luxury saloon have appeared a little too derivative of the Continental GT sports-coupes for some.

Making a welcome return to the Spur for this latest iteration is the famed ‘Flying-B’ mascot. Two years in development, it also reflects the carmaker’s determination to combine heritage features with the state-of-the-art. As with other luxury brand mascots, it retracts in the interests of security and pedestrian safety; a frivolous-yet-pleasing touch is the way the wings of the mascot illuminate as you approach the car.

That me-too-ness has been fixed with the third-generation models of both Bentleys. First, we had the release of a much sportier-looking Continental GT coupe earlier this year. This has now been followed by the unveiling of more elegant and more distinguished Flying Spur.

No one should have any trouble telling the two apart now.

Best of all, the new Spur displays the elongated bonnet profile that has defined Bentley-ness ever since founder W.O. Bentley dedicated his name to the fulfilment of his vision of grand touring machines.

According to the genetic code of the brand, Bentleys should look like a gargantuan motor has taken up residence inside the engine bay. With the pulling forward of the front axle by 130mm, the new Flying Spur can sit more comfortably alongside an esteemed forerunner like the 1958 Continental Flying Spur that was parked near it during its unveiling at the Crewe factory. If you needed any hint about where the design team looked for inspiration, it was close-at-hand in the form of one of the most graceful-looking touring machines of Cold War-era motoring.

The vertically-vaned grille of the new Spur is a further detail that pays homage to the past. It is flanked by two suitably round LED-matrix headlights that look like cut-crystal and have internal chrome-plated tubes to make them appear illuminated even when the car is parked.

There’s plenty of art to be found inside the Flying Spur… as well as some controversy.

The latter is that the signature ‘bulls-eye’ air vents have gone, replaced by more sculptural designs, highlighted by what look like bezels encrusted with diamonds. The new vents are Bentley director of design, Stefan Sielaff’s favourite interior detail, but for the interior design team leader, Brett Boydell, they were quite a challenge.

“When I went into a design review and said ‘I want to get rid of the bulls-eyes’, there was a stunned silence,” he says.

“I told the team to create a sculpture, not an air vent. I said we’ll get it to flow air later.”

That was the start of a task that took three-and-a-half years to complete. A lot of that time was taken in writing a new algorithm for the diamond-engraving software so that the bezels would appear encrusted in the precious stones.

“The 3D effects (of leather and wood panels fitted to the dash, centre console, and door cards) are a further reason that some engineers no longer want to talk to me,” admits Boydell with a smile.

The wood was relatively easy – just carve it that way from a solid block. However, getting leather to conform to a shape that matches the diamond-quilting of the seat upholstery required the development of an entirely new patented process.

“I wanted Flying Spur customers to continue to be surprised by some of the details after they’d owned the car for months,” says Boydell, pointing out the knurled finish carved into the back of the control knobs by way of example.

“That little touch means those knobs now cost us three times as much.”

An optional glass-to-glass panoramic sunroof allows the new Flying Spur to have relatively small side windows, as there is no lack of light entering the cabin. It’s as if this luxury saloon has been ‘chopped and channelled’ by some California custom car emporium. The smaller glasshouse adds an impression of strength to the car.

But this isn’t just an impression. The larger body of the third Flying Spur is considerably more rigid than its two predecessors, while weighing in 38kg lighter than the previous body. That’s due to Bentley’s leadership in super-forming, which takes sheet aluminium, super-heats it to 500 degrees, then injects the molten metal into body component moulds under seriously high pressure.

You’ll find super-formed body parts all over the new Flying Spur, including a member of the side structure that is the largest super-formed automotive body part in the world.

Into this new-age, heritage-respectful structure gets poured plenty of high-tech hardware, as shared by the luxury divisions of the Volkswagen Group.

The new MSB platform also underpins high-end saloons like the Porsche Panamera, enabling the Flying Spur to also inhabit the leading edge through the fitment of all-wheel-steering (a first for Bentley), active all-wheel-drive, dynamic ride control, air suspension, and active stabiliser bars. The dual-clutch eight-speed gearbox is more efficient than a torque-converter-equipped conventional automatic.

But the car has plenty of other ways to conserve emissions. The revised 6.0-litre W12 engine features a dual-mass flywheel which adds rotational force when cruising, enabling some of the engine’s cylinders to shut down. Also, the motor drives just the rear wheels during steady driving, further reducing energy wastage. Bentley says the powertrain is 38 percent more efficient than that of the 2005 Flying Spur.

The manufacturer also makes a couple of claims that ol’ W.O. would be proud of if he were still alive. The new Flying Spur will race from 0-100km/h in just 3.8 seconds, then go on to a top speed of 333km/h.

The chassis should be more of match for its high-achieving 467kW/900Nm powertrain, especially when driven in ‘sports’ mode. This allows the front stabiliser bar to apply an eye-watering 1300Nm of torsional force to keep the body flat during moments of high cornering g-forces.

The new 48-volt air-suspension system features three chambers per shock absorber, allowing Bentley’s chassis engineers more scope to combine suitably luxurious ride quality with sporting control. The car can also send all its engine power to the outside wheels during cornering, while braking the inside tyres to improve its steering when vigorously driven.

The dynamic potential of the new Flying Spur, its driver-friendly attitude, and the way it cleverly combines art, comfort, and engineering, should make it the new benchmark of the luxury super-saloon class.

Words by Paul Owen

Photos by Bentley 

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