Road test: Bentley Flying Spur V8

The V8 version of Bentley's Flying Spur is almost indistinguishable from its 12-cylinder twin

The V8 version of Bentley's Flying Spur is almost indistinguishable from its 12-cylinder twin

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WHAT’S that you say? The boys at Bentley have launched a Flying Spur with a third of the engine missing? Eight cylinders where there should be 12 and four litres where you would expect to find six? What in heaven’s name have they done that for? I mean, if you can afford a Bentley, you can 
afford the fuel bills that come with it, right?

Eight cylinders where there should be 12 and four litres where you would expect to find six? What in heaven’s name have they done that for? I mean, if you can afford a Bentley, you can 
afford the fuel bills that come with it, right?

True, but downsizing is the name of the game these days and nobody is immune, not even the chaps at Crewe. But all this planet-saving business is not without spin-off benefits, too – the smaller engine in the Flying Spur V8 means improved economy, so you can save for an extra skiing holiday in Switzerland and spend less time on petrol station forecourts, trying to avoid eye contact with the lower classes.

Let’s pause for a moment and define what we mean when we say “smaller”. Smaller, in Bentley’s case, means a four-litre, eight-cylinder petrol engine. Embellished with two turbochargers, it develops 500bhp and a staggering 487lb ft. Smaller has never been bigger. It’s enough to propel the Flying Spur V8 to 62mph in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 183mph. Compare that with 4.5 seconds and a whisker over 200mph for the six-litre, 12-cylinder car, and I’m sure you’ll agree there’s as near as makes no difference in the real world.

Most folks won’t even be able to tell you’ve tightened your purse strings as you flash past in the fast lane. Only the sideways figure-of-eight exhaust pipes and red-backed Bentley badges give the game away from the outside and there’s nothing in the cabin of the bigger-engined car that you won’t find in here. Hand-stitched leather, check. Polished wood? Check. Satnav and stereo that looks suspiciously like the one in your neighbour’s Audi? Check. Never mind. It works well enough and liberal use of chunky knurled switchgear and polished organ-stop air vent controls do a good job of disguising the Bentley’s VW group parentage.

Refinement’s on a par with the W12 car, too. Wind and tyre noise stands no chance against the double-glazed, deep-pile carpeted cabin, and the V8’s snarl is reduced to a distant wuffle from the exhausts. This is still a luxury saloon, after all, not a bar-room brawl. If you prefer your Bentley with more bark, the drop-top Continental GTC V8S may appeal.

Your passengers will appreciate the gentle suspension settings that let the Flying Spur float over most imperfections. Our car featured what Bentley calls 4+1 seating, which means there are five seatbelts, but you’ve got to feel sorry for whoever is allocated the middle seat in the back. They won’t be in the mood for much skiing by the time you reach the Alps, having travelled halfway across Europe with their feet on the transmission tunnel and their knees up to their chin.

It’s during moments alone with your Bentley that you’ll discover its delights as a driver’s car. Full-time four wheel drive means the Flying Spur rarely has trouble making full use of its power, even on damp days. I’d be fibbing if I said I noticed the difference fitting a lighter engine over the front axle has made to the handling, but the hydraulically assisted, speed-sensitive steering is precise and the dampers can be firmed for a sportier ride if you’re eager to be first to the Eiger.

Be warned, though, the four-stage switch from comfort to sport is barely perceptible and the laws of physics apply, particularly to a two-and-a-half tonne car that’s heading towards the next bend far faster than its relaxed air would lead you to believe. The paddle shifters are still mounted too high on the steering column for comfort, but so talented is the eight-speed automatic gearbox that you’ll never feel the urge to assume manual control anyway.

Another V8 party trick is its ability to save fuel by shutting half the engine down when your right foot’s only tickling the throttle. In truth, the economy gains over the larger-engined car are marginal, especially if you delight in making full use of all 500bhp. Bentley’s official figures suggest almost 26mpg on the combined cycle, but we never bettered 21. That brings the range between fill-ups down from 500 miles to 400, which means Switzerland-bound ski parties will need to stop for an expensive splash and dash on the M1, before brimming the tank on cheap French fuel in Calais.

So, full-fat Flying Spur or Bentley-lite V8? Assuming the purchase price is of no consequence to you, it boils down to bragging rights versus the promise of a few more miles between fuel stops, since there’s nothing else to differentiate the thirstier car from its equally-talented twin.

VITAL STATS

Price £136,000

Engine 4.0-litre, 8cyl, turbo petrol, 500bhp, 487lb ft

Transmission 8spd auto, 4WD

Performance Top speed 183mph; 0-62mph 4.9 secs

Fuel economy 25.9mpg

CO2 emissions 254g/km

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