I’VE no idea what the Chinese for “Honey I sacked the chauffeur” is and I don’t trust the internet to offer a translation that’s fit to print. All the same, I can’t help wondering if Beijing’s employment exchanges will soon become a home from home for scores of men in peaked caps once the city’s elite get their hands on this new Bentley Flying Spur.
China’s captains of industry, you see, love to own big Bentleys (Asia-Pacific sales climbed 44 per cent in 2012) but couldn’t give two hoots about driving the things. Your average Chinese CEO prefers to take care of business from the comfort of the back seats while someone else takes care of the business end of their car.
Crazy, right? Who among us, when handed the keys to one of Crewe’s missiles, would sub-contract the steering and pedal pressing to someone else? It’s a status thing, a cultural anomaly we in the car’s country of origin will always struggle to understand. So, time to offer the Orient’s upper crust a masterclass in the joys of driving, to see if we can tempt a few of them out of the back, and I’ve got just the car for the job. With 616bhp and 800Nm of torque under its belt, the new Flying Spur is the most powerful four-door car that Bentley has ever produced. Coupled to a new eight-speed gearbox, the 6.0-litre, 12-cylinder engine coaxes all 2.5 tonnes of finely-crafted steel, aluminium and quilted leather to 60mph in a shade over four seconds, on its way to a top speed of 200mph. If that doesn’t add up to driver appeal, then I don’t know what does.
Hang on, it seems your average Chinese CEO isn’t listening. He’s too busy casting an eye over the Flying Spur’s new shape, all muscular haunches and sharp creases, dreaming of how it’ll look in his corporation’s car park. Rather splendid, I expect. The old Continental Flying Spur had neither the sleek swagger of the two-door Continental GT coupe on which it was based, or the pomp and presence of the mighty Mulsanne. The new car has plenty of both and Bentley has dropped the “Continental” bit from the Flying Spur’s name to underscore the fact that the car now stands alone as a model in its own right.
At the front, the familiar Bentley twin headlights have swapped places, so that the big one sits outboard of the little one. It’s a happier arrangement than of old and one that emphasises the car’s girth, even though it’s no wider than the model it replaces. We’ll allow your average Chinese CEO a second or two longer to run the back of his hands over the scalloped shoulder line, marvelling at the metalworker’s mastery, before insisting he get behind the wheel.
Taking the helm of a Bentley is always a special occasion. So much leather, so much wood. If this was my car, I’d want the stereo to play a fanfare of trumpets every time I opened the door. The immaculately-stitched seats can be heated, cooled, or a combination of both. Press the engine start button and the new, less boomy exhausts burble in a manner that suggests a gentleman’s cruiser about to set off across Lake Como at insane speed.
Oh this is hopeless. Force of habit has sent your average Chinese CEO into the back, where he’s eased shut the double-glazed door and is already making himself very comfortable in one of the two rear seats. He could ask for three perches back there, but then he’d miss out on the extended centre console with its extra storage space, and he can’t very well lower the centre armrest to reveal the optional fridge if there’s someone sitting in the way, can he?
Look now, he’s unfolded the aircraft style picnic tables in readiness for his lunch, and found the smartphone-like controller that changes the TV channel on the 10-inch LCD screens set into the headrests. He can also use it to fiddle with the heater controls, to turn the car into a mobile wifi hotspot, or to summon up a digitally-rendered speedometer, to make sure his chauffeur isn’t misbehaving.
His soon-to-be-redundant chauffeur, surely? If we can just convince the boss man to jump in the front, then he’ll discover the other side to the Bentley’s character – the sporting side that tugs at the heartstrings of anyone with the scent of unleaded in their nostrils – and it’ll be curtains for the chap in the cap.
Four-wheel drive ensures a clean getaway and adds surefootedness in corners. Typically, the Bentley’s brain sends 60 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels and 40 per cent to the front, although it is capable of sending as much as 85 per cent of power aft or 65 per cent fore if conditions call for it.
The air suspension in this new car has been softened for a more comfortable ride than the previous car (careful, or we’ll never get our Chinese chum out of the back), and damper settings are adjusted via a four-stage sliding touchscreen switch with a natty knurled effect. All the way to the left lets the Bentley cosset without turning into a two-and-a-half ton blancmange, while all the way to the right firms things up without becoming jarring. In full-on attack mode, with the gear shifter set to manual, CEO can discover the raw thrill of lighting up his limo’s engine until the rev limiter hits the red line at…
…it’s no good. He’s round at the back again, where he’s just realised he can get four sets of golf clubs in the boot and still have room for a new table for the boardroom. I’ve never seen him so happy, and I give up. Time to pack my peaked cap and buy a ticket to Beijing.
CAR Bentley Flying Spur
PRICE £149,900 (or £393,000 if you buy it in Beijing)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 200mph; 0-60 4.3secs
MPG 19.2mpg (combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 343g/km