Effortless power

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 March, 2006, 12:00am

FEW CARS HAVE the presence of a Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Even the name commands respect, suggesting smooth speed with effortless refinement. But you'd expect all that in a car that costs more than $2 million, wouldn't you?

The Flying Spur can loom in rear-view mirrors, but it has an unassuming grace. Based on the Continental GT coupe, the Flying Spur is 5.3 metres long - longer than most big four-wheel-drive wagons. Although the purity of the GT coupe's lines have been diluted slightly, the marque's designers in Crewe have successfully balanced its proportions. The Flying Spur and GT coupe were designed in parallel, but the marque brought out the coupe 18 months earlier.

The interior is a reminder of past British saloons. The leather comes from northern European cows (11 for a Flying Spur) because their hides are bitten less often by insects and, therefore, are in better shape. The leather is on seats, doors and dashboard. Wood veneer is splashed tastefully about the cabin. Chrome touches such as the starter button (you can keep the key in your pocket) add a nice splash of modernity to the old-world timber and leather. Press the starter button on the centre console and the dash comes to life with a central information panel.

I have a sense of deja vu. The Flying Spur may be built by the British, but Bentley is now owned by Volkswagen Group, and this model shares the Volkswagen Phaeton's platform, W12 twin-turbo engine and many other components. The information panel and starter button seem similar to those I saw in a Volkswagen Touareg V10 recently.

No matter. I try to assume a proprietorial air as I drive away. I'm reminded by a glance in the rear-view mirror that this Flying Spur is configured for customers who prefer to drive themselves. When you order one of these cars, you can choose between two single rear sets - which are more comfortable if you're chauffeured - or a bench seat, for owner-drivers ferrying four passengers.

The W12, fed by twin turbo chargers, is a 552 brake-horsepowered torque monster. Even though the Bentley weighs 21/2 tonnes, the W12 gives it stunning performance and instant response, with a claimed top speed of 312km/h and a 0-100km/h sprint in 5.2 seconds.

This Flying Spur is quiet. Only when you put your foot down do you hear the distant thrumming of 12 cylinders. If the engine noise didn't rise and fall according to your throttle inputs, you'd be tempted to think they came from another car.

The six-speed automatic's gearshifts are silken and, when climbing hills in Sydney's CBD, there's responsiveness at every speed. Thanks to a complex series of computer controls, the engine can be as docile or as savage as your right foot dictates, right up to that claimed top speed.

You're unlikely to reach 300km/h in Hong Kong or Sydney, but you're buying bragging rights rather than actual performance. And this is a car that's equally at home with the crawl of slow traffic as high-speed bursts. The Flying Spur's all-wheel-drive system ensures that there are no embarrassing tyre-screeching moments if you're running late. The brakes - immense 405mm ventilated discs all around - are the same as those on the Continental GT and they work with a fine feel and ample retardation.

As I come off the highway and dive into the city, the traffic tightens around the Bentley, making the limousine feel even bigger. And I'm surprised that, despite its presence, the Bentley doesn't feel so big to drive. The steering, accelerator and brakes make this large car feel very responsive.

Flying Spurs are also built in Dresden, Germany, where Volkswagen makes the slow-selling Phaeton saloon, so you can decide whether to have your car built there or in Crewe.

The Flying Spur seems an insanely expensive car in Hong Kong (although it looks a bargain when compared with the Maybach), but it's money well spent if you can afford it.

Your Flying Spur will turn heads all over southern China, and you'll feel comfy inside. Parking could be a challenge in some Mid-Levels blocks, but it's sure to make any socialite feel like she's the belle of the ball.