IN BEIJING you can see uniformed officers standing at traffic junctions counting the number of passing cars. In summer they stand in the baking sunshine, in winter in the freezing sub-zero temperatures. How many cars are counted each day is unknown, but it’s a considerable figure because they are rapidly catching up with the number of Beijing citizens. This is reflected in the rising congestion and pollution. Combine this with a society that has spent a greater proportion of the last 100 years riding bicycles and you have some very scary road conditions indeed.
The number of Bentleys counted is significant too. The Crewe-based manufacturer is currently seeing a 23 per cent growth in China and its Flying Spur model is hugely popular. Roughly half of all the Flying Spurs made are sold in China. Most of them – around 95 per cent – are rarely driven by their owners, as the majority of Chinese buyers prefer to be driven instead. It’s why I’m test driving the latest Bentley Flying Spur in China and why the rear seat in this most luxurious of saloons has become the most important.
My colleague is napping in the back to revitalise himself after his 1,000-step climb on the Great Wall of China while I drive the test model. We are waiting for a support crew to bring a new front wheel to replace the original damaged by a pothole. In China, even the potholes come on a much larger scale. The ride is so comfortable we didn’t notice the thump so hadn’t appreciated how much damage had been done.
Some people criticised the original Flying Spur for not being refined enough, something you could never say about this latest version. Crewe has taken great pains to improve refinement so the ride is far softer now. Road, wind and exhaust noise is remarkably remote – Bentley claims a 40 per cent reduction in cabin noise – and this is true even of the engine sound, which some buyers may lament.
Oh yes, the engine. I almost forgot. This latest model is powered by the same 6.0-litre, twin turbo W12 engine seen in other Bentleys, but here it’s coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Progress is effortless. This engine develops 616bhp making it the most powerful four-door Bentley in history. It’s capable of 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds, 0-100mph in 9.5 seconds and a top-speed of 200mph, though this is scant consolation when sitting in Beijing traffic.
Still, even when stationary this is an unusually classy car. The exterior changes may seem slight at first but this model has been cleverly designed to move the car upmarket. It’s become lower and sleeker with a longer and lower boot lid. It has lost some of its visual weight and has become more Mulsanne-like in its styling. It is more sculptured and has new elegant touches including wing vents with “B” motifs.
Inside, the cabin looks essentially the same. Its sumptuous, handcrafted luxury is difficult to find fault with though a couple of elements do grate. The paddle shifters feel as if they are located further out than normal and are made of plastic rather than alloy. Subsequently, they are not cold to the touch. It’s the same with the air vents. They may be minor issues, but they are noticeable because elsewhere the attention to detail is so good. Later, as my colleague drives, confidently jumping from lane to lane on the freeway to progress through the Beijing rush hour traffic, I set his heated drivers seat to the hottest setting and crank up his ventilation temperature as high as possible. I do so from the back seat, using the new hand-held touch screen remote controller (TSR), which gives me, as the rear seat occupant, the power to change in-vehicle settings including audio, climate control and entertainment. There is also a trip computer display so I can “spy” on the driver’s speed and efficiency.
“Slow down,” I say to my driver, “better not hit another pothole.” His response is unseemly and impolite: “Bugger off! I’m conducting a road test here”. Oh well. It isn’t my Bentley Flying Spur. I wouldn’t have hired him anyway.
THE FACTS: BENTLEY FLYING SPUR
0-62MPH: 4.6 secs
TOP SPEED: 200mph
CO2 G/KM: 343g/km
MPG COMBINED: 19.2mpg
DESIGN FOUR STARS
PERFORMANCE FOUR STARS
PRACTICALITY FOUR STARS
VALUE FOR MONEY THREE STARS