Bentley has finally ended production of its iconic 6.75-litre V8 engine – and its Mulsanne flagship that was the last car to use it. Dating back to the 1960s, it is one of the most iconic British engines ever – but Bentley is now moving quickly to electric power, so the thirsty motor had to go.
So, Bentley is down to one range-topping saloon: the Flying Spur. This is already available in 6.0-litre W12 guise, and now the range is expanded further with the sportier, slightly more affordable Flying Spur V8.
Really, this is now the core Flying Spur variant. See the W12 version as the modern-day alternative to the decadent Mulsanne; the V8 aims to be the sweet-spot of the range, with more driver-pleasing charisma to reflect the fact that growing numbers of Bentley owners drive, rather than being driven.
The 4.0-litre engine is the same 550hp unit seen in the Continental GT range, from which the Flying Spur is closely related. It will do 198mph, 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds and, with one eye on emissions, has cylinder deactivation that shuts down half the engine when cruising to save fuel and cut emissions.
This superb engine is becoming a modern-day icon of its own. And, as I discovered, the rest of the Flying Spur V8 is rather appealing, too.
This is a large, commanding car, with a 5.3-metre length leaving you in no doubt it’s a genuine luxo-limo (it’s not that much smaller than the old Mulsanne). It’s now a car with much more character than the rather anonymous first-generation Flying Spur, boasting powerful bulges in the front and rear wings, plus an imposing, attractive front end.
My test car was finished in suitably charismatic bold gold paint, the sort of colour you can imagine a roguish Bentley owner choosing with a grin. Massive gloss black 22-inch Mulliner alloys fill the arches (it’s 20 inches as standard), and it’s only tiny V8 badges on the lower wings, plus quad tailpipes, that signify this isn’t the W12.
It’s simply outstanding inside. The craftmanship from the very highest quality materials is a delight. The rich smell of leather when you open the door is glorious and the blend of wood veneer, high-tech (and very high resolution screens – which become three posh clocks at the touch of a button), plus jewellery-like metal detailing is likely to have owners regularly simply stopping and staring.
You sit high, regally so, on indulgently-sized chairs, with a nice view down the gently-curving bonnet’s central spine. It’s a lovely place to be – and better still in the rear. The seats are like armchairs, giving those in the back a confident view out (they’re positioned so high, you have to slightly duck to see out of the side window).
A section in the roof divides the front and rear sunroofs, and also semi-splits the front and rear cabins, adding to the sense of supreme isolation.
There are gadgets aplenty, from electrically-operated picnic tables to a bespoke touchscreen device to control rear climate control, lighting and so on.
I’m sure many royal palaces are not this luxurious and, despite all the space, it feels more like a tranquil cocoon than something like a Bentayga SUV. No wonder even Flying Spur owners don’t drive themselves all the time.
Because so many more owners are taking to the wheel, Bentley’s concentrated on delivering a more focused drive here. This is helped by the fact it’s related to the Continental coupe – and both use the same underpinnings as cars such as the Porsche Taycan and Panamera.
Bentley says the Flying Spur V8 is 100kg lighter than the W12. Most of that will be taken out of the front end, which ought to make it feel sportier and quicker-witted. The engine itself also has a racier nature than its more laid-back powerhouse of a sibling.
It starts up with a bit of a purposeful V8 rumble, but the fast tickover soon fades, leaving a creamy and appealing background burble. It’s not a completely silent engine, and nor should it be. It will appeal to petrolheads, with a ‘real’ feel that grows as the revs rise into a pleasingly pronounced growl.
All-wheel drive has no problem feeding all the pulling power to the road, making acceleration addictively instant and alert. I drove it during Storm Christoph and the Bentley not only totally isolated me from the elements, it had no trouble dealing with them. It was in itself unusually satisfying to drive such a fast car that remained so unruffled by wind, rain, muddy roads and other hazards.
It’s a big, wide (and expensive) car, but accurate steering helps you navigate tight roads without it feeling perilous. It has a firm on-centre feel, adding to the reassurance, and is immediate and linear just off it – this responsiveness might be a benefit of having 0.1 tonnes less mass over the front wheels. Indeed, it’s easy to forget how wide the Flying Spur is, until the roads get really narrow.
I was surprised by the alacrity of the chassis, which was much sportier than I expected. It’s pointy and fast-reacting, feeling far more keyed in, tenacious, roll-resistent and alert than I expected from such a large car (aided by optional, otherwise-imperceptible rear-wheel steering). You genuinely get the sense this is more of a four-door coupe than a luxury saloon; there’s a huge amount of strength in depth here.
Don’t worry, though. The ride has plenty of air-cushioned splendour. The 22-inch wheels mean it’s not totally imperious, and you do feel a bit of patter from the road surface – perhaps more than you may expect. But the body motion itself is controlled and seriously relaxing, giving the sort of soothing, decadent roll-along comfort you’d expect of a high-end luxury limo.
The Flying Spur V8 is the choice model for the firm’s growing number of keen drivers. Leave the serene W12 to the billionaires: this is the one that will reward you for getting behind the wheel.
I’d even suggest you take a test if you’re musing on a Bentley Bentayga: in a back-to-back comparison, there’s no question which is the more rewarding ‘event’.
We won’t have cars like this forever. Bentley’s already lost one V8 in the quest to go green. Lucky owners should enjoy this new eco-conscious one while they can – while the firm works out how to make an electrified model with a similar sense of occasion and overall appeal.
Richard Aucock writes for Motoring Research