The 195-mph Bentley Continental Flying Spur is the world's fastest sedan, as it should be with a twin-turbocharged 552-horsepower 12-cylinder engine and a price of $164,990.
The Flying Spur does 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and hits 100 mph in 11.3 seconds -- astounding for a massive car that's nearly 17.5 feet long and weighs almost 5,500 pounds. Moreover, the Bentley has handling and brakes to match its sizzling performance, while acting like a limousine during normal driving.
The Flying Spur is the 21st century version of the 1952-55 Bentley R-type Continental, which was the world's fastest four-seater now valued at $180,000-$300,000. The 2006 Flying Spur also follows the tradition -- and takes the name -- of the also costly 1957-59 Bentley S Flying Spur sedan.
The reason the 2006 Flying Spur doesn't cost lots more is because it shares its engine design, all-wheel-drive system and basic suspension architecture with the $66,950-$96,100 Volkswagen Phaeton -- which is being pulled from the U.S. because few here will spend that much for a Volkswagen-nameplate car.
The sedan's cost is also held down by sharing components with the Bentley Continental GT coupe. The Flying Spur is essentially a stretched, well-proportioned four-door version of the GT. It has a 12.6-inch longer wheelbase (distance between axles) and an overall length stretched by nearly 20 inches. Bentley designed and developed the sedan and coupe at the same time at Bentley's modern facilities in Crewe, England, to ensure "a consistency of image.''
Bentley was a top road race auto before Rolls-Royce bought it in 1931 and turned it into basically just a Rolls with a different grille by the 1960s. People who didn't want to show off with a Rolls bought a Bentley.
Volkswagen bought Bentley and BMW got the Rolls-Royce emblem in a confusing 1998 deal that saved both financially troubled British nameplates from disappearing. Bentley became victorious on the track again, winning the Le Mans race in France in 2003.
Estimated Flying Spur fuel economy is only 11 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. The low mpg prompts a $3,700 gas guzzler tax, but it's doubtful most who can afford this land yacht care. Still, the low fuel economy might discourage some Flying Spur owners from taking an extra trip to the 7-Eleven.
The Bentley GT coupe, which costs the same as the Flying Spur sedan, has gorgeous styling, but the highly aerodynamic sedan's understated styling led few to glance twice at my test, dark-color Flying Spur. It cut a fine figure, but most could have mistaken it for, say, a big, somber Cadillac or Lincoln.
Look closer, though, and you'll note such features as the classic Bentley wire mesh grille, four powerful bi-xenon headlights and a generally muscular look concluded with two pronounced polished metal tailpipes.
The exquisite shows that highly skilled hand labor went into it. There's extensive use of sumptuous leather upholstery and burr walnut trim, which is "book- and mirror-matched'' to create perfect symmetry, with one side exactly reflecting the other.
There's unique chrome-knurled switchgear, and even the retro-style mushroom-shaped pull knobs for the dashboard air vents close with a nicely damped thud. Such attention to detail just isn't found in lesser luxury cars.
The heating system comes on fast and strong in cold weather and seats are air-cooled and heated. The rear compartment has its own ventilation controls and can be had with two individual rear seats with a console between them or a bench seat. In either case, there's limousine-style room back there. However, the Flying Spur encourages one to get behind the wheel for driving fun -- not slump lazily in the rear.
It has precise steering, extraordinary handling and strong brakes (largest on any production car) with good pedal feel. The responsive six-speed automatic transmission has an easily used manual-shift feature, controlled by steering column paddles.
Computer-controlled air springs can be adjusted for comfort or sporty driving, although the car handled fine during spirited driving in comfort mode. There's close to ideal weight distribution, and the all-wheel-drive system makes this an all-weather car for snow-belt areas. Traction control and anti-skid systems enhance stability, and the body lowers for better stability above 155 mph.
The Flying Spur is one of those rare big cars that drives so well that it seems to shrink around a driver, leaving him feeling as if he's piloting a smaller, responsive car away from congested traffic.
The rumbling turbocharged and intercooled, dual-overhead-camshaft, 48-valve engine has so much power and torque that it feels as if you're at the controls of a jet plane and everyone else is flying propeller-driven aircraft.
I once was tailgated in the Flying Spur on an expressway, so I floored the throttle and within seconds the presumably astonished tailgater was left far behind. After that, he deliberately kept a long distance from the Bentley. I was surprised he didn't come closer to see what kind of rocket ship it was.
No car is perfect -- the Flying Spur's engine temperature and fuel gauges are small, as are outside mirrors, and the navigation system isn't one of the best. One must insert the ignition key to the left of the steering wheel, and a button then is used to start (and stop) the engine. The big high-speed tires are a bit noisy, and plastic cupholders that jut out from the rear armrest look and feel marginal -- in contrast to the nicely designed front cupholders. Rear windows lower all the way.
The roomy trunk has plenty of luggage space for a Chicago-to-Las Vegas dash. In fact, the Continental Flying Spur seems perfect for a swift Chicago-to-anywhere run.
Just make sure you have your gasoline credit card.
2006 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL FLYING SPUR
Blindingly fast. Sharp handling. Posh. Roomy. All-wheel drive.
Huge. Very understated styling. Low fuel economy. Small outside mirrors.