Perhaps the most confusing aspect of the 2015 Bentley Flying Spur V8 is figuring out the car’s intended target market and, more pointedly, its reason for being.
Priced at $378,000, the latest Bentley saloon is by no means inexpensive, yet it’s significantly less expensive than the W12-powered version of the same vehicle. Still, the question remains: is the customer who can afford a vehicle of this price in a different income bracket than the one who can afford, say, a $423,160 vehicle?
I would argue not.
So, for someone interested in the unique brand of luxury, driving experience and cachet that Bentley offers, why would they choose the Flying Spur V8 instead of the Flying Spur W12? I can’t come up with a reasonable answer to that question, although the brains trust at Bentley HQ in Crewe maintains the V8 is more likely to bring in customers new to the brand.
They have, of course, been down this road before: In 2012, Bentley introduced a V8 version of the Continental GT and sales for this model are evenly matched with that of the W12 iteration in most markets around the world. Fair enough.
Although the two Flying Spurs share sheet metal and any number of other features, they are different animals under the skin. Thus, in theory, they might appeal to the same demographic, but a slightly different character within that demographic.
The latest Flying Spur, introduced just last year, has the twin-turbo W12 that develops 453kW of power and 800Nm of torque, so it’s significantly more powerful car than the twin-turbo V8 with its 368kW/660Nm. The sprint to 100km/h is about 0.7 seconds faster in the W12 than in the V8 (5.2sec). Top speed is higher for the W12, as well - 322 km/h versus 295km/h.
These gaps are, simply, reflections of how much better a larger and more powerful engine is at sending a weighty executive saloon hurtling down the road. The Flying Spur is loaded to the gunwales with features like chrome pull knobs and portable solid metal ashtrays—heavy stuff, to be sure.
Still, from most every other standpoint apart from straight-line speed, the Flying Spur V8 is a compelling proposition by comparison. In fact, while powering through the English countryside south of London, a question springs to mind: when would anyone ever need a car with more power? Particularly a car intended more for comfortable cruising than outright speed?
Granted, what’s important for this class of car is something the manufacturers themselves like to call “effortless performance”. The Flying Spur has it, the Flying Spur V8 doesn’t, really. The twin-turbo V8 is potent enough to get the big saloon going in the right direction, but it’s not as if the mere caress of the accelerator pedal generates sufficient shove to move mountains.
All other things being equal, though, the V8 is probably the wiser choice. With some 40 kilograms less weight to push (the V8 weighs 2417kg) and the added benefit of cylinder deactivation technology, the V8 promises a 10 per cent gain in fuel efficiency. Claimed fuel use for the V8 is 13.8 litres per 100 kilometres, while the W12 uses 14.7L/100km. In almost all other respects, the two cars are mirror images of each other.
Both saloons come equipped with full-time all-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and a wealth of ultra-desirable interior amenities, including mirror-matched wood trim pieces and lambs’ wool carpeting.
The Bentley logo is a different colour depending on the version chosen (red for the V8), the tailpipes are a different shape (they look like a pair of 8s on their side for the V8) and the front grilles are dissimilar. Otherwise, from an appearance standpoint, there’s little to choose between the two variations.
The key characteristic of the Flying Spur, at least from this outsider’s perspective, is its ability to coast down paved roads of any quality smoothly and peacefully.
The suspension system has a range of settings, from comfort to sport, but all settings lean more towards the comfort side of things. The steering wheel has decent weight to it, but there’s no real sense or urgency to the steering response.
The paddle shifters trigger the transmission and offer a reasonable amount of engagement, but questions linger as to whether the typical Flying Spur owner would ever feel compelled to use them.
The drive event closed off with an experience that highlighted precisely what the 2015 Bentley Continental Flying Spur is all about: we were chauffeured back to London while riding in the back seat.
The thinking at Bentley, I’m certain, went something along these lines: “Let’s eliminate the stresses of driving through one of the most traffic-laden cities in the world; let’s give our guests an honest-to-goodness Bentley experience.”
From this vantage point, separated from all the touch points that help to differentiate one vehicle from the next, the Flying Spur V8 made even more sense when compared to the W12.