2007 Bentley Continental Flying Spur Review

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2007 Bentley Continental Flying Spur Review

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Options fitted: Four seat model, no charge.

- by Karl Peskett

It seems that, in the automotive world, keeping grudges would not be a clever move. Damaging to prospects of unification, recalling the past politically can hinder growth that would only be of benefit in the long term.

Walter Owen Bentley, or "W.O." as he was affectionately known, used to manufacture engine components for the British Sopwith Camel - an aircraft of dubious maneuverability - used extensively in World War 1 when the British were fighting the Germans.

Some have said that W.O. would turn in his grave if he knew that it was a German company that now owned the rights to his British namesake marque. But look at what Volkswagen has achieved. Along with the re-invigoration of the Arnage, the VW Group has introduced the Continental GT, Continental Flying Spur, the Azure convertible and the new Continental GTC convertible.

After years of being built side by side at Crewe in England, Rolls-Royce gradually let Bentley slip, until most recently, Volkswagen came to the rescue in 1998. The synergy was effective, allowing British craftsmanship to combine with German engineering and reliability, producing a car that even W.O. would have been proud of.

The Continental Flying Spur was developed and designed in parallel with its sibling, meaning that the same traditions carried throughout. According to Bentley, the design brief was simple - No compromise. "The Continental Flying Spur is a brilliant example of how to match world-beating technologies with renowned craftsmanship," says Bentley chairman Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen.

That heart has an interesting story. First developed for the VW Phaeton, the 6 Litre W12 engine was taken apart and re-engineered to suit the Bentley image. No paltry 300 or so kilowatts was going to do the trick for the Brits. The solution? Twin-turbos, thank you very much.

Probably the most fascinating developmental phase of the motor, is the durability testing. Tests which see the W12 prove its worth, would decimate a garden variety engine. For example, to demonstrate the powertrain's ability to withstand extremes in temperature, the engine is put through prolonged thermal shock cycling.

This involves running the engine up to its peak internal temperature followed by an immediate draining of the coolant. The coolant is replaced by ice-cold fluid in order to create the quickest possible temperature difference, before the engine is re-heated up to maximum temperature again and the process repeated several times.

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Another test involves abuse of a different kind. The engine is switched on and revved to 100rpm past the redline from cold and then left there, continuing to run at 6200rpm for 100 hours. Meltdown should ensue, however another test is arranged. The motor is tortured by being cycled through an advanced programme of accelerations, decelerations and steady state running at all points in the rev range for 500 hours non-stop. That's a few hours short of three weeks of continuous running, 24 hours a day. Reliability then, is not an issue.

The interior uses 11 hides to cover almost all surfaces - even the roof lining is of bovine extraction. The leathers are imported from Northern Europe where the insect free environment promotes higher quality skin. Sitting in the seats of the Flying Spur is like slipping into butter, such is the softness. The seats also contain both heating and cooling, the cooling accomplished by the air-conditioning system.

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Approximately 5 hours is taken to double-stitch the steering wheel by hand, which is accomplished by two needles simultaneously. The wheel contains controls for all functions needed, and is textured enough for grip, but soft enough for comfort. Every luxury is included, as is expected. Uniquely, the door mirrors are linked to the rear-view mirrors, and are self-dimming. This is a big plus at night, when hordes of drivers have their headlights incorrectly adjusted.

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And it shows, with the Flying Spur exhibiting excellent handling, verging on understeer only a terminal speeds, and immense grip from its all wheel drive system. Steering feel for such a heavy car - 2475kg- with power assistance is commendable, with nice weighting, but it's not extremely chatty, just meaty. In fact, the dynamics for such a huge beast are excellent.

Braking is also awesome with the world's largest production front discs (405mm) clamped by whopper eight-piston callipers. Pedal feel is superb and progressive, but then with a top speed of 312km/h, it's sort of expected. As is the brilliant ESP, which stabilises the car, in a most reassuring way, especially under hard braking.

There are a few details that let the Flying Spur down a little. The steering wheel, paddles behind the wheel, indicator stalks, etc all come from the VW Touareg. A familiar sight to Volkswagen owners also, is the middle instrument display screen. Even the font is the same. Further evidence of some cost cutting comes from the lack of TV screens on the headrests of the front seats - something that is standard on a $70,000 Holden Caprice. Yet on this luxurious speed blitzer that costs $360,000 plus on roads, it's not even an option.