The Principality of Monaco on the French Riviera has a current area of just 2.02km, making it the second-smallest country in the world after Vatican City. It’s also the most densely populated sovereign state in the world, with more than 40,000 mostly high-net-worth individuals crammed into that tiny piece of land. Think about that for a moment.
The sheer number of super yachts and multi-million-dollar boats in what is a relatively minute harbour is staggering. One of the largest private yachts in the world was moored there during our visit – the 110m Dilbar owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, reputedly worth an eye-watering 847 million pounds sterling.
Monaco is also home to the most iconic and challenging Formula One races of the entire season, due to its impossibly narrow streets and next-to-zero overtaking opportunities, but thrilling all the same, especially when you consider speeds of up to 325km/h are reached.
For those reasons, you’d have to question the sanity of the individuals who chose this place to launch one of the world’s largest luxury sedans to the international motoring press. Although, there’s no denying the all-new 2020 Bentley Flying Spur is about as on-brand as it gets in such an environment, given the enormous wealth and obsession with exotic automobiles this tax-free haven seems to harbour.
Park yourself directly in front of Monaco’s famous Hotel de Paris, itself flanked by the equally salubrious Casino Monte Carlo, and you’re very likely to see tens-of-millions' worth of machinery in less time than it takes to drink a piccolo latte.
Late-model S-Classes and Rolls-Royce Phantoms are a dime a dozen here, but a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTS is what turns heads in these parts. And, so too does the third generation of Bentley’s super luxurious four-door grand tourer.
The catchcry the company is using for its latest Flying Spur is Drive or be driven, and one look at this thing and you’ll find it hard to choose between the front or back seats, which is exactly the reaction the British-based carmaker is hoping for.
Indeed, Jackie Stewart, the former three-time Formula One World Champion, was quoted as saying “True luxury was having the means to employ a chauffeur”, which sounds odd coming from a revered F1 driver, but I get his point. Because like many famous people, he’s a busy guy and as the saying goes 'time is money', and deals are most likely done from the back seat of the Bentley rather than from behind the wheel.
Parking is another unavoidable issue here, in that there simply isn’t any – at least, not for something the size of the Bentley, which is why there are so many Smart cars here, I guess. There are plenty of spots for those, as well as the thousands of Vespa scooters that line the city streets, which we’re told is the mandatory mode of transport for anyone with an annual income less than 10 million euros. That’s me.
That said, there’s no denying the latest Flying Spur is a spectacularly beautiful car – regal even, but geez it’s a big unit. Try this on for size: 5.316m long, 1.978m wide and 1.484m high. And, it tips the scales at nearly 2.5 tonnes (2437kg to be precise).
It’s a massively important car for the brand, which is why Bentley has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at it. This is a clean-sheet design from the ground up by Bentley’s Director of Design, Stefan Sielaff, and his team – and no expense has been spared.
It’s got serious on-road presence, especially if you choose the Verdant Green exterior with black-chromed grille and huge arch-filling 22-inch forged-alloy wheels.
The power lines and beefed-up wheel arches were only possible through the use of aluminium superforming, a process first used on the latest Continental GT model – a luxury GT coupe that arguably sets the benchmark in the segment.
The new-look grille is undeniably a graphic departure from what we’re used to – stretched 200mm compared with that on the GT, which is already substantial. Initially, I didn’t think it worked, but when you’re dealing with a car with such enormous dimensions, it’s actually in proportion with the rest of the car.
The highlight, though, is surely the newly designed Flying-B mascot, which for the first time pops up automatically and is illuminated as part of the welcome lighting sequence. Look closely and you’ll marvel at the wings that have a crystal-like effect to them. This part alone is the result of a two-year development process to modernise the emblem.
The level of intricacy is just extraordinary, and there are examples all over this car, inside and out. Take the headlamps. LED matrix headlights are standard on the Flying Spur, but inside the housing itself there’s a cut-crystal effect that looks like thousands of Swarovski’s finest.
And, while the tail-lamps aren’t quite as captivating, they’re visually stunning with the 'B' motif emerging in 3D through the lens whenever you hit the brakes. It’s Bentley turning kitsch into cool, and it works a treat.
Inside, the Flying Spur is a step above the world’s finest hotels, trumping even the standout Hotel de Paris and nearby Hermitage. If you’ve had the pleasure of staying at either place, you’ll know that’s a big call, but this thing is next level in the luxury stakes. It truly is.
For limo-like rear leg room, Bentley chose a longer wheelbase (by 130mm), with sublime comfort courtesy of the company’s new fluted leather seating and unique diamond quilting as part of the Mulliner Driving Specification.
For those warm days, there’s a perfectly good bar fridge between the rear seats that would hold five 500ml bottles of water or any other more appealing beverage.
There’s also an entirely convenient and beautifully crafted touchscreen remote, which can be removed by hitting a button and gives passengers access to things like all five blinds, rear-seat massage, rear climate control and mood lighting functions.
The three-dimensional diamond-quilted leather door inserts are an automotive world first, and give the cabin a unique look and feel. There’s an exclusive London private club atmosphere inside the Flying Spur that is best sampled from the second row. The wine-coloured leather upholstery with contrasting twin-stitched needlework is sumptuously soft and cosseting.
This five-star treatment extends even to the flooring, where plush pile looks and feels like it could have been handcrafted by Glasgow’s incomparable Templeton carpet factory.
It’s also rare that we’d ever get too excited by instrument stalks, but those in the Flying Spur are worthy of such examination. The diamond knurling and brightwork with laser etching is a thing of beauty, but you’ll find the same effect on the roller buttons on the steering wheel – itself a tactile piece of joy in the hands.
The dash and instrument display wouldn’t be out of place in any one of the world’s most expensive yachts moored directly below where the drive program was to commence in Monte Carlo. It’s a perfect blend of old-school charm and the very latest in materials and technology.
Nothing looks out of place here, not even the high-res digital instrument display that mixes analogue-style bezels and a TFT screen.
But, by far and away the highlight here is the Bond-style floating centre console touchscreen, which can rotate at the touch of a button to show three different visuals. The second of which reveals a beautifully crafted facing of three classic analogue dials displaying outside temperature, a compass and a chronometer.
There’s nothing like it; it’s straight out of a remake of the ’60s Bond flick Goldfinger, as well as the ultimate party trick. That said, Bentley traditionalists needn’t worry either, as you’ve still got the classic bullseye air vents either side of the dash, but the centre unit has been replaced with a beautifully sculptured horizontal version in which sits an exquisite analogue clock that may as well be branded Breitling.
The bonnet goes on forever, and for good reason because lurking beneath is one of the world’s biggest engines – Bentley’s renowned 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged W12 mated to an eight-speed ZF dual-clutch transmission that delivers 467kW and 900Nm of torque to all four wheels.
And, despite its nearly 2.5-tonne heft, the Flying Spur is capable of leaping from standstill to 100km/h in a staggering 3.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 333km/h, which simply defies the laws of physics and/or aerodynamics.
But, first we had to escape the shackles of Monte Carlo’s tight streets and even tighter turns. And while you might think that near impossible in a car so long, the new Flying Spur gets electronic all-wheel steering that transforms this car into something not only manageable, but capable of negotiating some of Europe’s most restrictive hairpin turns, which simply didn’t look possible.
Get out onto some of Route Napoléon’s fast-flowing roads, and that same all-wheel-steer system ensures the big Bentley has more than enough agility and snort to cover the ground at a genuinely alarming pace.
While the previous-generation Flying Spur used a permanent all-wheel-drive system with a fixed 60:40 power split to the rear/front axles, the new model delivers two-wheel drive to the rear axle unless slip is detected. If so, the system will automatically send drive to the front axle given it's an active all-wheel-drive system.
The result is extraordinary grip (thanks must also go to the 22-inch wheels and tyres) in any given situation, and what feels like a perfectly balanced chassis set-up. That’s not all, there’s almost no understeer – and that’s us having a solid punt and driving this monster as we would a sports car.
It’s not just impressive, it’s genuinely remarkable stuff.
In the less-aggressive Comfort and Bentley modes, the system will send up to 480Nm of torque to the front axle for improved grip, but in Sport the active drive system caps that to 280Nm for more dynamic feel. And while all this might sound overly complex, it’s totally seamless from the driver’s seat.
Overtaking even on these winding roads is another effortless task. Once a gap opens up ahead, just dab the throttle and boom – the monster Bentley responds with surgical precision and supercar-like pace from the very instant you give it the beans.
At the risk of sounding like a bit of a larrikin, we found ourselves chasing another fast-moving Flying Spur and resorting to all-out manual mode using the paddle shifters. That was simply because the lack of any real turbo lag, along with a sharp turn-in response (even when you’re giving it a good shove), is almost encouraged and most certainly rewarded.
The gearbox is superb – rifling off rapid-fire but oh-so-refined shifts up and down the gear ratios. And, there’s no end to its thrust, with all 900Nm seemingly on tap anywhere throughout the rev range.
Though, if you're in the mood to lope along the Riviera at a more leisurely pace, the W12 can shut down half its cylinders to conserve fuel. And, as you'd expect with your Flying Spur, there's a vast array of all the latest active safety systems including traffic assist, city assist and blind-spot warning. Night vision as well as a head-up display add to the driver's awareness, as do the top-view camera and reverse traffic warning and self-parking systems.
Body roll, or the complete lack thereof, is another sign of Bentley’s engineering sorcery that might amaze mere mortals. It’s difficult to unsettle this car under any circumstances, but throwing it into the tightest bends or leaning on the largest steel brakes in the world isn’t enough to get it out of shape, though there is one area that could be improved.
Ride comfort from either row of seats wasn’t great over broken road or potholes, which is odd given the Flying Spur employs three-chamber air springs that contain 60 per cent more air volume than the previous version. It’s also got active damping and four ride-height sensors that continuously measure the distance between the axle and the body, and adjust the air volume in the springs to maintain an even ride height.
Put that anomaly down to the 22-inch rims and low 30-section optional tyres on our test car. As good as they are in the handling department, this is a car that should maintain the standard 21-inch wheels as the best balance between ride and handling – at least, in our view.
It’s hard to categorise the new Bentley Flying Spur. On the one hand, it's an ultra-luxurious limousine that's best enjoyed from the rear seats. And on the other, it's a herculean-powered rocket ship that's just as deft at carving up some of the best driving roads on the planet, as you would be in a Golf R.
This might just be a contender for the best all-round car in the world.