Reviews and Road Tests
Driven: 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur
By by: George Achorn, photos by author
Jun 21, 2006, 17:36

What could the new Bentley Continental Flying Spur possibly have in common with the 16th-century English saint Sir Thomas More? Other than national heritage, harmony with divinity, and sightings within British high society, you might be surprised.

More coined the term “Utopia” in his 1516 book of the same name, setting into motion the idea that life for all classes could be improved by eliminating poverty and misery from society. Over time, this philosophy has taken on numerous interpretations, but it almost always involves betterment for all by sharing society’s obligations equally. This latest Bentley sedan, packed with the freshest technology, burled wood and supple leather could just be the most utopian luxury car ever.

Perhaps a utopian union was on the mind of Dr. Ferdinand Piech when he inked the deal for the Volkswagen Group to purchase Bentley Motors in 1998. Certainly the resources of the Volkswagen Empire and the craftsmanship that the Crewe factory was known for could be melded to broaden the appeal of one of the world’s greatest marques.

Traditionalists originally scoffed at the idea that Volkswagen had purchased the storied carmaker that W.O. Bentley started in 1919. What could a manufacturer of “people’s cars” possibly know about managing one of the most exclusive badges in the automotive realm? However, the synergy of German engineering and English coachbuilding has been a great success. By paying careful attention to the brand’s ideals, design and engineering execution, Bentley has flourished to perhaps one of the highest points in its 87-year history as a part of that German portfolio.

Under the bonnet is one place you can see this utopian joining of mass-producer Volkswagen and ultra-luxurious Bentley. The Flying Spur’s 12-cylinder engine is a variant of the W12 engine found in Audi’s A8 and Volkswagen's Phaeton. However, the extra zeros on the window sticker help pay for the development of this W12 well beyond that of its German cousins. Two Borg-Warner turbochargers have been added, upping the power to a lofty 552 bhp, while upgrades such as aluminum pistons remain unique to the Bentley and are designed to cope with the increased power. All of these components are assembled entirely by hand in Bentley’s Crewe facility, and each completed engine is hand-stamped by the craftsman who built it.

The 6-liter, twin-turbo W12 establishes the Flying Spur as not only the fastest 4-door Bentley ever, but also the fastest sedan in the world. It will launch from zero to 60 mph in a pavement-shredding 4.9 seconds and cruise at a top speed of 195 mph aided by the car’s slippery 0.31 Cd drag coefficient. Of course, that’s assuming you can find a long-enough stretch of highway where the local constabulary won’t fine you the price of a Volkswagen should you get caught.

Power is copious and the use of the two turbochargers helps maintain a long, flat torque curve- its full 479 lb-ft of pull comes on at a lazy 1600 rpm. Stand on the throttle and this nearly two and three-quarter-ton Bentley will roar to life, literally chirping all four wheels as a massive wave of torque battles the laws of physics.

That chirping is even more impressive when you consider that there’s no lag-time in the all-wheel drive system as it catches up with two spinning wheels that have lost their grip. The Flying Spur is fitted with a Torsen all-wheel drive system with a 50:50 torque split between the front and the rear. Even with this system, the car muscles out so much torque that it literally needs to claw a bit at the tarmac, overpowering even its massive 20-inch Yokohoma tires for just a moment. It’s an awe-inspiring show, assuring job security for the local road repair crews and moving the Bentley in a decidedly rapid fashion.

Reigning in all that speed is a brake system that is simply the largest factory-equipped setup ever fitted to a sedan in series production. 405mm ventilated discs at the front and 335mm at the rear look and most definitely act the part, mated to calipers stamped with the flying B logo. Plant your foot firmly on the stainless steel brake pedal and you might believe you were driving a much lighter car than the Flying Spur’s 5,456 lb. curb weight.

The braking system will scrub off speed even more impressively than the accelerator will add it back on. That may come as no surprise when you consider that Bentley engineers designed the system to be able to brake from 200mph to naught fifteen times before they give up the ghost. When’s the last time you went 200mph, much less panic stopped to zero, then did it again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and just one more time for kicks?!?!

While we didn’t challenge their claims from 200mph, we did try some hard braking maneuvers and no matter how hard you shove your loafer down on that brake pedal, the Flying Spur maintains composure. Those gargantuan brakes combined with ABS and ESP keep everything under control as your dental fillings do their best to remain in your mouth.

The Flying Spur employs an adjustable air suspension. If you are being driven by your chauffer for a night on the town, the comfort setting may be preferred. However, he who pilot his own car with spirit will both prefer and appreciate the sport setting, as well as the 6-speed automatic transmission’s manual mode to keep revs high even when you lift your foot off of the throttle mid-turn. Such functionality certainly won’t see as much usage as similar equipment in a sports car, but Bentley’s own sporting pedigree demands the presence of these features. The car’s handling capabilities are likely superior to those who might find themselves at the helm anyway.

Twelve cylinders, two turbochargers and the Conti’s heft don’t exactly add up to lofty fuel economy. Still, efficient aerodynamics and proper gearing help keep it respectable. The EPA rates the Bentley at 11 mpg city and 18 mpg highway, while our mixed driving delivered around 15 mpg– a figure not much different than many SUVs with half the cylinders and none of the turbos.

The handsome and curvaceous lines of the Continental Flying Spur take their inspiration from the car’s namesake, the 1957 Continental Flying Spur. Bentley Design Director Dirk van Braeckel notes that creating the Flying Spur wasn’t simply a matter of adding two more doors to a stretched version of the existing Continental GT coupe. Instead, both cars were penned at the same time so that the proportions would flow correctly over the entire range, maintaining a “timeless and unostentatious” air for which Bentley has come to be known.

Traditional cues such as the chrome crosshatch grille and large quad headlights combine seamlessly with more modern technologies like Bi-Xenon illumination. At the rear, simply touch the center of the flying B logo on the trunk and the motorized lid obligingly opens to accept packages and the like.

Inside, traditional Bentley design continues. Signature design elements like the weighty aluminum bulls-eye ventilation outlets and their organ-stop puller controls, or the solid machined shifter, are more substantial and of a higher grade than pieces found in any Volkswagen or Audi. Finely honed steel and aluminum make up much of the switchgear, joined by generous amounts of unstained and unbleached burled walnut veneers. As for the plastic… well, there is no plastic. Every surface of the Flying Spur’s interior is either leather, aluminum, burled wood or chromed steel.

Traditional top-shelf craftsmanship is again mated to state-of-the-art technology inside; leather hides are efficiently and consistently cut using digitized methods, while the wood veneers can now be more dramatically curved thanks to processes that were not possible prior to the Volkswagen era. The finished product, however, is unmistakably Bentley.

Elements of the infotainment wizardry are familiar. The screen-based user interfaces for navigation, climate control, audio and air suspension appear to be shared with the Volkswagen Phaeton, while on the steering column is a paddle shifter design we’ve seen before in high-end European-market Audis. Old-school purists may scoff at this parts-bin sharing, but when considered in a utopian light, this Bentley takes advantage of these mass-developed technological components in a virtually seamless way– offering electronics on a level well beyond any of its forebears.

In an automotive utopia, perhaps this is a natural progression, but don't mistake it for homogenization. Both the Flying Spur and the Phaeton appear to be all the stronger for the collaboration. One might wonder if there could have even been a business case for the Phaeton were Bentley’s own prodigious sales numbers not considered as part of the “to build, or not to build” question.

On the road, the Flying Spur exhibits all of the common Bentley virtues. The car commands attention, but never begs for stares like a Lamborghini. Even those only half aware of their surroundings realize the car about to overtake them at warp speed is clearly no copycat Chrysler 300C. And like Bentleys of yore, the Flying Spur is as solid as Gibraltar.

The base price for the Flying Spur is $164,990.00. The “Moonbeam” colored example we experienced had a few extras for those who might want a little more personalization. Ours included 20-inch seven-spoke wheels and tires ($3440), a Convenience package with privacy handset ($1130), an electric glass solar panel tilt-and-slide sunroof ($990), sporting gear lever finished in knurled chrome and hide ($590), deep-pile carpet mats with hide trimming matched to carpet ($490), Mulliner alloy fuel-filler cap ($290), space saver spare wheel ($240) and valet parking key ($240).

With a gas-guzzler tax of $3700 and destination charge of $2595, that brought this particular Flying Spur to $179,105. Expensive that may be, but Flying Spurs like our tester are relative bargains compared to other vehicles that have borne the flying B logo on the grille, and that’s bringing an even younger audience into the Bentley brand. The Continental line has been so successful, in fact, Bentley’s former sister brand Rolls-Royce (now owned by BMW) may follow in Crewe’s footsteps and build a more direct competitor for the Continental range.

Would Sir Thomas More have owned a Flying Spur? His own utopian philosophies may not have emphasized luxury or encouraged ownership of something as elite as a Bentley. However, his personal estate was itself palatial, so More would have been a hypocrite to overlook this car and its utopian character.

There’s little doubt that the English politician, lawyer and saint would have probably considered it were he alive today. More was hardly a traditionalist even though he was in the upper class. As such, he probably would have identified with the Continental Flying Spur and appreciated its significance to Bentley, The Volkswagen Group and the automotive industry in general.

Side Road:

To photograph the 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur, we ventured to Hershey, Pennsylvania and the Highpoint Mansion, home of Milton Hershey, the chocolate magnate and founder of the company that still bears his name.

Hershey is not a traditional “Old Money” town, even in Pennsylvania where the loftiest of the rich lived in Philadelphia’s Main Line or amongst Pittsburgh’s steel tycoons. Hershey, rather, was a town built around and named for a self-made man.

Milton Hershey didn’t shy from money, and lived in grand fashion. His mansion may not have been as big as the houses of other magnates of his time, nor his household staff as large, but it was no less beautiful.

Milton Hershey was a self-made capitalist, and he was also a utopian. His town in the heart of Pennsylvania was built around such ideals. From Highpoint, one can wander through the neighborhood of executive mansions, then large lower executive homes, and finally on to neighborhoods filled with the smaller but well-built homes for factory workers along tree-lined streets.

When the country experienced the Great Depression and even the Hershey Candy Company’s business began to slow, Milton Hershey used his own cash to fund the building of the grand Hotel Hershey on a hill above the town. The move kept workers in jobs during a time when most of the country did whatever they could just to get by.

When he and his wife were unable to have children, Hershey started a school for orphans based around farms that supplied his company with milk. He was wily enough to set up a Trust that still exists today, keeping the candy company funding the school that now boasts the largest endowment that now ranks with Stanford and Harvard.

Hershey both enjoyed the fruits of his labor and spread his wealth around for the betterment of his town. In as much, such a utopian way of living inspired our driving destination, bringing us to this mansion that is as smart, attractive and unostentatious as the Continental Flying Spur.

Statistics: 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Base Price: $164,990.00
Delivery: $2,595
Options: 20-inch seven-spoke wheels and tires ($3440), Convenience package with privacy handset ($1130), Electric glass solar panel tilt-and-slide sunroof ($990), Sporting gear lever finished in knurled chrome and hide ($590), Deep-pile carpet mats with hide trimming matched to carpet ($490), Mulliner alloy fuel-filler cap ($290), Space saver spare wheel ($240) and Valet parking key ($240)

Technical Specifications


Type: Twin turbocharged 6-liter W12
Power: 560 hp @ 6100 rpm
Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
Displacement: 5998 cc
Bore: 84 mm
Stroke: 90.2 mm
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1

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