But there's good reason for that. So many of these vehicles, despite their hand-crafted, bespoke nature, are all – gasp! – plug-and-play exercises that allow Bentley to appeal to the broadest range of upper-lux buyers, while keeping development costs relatively low. It's a move that's indeed worked, the company managing to post healthy sales increases year after year. And that's only going to get better, following the launch of the Flying Spur sedan last year, not to mention the upcoming, highly anticipated SUV that's in the works. As Kevin Rose, Bentley's member of the board for sales, marketing and aftersales told me recently, "The best years are yet to come."
To further expand an already growing range, I recently hopped a plane to London to experience the second member of the Flying Spur family – the V8. This less-powerful Spur offers better fuel efficiency and a lower staring price, while not compromising any of the brand's core values of luxury and refinement above all. But to paraphrase what executive editor Chris Paukert said when he drove the Conti GT V8 in 2012, this is indeed The Thinking Man's Flying Spur. Here, less really is more.
- What makes this Flying Spur different from the ones before it is beneath the bonnet: a twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8, seen elsewhere in the greater Volkswagen Group portfolio under the hood of the Audi S8. In the Spur, this robust engine puts out 500 horsepower and 488 pound-feet of torque. Note that those figures represent decreases of 116 hp and 102 lb-ft versus the 12-cylinder model that senior editor Seyth Miersma drove in China last year.
- On the surface, that seems like a huge loss. But hold on – run the two cars side by side, and the V8 is only half a second slower to 60 miles per hour (4.9 seconds, here), thanks in part to a 110-pound weight savings. What's more, despite the Flying Spur's quest of first and foremost being quiet and shielding you from the outside world, the V8 sounds a whole lot better, with a revvy, throaty quality, much like what you hear in the Audi.
- There's really nothing in this world that can quite compete with the pavement-warping thrust of the W12, but for what I imagine will be 95 percent of the Flying Spur's driving scenarios, the V8 is more than adequate in terms of power. The eight-speed automatic transmission does a fine job of managing things, as well – you'll never notice it's there, unless you decide to click through the gears yourself via the column-mounted paddles. (Honestly, don't.)
- This combination of less power, less weight and an efficient transmission posts gains in the fuel economy department – the V8 model is estimated to achieve 14 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg highway, compared to 12/20 mpg city/highway in the W12.
- Let me be clear: the 616-hp W12 Spur is great, but if I'm playing favorites, I'd rather drive the V8 car. On the more engaging roads through the English countryside, the happier-to-rev eight-pot is easier to keep on boil, and with 110 less pounds to lug around (a full 88 of which are due to the engine swap itself), the Spur doesn't feel like quite a lummox when driven spiritedly.
- Of course, this is still a 5,341-pound, all-wheel-drive sedan we're talking about, with suspension geometry that's a bit softer than the Continental or the Spur that came before it, so it's not so much "tossing" as it is, well, let's just go British and say "motoring." Indeed, this car may be better to drive than its W12 counterpart, but only just. The Flying Spur still offers typically unnoticeable amounts of driver feedback, with nicely weighted (but light) steering, and an air suspension that keeps things copacetic while allowing only the necessary amounts of pitch and body roll to keep Sir from being thrown about in the back seat.
- As Miersma rightly pointed out in his First Drive, the grip on offer largely comes down to the excellent all-wheel-drive system, and the fat tires, sized 19 inches in diameter here (20s are optional). Make no mistake, the Driver's Bentley is still the Continental coupe, but the Spur isn't completely muted in terms of enthusiastic voice. It's quick and smooth, with an unmatched ride quality, all enhanced by the very subtle purr of the V8 underhood.
- Other V8-model-specific differences include red badges on the exterior, and the unique, figure-eight shaped exhaust outlets around back. Other than that, it's business as usual inside and out, so only your most discerning of colleagues at the country club will notice you've opted for a less-expensive version.
- That means driver and passengers are treated to a truly top-notch experience inside the cabin, with only the finest fabrics sewn over the seats and doors, matched with 33 square feet of natural wood (crafted by hand, cured for 72 hours and clear-lacquered, by the way). It doesn't even seem right to discuss things like fit and finish, or critique material selection, because as you can imagine, it's all outstanding. The best stuff out there.
- Bentley offers this sedan with three different rear seating arrangements – a two-plus-two, fixed-seat setup, a three-wide bench, or a contoured bench offering two-place seating. To rightly experience this, I was chauffeured into central London in the back of a fixed-seat car, featuring fully adjustable thrones, and pretty much every single amenity you could ever ask for. It's second-best to the larger Mulsanne, sure, but I can't see a single reason why anyone in this world would ever complain about the Spur's accommodations. Of course, I reside in a wholly different tax bracket than target buyers, but still – I dare you to find something less-than-lovely in the Flying Spur's rear accommodations.
- Perhaps my only gripe with the Flying Spur is its navigation/infotainment system in the center stack up front, which both feels and looks a couple generations too old. It's way too similar to the Volkswagen unit employed in cars like the last-gen Passat, and while it's decently intuitive to use, it's not pretty. Far less expensive fullsize sedans like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and even Volkswagen Group's own Audi A8 best the Flying Spur in the new and innovative tech category. Still, the system checks all the right boxes and works as advertised, so really, I'm just being picky. It also offers backseat residents control via the smart-phone-like Touch Screen Remote, which the Audi and Benz don't yet have an answer for.
- Flying Spur V8 models will start at $195,100 when they go on sale in the third quarter of this year – a decrease of $5,400 versus the W12. The higher-lux Mulliner specification comes in at $208,170, and as with all Bentley models, the configuration possibilities are literally infinite.
- Bentley expects the V8 to account for a full 50 percent of Flying Spur sales here in the US, attracting new buyers to the brand in the process. From where I sit, I can't see a single reason to not get the V8, unless you've got an extra $5,400 in your pocket (if you're a customer, you likely do) and simply cannot settle for anything less than the top spec. It's a better-driving version of an already astonishingly comfortable and competent luxury sedan. If this is what model expansion looks like in the world of Bentley, the best years are indeed yet to come.