In the Autoblog Garage: 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Click above for high-res gallery of the 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

In case you haven't noticed, we're a blog. You know, one of those Web sites run by people who don't shower and refuse to change out of their pajamas? That's us in a nutshell. So imagine our shock when Bentley not only responded to our e-mail, but told us it would be granting our request to review the 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Man, we're still trying to get a Yaris from Toyota to review and Bentley just gave us the green light? The universe has gone nuts, but fortunately, today we find ourselves in its favor.

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur is a sedan that makes other super saloons like the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and even its own very distant cousin, the Audi A8, seem practical in comparison. At an out-the-door asking price of $183,825 (including destination charges and a hefty $3,700 gas guzzler tax), the Continental Flying Spur costs more than ...
All of the above are perfectly acceptable forms of transportation, some even exceptional. After a few days with the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, however, each is but a distant memory from a different tax bracket.

Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

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The Bentley arrived on a Friday afternoon, and my first order of business was to drive it as far away from my high-rise apartment complex as possible. My 2,000 or so neighbors are probably good people, but why tempt fate? Besides, fortune again found me when I found out a few weeks prior that my girlfriend's brother was getting married this particular weekend, which meant this Bentley was going to help me score a whole bunch of brownie points.

When the delivery guy handed me the Flying Spur's key, the first thing I noticed was that it's the same switchblade style key used by Volkswagen and Audi. The second thing was that it weighed about four times as much and featured two silver colored metal caps on either side. This is where a Bentley owner's education in the philosophy of "weight equals wealth" begins, as the Flying Spur itself tips the scales at nearly 5,500 lbs.

Before we hit the highway, the Flying Spur and I stopped for a quick photo shoot that gave me a chance to inspect the sedan's styling. Bentley didn't mess with the sexy styling of the Continental GT on which the Flying Spur is based. In fact, a lot of what we love about the GT is here in four-door trim, most importantly the pair of twin bi-xenon headlights and matrix grille set in swept back sheetmetal that flows into the car's long hood. It's a nicely modern update of Bentley's traditional visage that can still be found on its Arnage and Azure models.

Compared to the Continental GT, the Flying Spur also has an extra foot added to its wheelbase to accommodate another set of doors and acres of rear legroom, so in profile view the car looks limo long. The back of the car unfortunately loses the GT's voluptuous rear fenders in favor of cleaner lines that no doubt contribute to the car's voluminous 16.7 cubic foot boot. Other interesting exterior touches include the pair of oval chromed exhaust tips, the big rear LED taillights and a strip of chrome above the side sills that runs the length of the car on either side and draws subtle attention to its massive proportions. Only the wheel wells housing optional 20-inch, 7-spoke wheels (only $3,440 extra over the standard 19-inch, 5-spoke wheels) interrupt the long lines of the chrome strips.

While staring at the Flying Spur, one begins to appreciate how far the brand has come since it was purchased by Volkswagen in the late '90s and began its separation from Rolls-Royce. We remember both British luxury marques as producing basically rebadged versions of the same car for so long, so when BMW made off with the Rolls-Royce name and unveiled the all-new Phantom in 2003, it finally allowed both brands to break ties and settle into their own super exclusive niches.

Before the we took off for our wedding weekend, I spent some time inside the Flying Spur examining just what kind of interior $180k buys these days. Upon entering the vehicle after it was baking in the sun for a couple of hours, I was greeted by a temperature that should have only been possible under the cover of shade. A quick flip through the manual and I learned that my tester was fitted with the optional $990 sunroof that doubles as a solar panel. That natural electricity powers the ventilation fans when the car is parked and keeps the cabin cool. It was at this point I realized how much I was going to enjoy pretending to be rich for the weekend.

Once nestled into my captain's chair, I reached for the power adjustments located low on the seat's side and began pressing buttons. You'll find here adjustments for normal things like moving the seat forwards, backwards and reclining, as well as extras only an abnormally affluent person would require, such as electrically extending seat cushions and a button for a lumbar massage. Later in the weekend one of my rear seat passengers discovered that all four seats can turn into a masseuse at the touch of a button, and each are heated and cooled to boot.

From the helm you're greeted by a traditional looking dash pleasantly devoid of techno wiz-bang gadgetry. Instead of trying to impress on technology alone, Bentley designers dressed the interior to the nines with unrivaled craftsmanship and quality materials. The surfaces of the interior are landscaped from top to bottom in unbleached Burr Walnut veneers and premium grade leather hides. There are 17 colors of leather from which to choose and an equal number of choices for thread color. The seats alone take two days each to stitch by hand and one continuous piece of thread is used on the hand-stitched steering wheel so there are no loose ends.

Bentley told us the story of one particular customer who asked the automaker how far it would go to customize his Bentley. He requested that the wood inlay on his vehicle come from a tree on his property that held great sentimental value. Bentley obliged the customer and craftsmen were dispatched from the company's headquarters in Crewe, England to retrieve the wood and create his one-of-a-kind interior.

The cabin is also replete with bits of chrome trim that contrasts nicely with the organic surfaces of wood and leather. The bezels surrounding the gauges, the vents and their trick "organ" stop controls, various pieces of switchgear, the pedals and the $590 optional gear lever are all covered in the chrome brightwork.

As opulent as the Flying Spur's interior is, it's also where the majority of our gripes are aimed. First and foremost is the CD-based navigation system that proved to be a worthless guide the entire weekend. Nevermind the hassle of having to swap out discs when driving through different parts of the country, the lack of touchscreen control in favor of buttons flanking the screen and a control knob directly below goes far enough in testing the patience of this temporary tycoon. The 2007 model fortunately gains a proper DVD-based satellite navigation system, as well as better Bluetooth phone integration.

The sins of the Flying Spur's interior are soon forgiven, however, when the engine's start button is depressed and the twin-turbocharged, 6.0-liter W12 engine comes online. Bentley is quick to point out that while the Continental's W12 is based on the same architecture as some Audi and VW engines, it's been completely reengineered by engineers at Crewe with a unique top end and is the only variation of this powerplant in the VW/Audi group that's turbocharged.

The W12 produces power in the range of 552 bhp and 479 ft-lbs. of torque at only 1,600 rpm. Coupled with a full-time all-wheel drive system, those twelve cylinders can propel all 5,456 lbs. of the Flying Sput to 60 mph in an estimated 4.9 seconds. Bentley knows the value of under-promising and over-delivering, so our bums can confirm that it reaches that mark a few tenths of a second quicker than what Bentley claims (yes, they're that sensitive). Unfortunately, we were unable to confirm the Flying Spur's claimed top speed of 195 mph on Ohio's highways without spending the next year in jail. We can say that once a comfortable cruising speed is reached you'll start wondering why everyone else is going slow. They're not, you're doing over 100 mph and don't realize it because the Bentley remains so stable and serene at speed.

Along with being an autobahn bomber, the Flying Spur is also a surprisingly capable corner carver. Credit goes to the vehicle's continuously variable air suspension that offers the driver Jekyll and Hyde damper settings. Using the dial on the center console, one can choose between four damper settings that range from Comfort to Sport and two ride heights. We suggest dialing in full comfort if you're carrying human cargo. Not only does this setting give you a billowy ride, it also takes the edge of the engine's prodigious amounts of power by decreasing throttle sensitivity, thereby making acceleration from a stop smooth enough for any Miss Daisy you happen to be driving.

I offered to be a chauffeur for the wedding weekend so I could spend as much time possible in the Flying Spur. After the bridesmaids were delivered safely and before I had to pick up my next fare, however, the Flying Spur was switched to Sport and revealed a remarkably taught ride, flat cornering and impressive grip. While it's no TT in the twisties, the Flying Spur feels like a much smaller, lighter sedan in Sport mode with the air suspension waging an all-out war on inertia.

The six-speed ZF automatic transmission also perks up and delivers the next gear with much greater haste when in Sport mode. The transmission can also be controlled via a set of steering column-mounted paddle shifters that, while situated well for fingertip shifts, look like a pair of nine irons sticking out from behind the steering wheel.

One hopefully realizes that when buying something like a Bentley Continental Flying Spur that you're purchasing something more than the sum of its tangible parts. Sure, there's the gorgeous design, top notch craftsmanship and world-class power, but you are also bestowed a level of class that demands recognition. While not every Dick and Jane is familiar yet with Bentley's Continental line of cars, the Flying Spur was too big, too fast and too ostentatious to ever be ignored. When people didn't know what kind of car had just passed them, they did know it was something special and often caught up to us to ask what it was.

As the wedding weekend concluded, I was asked to perform one final duty with the Flying Spur. The happy couple didn't have a proper chariot in which to be whisked away from the church and deliver them into their new life together. Their choices were either the groom's F-150 work truck or the bride's 2003 Nissan Altima, neither of which had enough cachet to be a proper marriage mobile. The Flying Spur and I were happy to oblige, and from the reaction of friends and family when the car arrived it was clear that few vehicles could've performed so well in that special moment. Up to that point and for the rest of the weekend, the Flying Spur proved there were hardly any moments it couldn't master. Though it's an elite automobile that exists many times removed from my own price range, four days with the 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur proved that it's worth every penny. Now, let's see where Toyota's at with that Yaris.

Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

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