We're going to give it a shot anyway. We spent last week driving around the (surprisingly fun) back roads near Beijing, China, in the new 2014 Bentley Flying Spur. Bentley brought us all the way to the Great Wall, hosting the first-ever international car launch in China to drive home the point that Chinese buyers will make up 55 percent of the Flying Spur's sales. And they'll pay a hefty premium – U.S. buyers will pay $200,500, but tariffs will increase the price for Chinese buyers to nearly a half-million dollars.
It seemed a bit gauche to be driving a half-million-dollar car in China, where the majority of its 1.3 billion population is living in poverty. But the country has a growing number of millionaires and billionaires, and is biding its time as the fourth-largest economy in the world until it takes over the No. 1 spot. There are plenty of newly minted rich people here looking to be driven around in a rolling status symbol.
Critics didn't gush over the last Flying Spur, saying it wasn't as refined as it could have been from a carmaker that builds each of its vehicles by hand. Has Bentley done a better job with this new version? Read on to find out.
The BasicsSticker price: $200,500
Invoice price: NA
Engine: 6-liter twin-turbocharged W12
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 616 horsepower, 590 pound-feet of torque, 0-60 in 4.3 seconds
Fuel economy: 12 mpg City, 20 mpg Highway
Seating: 4 people
Cargo: 16.8 cubic feet in trunk
Exterior DesignIf you stick some miniature flags to the four corners of this car, you could easily pass as a third-world dictator driving through town.
The Flying Spur is classically Bentley – a bit staid, but respectable. The lattice-work grill and sparkling headlights give the car a distinguished face. On the side, air vents are covered with a stylish "B" that looks like a rocket ship. Thick pillars between the windows give the car a heavy, strong look.
Bentley cars can be painted in whatever color you like; if you want the automaker to match your car to your favorite dress, they can do it. There are 88 standard colors available, joined now by a purple called Damson inspired by the color of rare purple diamonds, the company says.
I like how it looks. It's a proper grown up car -- one you could drive to charity galas and feel like you've made it.
InteriorThis is where things get ultra luxurious. I've always been struck by how really wealthy people favor colors like white and beige, as if these people never get muddy or spill Diet Coke while they're driving. The Flying Spur we tested favored these light hues – seats in quilted off-white leather and plush cream carpeting are suitable for folks who don't have to carpool kids snacking on Cheez-Its in plastic baggies. That said, you can get it with darker interior colors if that's your thing.
It's lavish. People who own this car have nannies who dole out organic Cheez-Its and deal with that mess. The fine wood paneling and cold-to-the-touch gear selector and rotary dial add to the cocoon feeling inside the car. In the Mulliner edition, which is the $250,000 version of the car, there's a removable sunglasses case that matches the wood in the car. It's nicer than almost anything I own.
Passenger And Cargo SpaceLet's face it, this car was designed for people who want to be chauffeured. So there's ample legroom in the back. There's also a tray that flips down, like in an airplane, in case you want to do work. And there's a mirror, for those vanity moments. The rear seats are heated and there's optional seat massagers in the back.
There's a sturdy arm rest in between the back seats, so the car only seats four.
The trunk is big enough to carry golf clubs and a steamer trunk or two (isn't that how rich people travel? Or have they moved on to matching sets of Louis Vitton suitcases?).
Driving DynamicsBentley says this car was also designed for people who like driving. Tooling around the suburbs of Beijing was way more fun than I'd expected – and I'm not sure how much of that is due to China's excellent road system, or due to the easy driving dynamics of the Flying Spur. We drove from Beijing north to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall, a drive that took about 3 hours on traffic-jammed roads, then smooth interstates, and finally on curvy local roads passing through small villages.
The steering on the Flying Spur was effortless. The 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 engine kicks up into higher speeds easily, and hums along at 100 mph as if it's no big thing. I mean, it's got 616 horsepower. It should be fast. The air suspension keeps the car floating above the road, so you can barely feel the bumps in the road. And there was very little body roll, so even when my driving partner was taking turns at 80 mph, the car felt very much in control.
There was virtually no wind noise penetrating the cabin. In fact, it was probably a little too quiet inside – you could barely hear the engine notes even when accelerating.
Tech And InfotainmentUp in the front seats, there's nothing particularly amazing about the Flying Spur's infotainment system. It comes with an 8-inch touch screen to control the radio and navigation system, and has separate knobs for heating and cooling.
The people who designed the Flying Spur must know a little something about control freaks, because you can control this whole system from a remote control in the back. You can even check on the driver's speed from this remote.
There are options to add two 10-inch screens mounted on the back of the front seats. It can come with a Wi-Fi router that can connect up to eight devices at once. Separate headphones for each screen mean the two backseat passengers can watch different things at the same time.
Is this car worth more than $200,000? I have no idea. I've bought houses for less money than that. And is it the best buy in this stratosphere compared to other luxury cars? Again, I'm at a loss. The car competes with the Rolls Royce Ghost and Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG price-wise. Bentley says they'll probably also get some customers who also like the Jaguar XJ, Aston Martin Rapide and Maserati Quattroporte.
If you're willing to shell out that kind of money for a car, chances are you're looking for a combination of status symbol and a feeling that you own one of the finer things in life. The Bentley Flying Spur won't let you down in that regard.
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