Bentley is locked in a never-ending battle to balance building classic luxury coaches and manufacturing modern automobiles. The luxury automaker not only has to keep up with changing technology, consumer taste and industry standards, it must also constantly deliver the old-world-inspired sophistication it’s known for. The auto industry’s move toward electrification adds another challenge, one that Bentley is also taking on with its Beyond 100 initiative to become an all-electric brand by 2030 and electrified versions of all its offerings by 2023. Bentley first tested the waters electrified in 2019 with the hybrid version of the Bentayga SUV. Now it’s time for the Flying Spur, a full-size luxury sedan that has historically been paired with either a decadent W12 engine or a spirited V8. The automaker traded in a V6-focused hybrid powertrain in an effort to prove that a Bentley is more than just a boisterous power plant. The result: the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid is an unusual bump on the rocky road to the future.
Nuts and bolts
Image credits: Alex Kalogianni Under the hood of the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid is the first V6 to be found in a Bentley sedan in 64 years, specifically a 2.9-liter twin-turbo engine that makes 410 horsepower on its own. This is paired with a 134-horsepower electric motor that sits between the engine and the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. With everything running in unison, the Flying Spur Hybrid boasts an output of 536 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, sending it to all four wheels and jumping from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds. This is just a tenth of a second slower than the V8, for those keeping score. To put this in perspective, the W12 Flying Spur can make 626 horsepower and accelerate to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. It can also cruise at 207 mph, while the 542-horsepower V8 can top out at 198 mph. The new hybrid is limited to 177 mph. This is all academic for those who live without a practical stretch of unrestricted highway, but collectively it paints a picture of a car that struggles to meet a set standard, without exceeding expectations.
Batteries and modes
Image credits: Alex Kalogianni Along with the electric motor, the new components include an 18.0 kWh battery and a J1772 level 2 charging port, which Bentley says can be recharged in two and a half hours. It’s good for about 21 miles of all-electric cruising and gives the Flying Spur a solid 46 combined MPGe, a far cry from its other thirstier iterations. The extra port and “Hybrid” badging are the only things that make this Flying Spur different from any other. Like other Bentley vehicles, there is a choice of modes that influence driving dynamics, determining the finesse or sportiness of various systems. With the new hybrid setup, a new set of separate modes are added for drivers to tune the behavior of the powertrain: EV Drive, Hybrid and Hold. The Flying Spur Hybrid puts its best foot forward, defaulting to EV Drive. It’s the quiet, slippery hint of how an all-electric Bentley will feel once it arrives. Hybrid mode switches predictably between systems, based on driver behavior and conditions, but also through route optimization thanks to a link between this system and on-board navigation. Mark a route and Flying Spur will determine the most efficient segments to use your remaining cargo. Standby mode will limit battery usage, but will not completely disable it. It will primarily use the V6, but will engage the electric motor for an extra boost. This is also the default setting in Sport driving mode. Speaking of driving, some notable sacrifices were made to facilitate all the new hybrid hardware. Rear-wheel steering and a 48-volt anti-roll system can be found on the V8 and W12 Flying Spurs. These systems not only provide more balance and stability for a comfortable ride, but also help alter the healthy-sized sedan’s dynamics when engaged in fast, sporty excursions.
Image credits: Alex Kalogianni Inside the cabin, the technology matches that found in the rest of the Flying Spur lineup, as well as the Continental GT Coupe: a 12.3-inch digital touchscreen that flips back when not needed to reveal Three analog gauges, a fully digital gauge cluster and a head-up display are all present. They’ve been updated with additional graphs to monitor battery usage, remaining charge and regeneration, with the gauge cluster updated specifically to show real-time powertrain behavior. Battery status is one of many things that can be tracked from Flying Spur, thanks to connected car services that link to the car via a smartphone app. Along with the current charge, the app allows users to schedule charging times and receive charging time estimates. It also records trip data including average fuel consumption, allowing for more informed planning on future trips. The cabin can also be remotely primed prior to arrival, so it can be heated or cooled, depending on the current weather. What hasn’t changed is Bentley’s masterful interior craftsmanship. Like an indulgent feast, the Flying Spur is a sensational delight with soft leather seats, open-pore Koa wood trim, knurled diamond-cut metal knobs, and a long list of other intricate details. It’s fair to say that Bentley has the luxury side of things well defined at this point, although this still doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to electrification.
the user experience
Image credits: Alex Kalogianni The default EV mode at startup is a clever display of the Flying Spur Hybrid’s best attributes. Relatively quiet and incredibly smooth, the electrified Bentley feels like this is what it was meant for all along. Combine this with the cabin’s substantial sound deadening and the experience is almost terrifying at times, with it taking a split second for your senses to remember that everything is working as intended and nothing has been turned off. Passengers enjoy the feeling of floating on a calm, luxurious cloud through the city, and while this may be the best Bentley experience from the back seats, it’s a different story behind the wheel. While the temptation to go full steam ahead in a W12 version or go for a spirited ride with the V8 is ever present, the Flying Spur is a car designed to be driven in comfort for most of its run. Effortless acceleration, smooth gear changes and cushioned braking have been the name of the game in that regard, and they’ve all been tweaked in this iteration of the Spur.Image credits: Alex Kalogianni Bentley’s ‘Bentley’ mode is the general automatic setting that changes according to the driver’s behavior: step lightly and it behaves in comfort mode, but start getting aggressive and it switches to sport. In general, these affect steering stiffness, damper stiffness, and also input speeds for throttle and braking. These three settings now have to deal with whatever transmission settings the driver wants to use, and this starts to complicate things. By default, the throttle has a small input lag not uncommon in luxury vehicles to mitigate sudden forward jumps. It works fine in E-mode at low speeds, but operating solely on the electric motor has its limitations. Any desire to move really requires the activation of the V6. In fact, trying to customize just the throttle response requires sport mode. All of this effectively breaks the spell that the all-electric mode has cast. Traditionally, this is where the satisfying growl of any of the other engines declares its presence, ready to go, but the V6 doesn’t come alive in the same way. The extra disconcerting sound diminishes it further in a disappointing way. Aside from the sound, the Flying Spur runs perfectly when it goes from battery to motor power, and once it gets up to speed it glides unmistakably like a Bentley. Once it’s time to slow down, newly implemented regenerative braking gives the Flying Spur a weird “jump” right at the end, making it difficult to come to a smooth stop. In all, from start to finish, the core luxury experience is compromised by the inclusion of the hybrid system. Things are more familiar in sport mode. With the V6 always on, most of the new quirks are cut down. Braking still suffers, but throttle and steering are as precise as ever. The extra battery juice makes up for the shortcomings of the smaller motor, though it’s preciously finite, and it takes a lot of “standby” time to regain a mile’s worth of range. Losing rear steering doesn’t hurt as much as losing the anti-roll system, which certainly helped mitigate the Flying Spur’s weight in the past when cornering.Image credits: Alex Kalogianni Take all of the above with a very refined grain of salt. We’re still talking about a Bentley here, and it still does everything in a comparatively stellar way relative to most vehicles out there. But when compared to other Bentleys, the Flying Spur Hybrid stumbles too often to be top of the line. The Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid stands apart from its other iterations by being the most fuel-efficient version literally by miles. Its roughly 21 miles of electric range isn’t much on its own, but combined with the V6, it can go the distance, as long as it’s kept regularly charged at home. Bentley is kind enough to launch a charging unit with the purchase of approximately $210,000, so buyers need not deign to visit the local community charging station. Compromising performance for the Flying Spur’s luxury features feels like a necessary growing pain in light of Bentley’s larger mission. In context, this will feel like a major step towards delivering on the promises of all-electric luxury. In the present, the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid is torn between doing what it does best and what it’s doing for the first time, resulting in an exceptional Bentley that fails to execute. This car’s all-electric mode is a tantalizing taste of what’s to come, it’s a shame the taste is so fleeting.