Bentley is engaged in a never-ending struggle for the balance between classic luxury coachbuilding and modern car manufacturing.
Not only must the luxury automaker keep pace with changing technology, consumer tastes and industry standards, it must also consistently deliver the old-world-inspired sophistication it is known for. The automotive industry’s move toward electrification adds another challenge – one that Bentley is also embracing with its Beyond 100 initiative to become an all-electric brand by 2030 and offer electrified versions of all of its offerings by 2023.
Bentley first tested the electrified waters 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-centric hybrid powertrain to prove a Bentley is more than just a rollicking powerhouse. Conclusion: The Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid is an atypical bump on the rocky road to the future.
screws and nuts
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 power plant that alone produces 410 hp. This is paired with a 134hp electric motor that sits between the engine and the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
When everything is working in unison, the Flying Spur Hybrid has 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 who score points.
For comparison, the W12 Flying Spur can develop 626 hp and sprint to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. It can also sail up to 207 mph, while the 542 hp V8 can top out at 198 mph. The new hybrid is limited to 177 mph. All of this is academic for those living without a practical, unrestricted stretch of motorway, but overall it paints the picture of a car struggling to meet an established standard and not exceed expectations.
batteries and modes
In addition to the electric motor, the new components include an 18.0 kWh battery and a Level 2 J1772 charging connector, which Bentley says can be charged 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 MPGe combined, a far cry from its other, thirstier iterations. The extra port and “Hybrid” badging are the only things that tell this Flying Spur apart from the rest.
As with other Bentley cars, there is a choice of modes that affect driving dynamics and determine the smoothness or sportiness of various systems. The new hybrid setup adds new, separate modes that allow drivers to customize how the powertrain behaves: EV Drive, Hybrid and Hold.
The Flying Spur Hybrid is at its best on launch, using EV propulsion as standard. It’s the soft, gliding hint of how an all-electric Bentley will feel when it arrives.
Hybrid mode switches between systems predictably, depending on driver behavior and conditions, but also through route optimization thanks to a link between this system and on-board navigation. Enter a route and the Flying Spur will determine the most efficient segments to use its remaining charge.
Hold mode limits battery drain, but won’t stop it entirely. It will primarily use the V6 but turn on the electric motor for extra boost. This is also the default setting in Sport driving mode.
Speaking of driving, some notable sacrifices have been made to lighten all the new hybrid hardware. Rear-wheel steering and a 48-volt anti-roll system are found on the V8 and W12 Flying Spurs. These systems not only offer more balance and stability for comfortable cruising, but also help to change the dynamics of the healthy sedan on fast and sporty excursions.
Inside the cabin, technology is in line with that of the rest of the Flying Spur range, as well as the Continental GT Coupé: a 12.3-inch digital touchscreen, which is omitted when not required, to include three analog gauges, an all-digital instrument cluster and a head-up display is available. They’ve been updated with additional graphics to monitor battery usage, charge remaining and regeneration, with the instrument cluster specifically updated to show real-time powertrain behavior.
Battery status is one of the many things that can be tracked outside of the Flying Spur thanks to connected car services that connect to the car via a smartphone app.
Besides the current charge, the app allows users to schedule charge times and get charge time estimates. It also logs trip data that includes average fuel consumption, allowing for more informed planning of future trips. The cabin can also be prepared remotely prior to arrival, allowing it to be heated or cooled depending on the current climate.
What hasn’t changed is Bentley’s masterful interior craftsmanship. Like a feast, the Flying Spur is a sensational treat with plush leather seats, open-pore koa wood accents, diamond-cut metal knurled knobs, and a laundry list of other intricate details. It’s fair to say that Bentley has really nailed the luxury side of things at this point, although that doesn’t seem to be the case with electrification just yet.
The default EV mode at launch is a clever demonstration of the Flying Spur Hybrid’s best qualities. Relatively quiet and incredibly smooth, the electrified Bentley feels like it was always meant to be.
Combine that with the cabin’s substantial soundproofing and the experience is almost frightening at times, and it takes a split second for your senses to remember that everything is working as intended and that nothing has shut down. Passengers are treated to the feeling of floating through the city on a tranquil, luxurious cloud, and while this may be the best Bentley experience from the back seats, it’s a different story from behind the wheel.
While the temptation to plow full steam ahead in a W12 version or take a spirited excursion with the V8 is ever-present, the Flying Spur is a car destined to be driven comfortably for most of its operation. Effortless acceleration, seamless gear changes and cushioned braking were the name of the game in this regard, and they’ve all been changed in this iteration of the Spur.
Bentley’s “Bentley” mode is the automatic catch-all setting that changes depending on the driver’s behavior: pedal lightly and it behaves in comfort mode, but when it gets brisk it switches to sport. In general, these affect the steering hardness, the damper stiffness and also the input speeds for gas and brakes. Those three settings now have to contend with what drivetrain setting a rider wants to use, and this is beginning to complicate things.
By default, the throttle has a small input lag, not uncommon in luxury-oriented vehicles, to soften jerky jumps forward. It works well in E-mode at low speeds, but running solely on the electric motor has its limitations. Any desire to really get going requires activation of the V6.
In fact, trying to just adjust throttle response requires Sport mode. All of this effectively breaks the spell that the all-electric mode has cast. Traditionally, the satisfying grunt of one of the other engines announces its presence here, ready for action, but the V6 doesn’t spring to life in the same way. The added soundproofing further weakens it in a disappointing way.
Sound aside, the Flying Spur is seamless when switching from battery to motor power, and once up to speed it rolls unmistakably like a Bentley. When it’s time to slow things down, the newly implemented regenerative braking gives the Flying Spur an odd “hop” at the end, making it difficult to find a smooth stop. All in all, the core luxury experience is compromised from start to finish with the inclusion of the hybrid system.
Sport mode is more familiar. Keeping the V6 always on reduces most new quirks. Braking still suffers, but throttle and steering are as sharp as ever. The extra battery juice makes up for the smaller engine’s shortcomings, although it’s preciously limited, and it takes a long time to regain one-mile range in “hold.” The loss of rear steering doesn’t hurt as much as the loss of the anti-roll system, which has certainly helped mitigate the Flying Spur’s weight when cornered in the past.
Take all of this with a very fine grain of salt. We’re still talking about a Bentley here, and it still does everything in a comparatively excellent way compared to most vehicles out there. But when stacked with other Bentleys, the Flying Spur Hybrid stumbles a little too often to be at the front of the line.
The Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid stands out from its other iterations by being the most fuel-efficient version, literally by miles. Its electric range of around 21 miles isn’t much on its own, but paired with the V6 it can cover the distance as long as it’s regularly charged at home. Bentley is kind enough to include a charging unit with purchases of around $210,000, so buyers don’t have to deign to visit the local community charging station.
Given Bentley’s larger mission, compromising the performance of the Flying Spur’s luxurious attributes feels like a necessary growing pain.
In context, this will feel like an important step towards delivering on the promises of all-electric luxury. In the present, the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid vacillates between what it does best and what it does for the first time, resulting in a rare Bentley that falters in execution. This car’s all-electric mode is a tantalizing bite of what’s to come, it’s just a shame the taste is so fleeting.