Bentley Continental Flying Spur--Chicago Cars Direct

Detailed walkaround and test drive of a 2006 Bentley Flying Spur with Chris at Chicago Cars Direct. For roughly 40 nights a year, a small patch of blacktop in Downtown Los Angeles becomes the most sought after real estate in Southern California. It's a parking lot across the street from the Staples Center, home of the L.A. Lakers NBA team, and unless you're a season ticket holder or Kobe Bryant's mother you're not getting in. Or so we thought. We drive by to get a look before the game. There's a half million dollars' worth of cars in the front row alone, and a stone-faced attendant at the gate. Under normal circumstances we would have kept right on going, but we're driving a 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur sedan so we try our luck and turn in. The attendant takes one look at the car, smiles and waves us through the gate like he was expecting us. We try not to look surprised when he directs us into a space between a Ferrari F430 and an Aston Martin DB9. Another security guard standing watch assures us the Spur will be safe. Neither one asks to see our tickets. Just a few years ago this glimpse into how the other half lives would have never happened. Back then, Bentleys looked old and were driven by people who looked even older. Other than the Bentley name, the cars didn't have much going for them. The Bentley Continental Flying Spur is a different story. It looks modern and powerful and has the performance to match. Its $165,000 base price makes it less expensive than the older Arnage flagship, but it's the Flying Spur that gets people's attention. New blood Bentley owes all of its newfound popularity to Volkswagen. The General Motors of Germany took over Bentley in 1999, giving the British marque access to a new engines, chassis, and suspensions. Not to mention plenty of cash. And Bentley wasn't shy about using its new resources. According to its window sticker, 55 percent of the Flying Spur's parts come from Germany, many of them borrowed from Volkswagen's own Phaeton luxury sedan. At over 208 inches, the Flying Spur is 5 inches longer than the Phaeton and 3 inches longer than the 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550. The Bentley shares the same height and width as the new S-Class, but the Mercedes rides on a 4-inch-longer wheelbase. Compared to Bentley's Continental GT coupe, the Flying Spur has identical styling up front. Other than the obvious addition of its rear doors, the Flying Spur differs from the coupe mostly through its softer, straighter lines down the sides and in back. It's not as instantly recognizable as the GT, but it looks right for a sedan in this class. Determining which class isn't easy. Top-of-the-line Audi and BMW sedans barely crack $125,000 and Maserati's Quattroporte doesn't even top $100,000. Ultraluxury models like the Maybach 57 and Rolls-Royce Phantom cost more than twice as much. The Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG will be similar in price and performance when it goes on sale this summer, but until then the Flying Spur sits somewhere in the middle when it comes to high-dollar luxury sedans. Don't call it a Volkswagen The extra $65 grand the Flying Spur commands over the top-of-the-line Phaeton gets you more than a reskinned Volkswagen. Both cars use Volkswagen's 6.0-liter W12 engine, but the Bentley version has twin turbochargers, specially developed pistons and reworked cylinder heads. The result is 552 horsepower at 6,100 rpm compared to the Phaeton's 444 horses. Bentley's engineers also tuned the Flying Spur's engine to deliver its 479 pound-feet of torque at just 1,600 rpm. Continuously variable valve timing helps smooth out the power delivery and earn the engine Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) certification. All that low-end torque makes the Flying Spur perform like it weighs only 2 tons instead of nearly 3. Our test car took just 4.8 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop and 13.1 seconds to cover the quarter-mile. The Ferrari we parked next to is only two-tenths of a second quicker to 60. Bentley's kind of power The Flying Spur doesn't jump off the line, though. The throttle reacts softly, as if the engineers were worried that 552 hp might be too much to handle all at once. It could be if the Spur was as ferocious off the line as most other 500-plus-hp cars, but it's not. Permanent all-wheel drive is one reason. You could mat the pedal in a downpour and still not slip a tire. Its six-speed automatic transmission has a short 1st-gear ratio and even that's not enough to make the Spur feel anything but perfectly civilized under full acceleration. There are steering-wheel paddle shifters if you're up to changing gears yourself. They're not easy to reach, not quick to shift and they don't match engine speed when you downshift. In other words, they're useless for anything but showing off.

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