Befuddlement was no doubt a common reaction to the Bentley Continental Flying Spur when it arrived in 2005. Resurrecting an old and illustrious nameplate from the past, it did so with much less elegance than its predecessor from several decades prior. It was an odd-looking thing, wasn’t it? The Continental GT coupe’s rounded face didn’t really work on a saloon, and the roofline was awkwardly lofty.
Fast forward to the third-generation version, and my God - vive la difference. The Spur has gone from being the weird relative no one wants to talk to at the family get together, to the handsome, successful bastard people feel a mixture of admiration and rage-like jealousy for. It’s the best-looking Bentley of the modern era - I dare you to disagree.
Part of that is down to the wheelbase giving it a squat, athletic stance. The space between the axles is 330mm longer than on the Continental GT, and 130mm longer than it was on the second-gen Flying Spur. The giant trapezoid grille and quad lamps fit better on this limousine than they do on the GT’s coupe body, I’d argue.
Although the family resemblance is clear, Bentley has worked harder this time to differentiate the four-door from the two-door. The grille at the front is filled with slats rather than mesh, while at the back, the haunches around the rear wheels are much more subtle. The coupe’s oval rear light clusters have also gone.
This theme continues inside. Pleasingly, Bentley hasn’t lazily transplanted the Continental’s dashboard. There are plenty of things shared, of course, like the rotating display which was - quite brilliantly - codenamed the ‘Toblerone’ during its development. But the bottom part of the centre console is bespoke and very lovely, it must be said. All of the key Bentley details like ‘organ stop’ vent controls and delectable knurled metal pieces are here.
When it comes to the bits underneath, it’s a similar mix of the Conti stuff you’d want carried over plus some welcome new parts. We have a 6.0-litre W12 engine developing 626bhp and 664lb ft, but it’s hooked up to a new all-wheel drive system which only powers the rear wheels under normal circumstances. There’s a 48-volt active anti-roll bar system - that actually generates more torque than the engine - which we’ve already seen in the Conti GT, but the rear-steer setup hasn’t been used before on any Bentley.
The result of all that is a car that - most of the time - doesn’t feel like it weighs 2437kg. With a big 12-cylinder engine up front, it should suffer from chronic understeer, but it doesn’t. It’s mounted much further back than before, but that doesn’t adequately explain how good the turn-in is here.
Where the Flying Spur really impresses is higher speed stuff, where it’ll take a last-minute steering correction and just lap it up, rather than throwing the kind of luxury car fat boy tantrum you’d expect.
It’s neutral most of the time, but a boot-full of throttle on corner exits will get the rear end trying to come forward, if not by a huge amount. Traction is plentiful; even with stability control switched completely off, the Flying Spur never feels anything other than secure.
It’s only in tighter corners that the hefty weight figure starts to catch up with you. There comes a point when the active anti-roll bars, the air suspension and the rear-wheel steering can do no more, leaving the P Zeroes howling in agony. But getting there takes some doing.
The main thing to note here is that the Spur feels up for all this. It’s all within its comfort zone, which you couldn’t say for the last two. It manages all of this while being considerably faster on the straight bits too - 0-62mph happens in just 3.8 seconds, and the top speed is 207mph.
"In comfort mode, you don’t so much drive, as float"
The W12 is a weird engine, sounding not at all like a V12, and more like a V6 in a furious mood. It won’t rev beyond 6000rpm either, but the mid-range is so scarily potent, I’m not sure that matters. There is some turbo lag to contend with, but the two twin-scroll snails are fairly good at containing it.
Once you’re done being an idiot on a mountain road, the Flying Spur will transform into a car with world-beating comfort. And it’ll do this so much more successfully than its Mulsanne big brother. Bentley’s latest saloon is cut from a different cloth - the ride, even in Sport and the halfway house Bentley mode, is supremely smooth. Go for comfort mode, and you don’t so much drive, as float.
Mount a speed bump without braking at all, and the Spur’s trick suspension - which has 60 per cent more volume in its air springs - will merely shrug it off as if to say “and?” However bad the road surface is, you simply won’t feel it in this thing. It’s almost spookily quiet, too.
Driving in a slightly more calm manner, or better yet being driven means you’ll have plenty of time to play with the tech. There’s the ‘Toblerone’ we mentioned earlier, which can show either a very good 12.3-inch infotainment screen, a set of three analogue gauges, or whatever fancy veneer you specced in the configurator.
Flaws are extremely hard to find. Other than the fact the Flying Spur will run away with your wallet and set it on fire every time you put your foot down (a problem which will be countered to an extent by the eventual V8 version), all I can come up with are two little niggles. The front camera isn’t integrated particularly well into the spangly front grille, and the shift paddles are small and don’t have an especially satisfying action when squeezed. But we’re splitting hairs here.
So good is the Flying Spur, that it can’t just be considered a rival to other luxury saloons, including Bentley’s own Mulsanne. No - there are plenty of proper grand tourers I can think of that don’t blend luxury, performance and sheer want-factor as successfully as this. An Aston Martin DB11 AMR just can’t compete.
I’ve desperately tried to think of a car that ticks as many boxes, and the only other thing I can think of that might just beat it is a Porsche Panamera GTS Sport Turismo. If Bentley ever made a Flying Spur wagon, it’d surely be the best car in the world.
The best part of all is the price. No, really - in comparative terms, you could even call the Flying Spur a bargain. Given the chassis tech, rear-seat gadgetry and the additional car you get over the smaller Continental GT, we were expecting the saloon to command a huge premium over the coupe. But no - at £168,300, it’s less than £10,000 more expensive.
If you have the means, it’s the luxury car you have to buy. If you don’t, it needs to be parked in your fantasy garage immediately.