Magnificent. The English language has many superlative adjectives, but this is the only one that truly befits the 2023 Bentley Flying Spur Speed. If first impressions are everything, this imposing but elegant saloon is a visual feast.
Draped in Cambrian Grey, which perfectly complemented the Flying Spur Blackline specification which replaces the polished chrome and stainless steel from a host of trim panels with that lightless colour, it rides on 22-inch gloss black “Speed” wheels.
They struggle to hide monstrous red 10-piston callipers on dinner plate-size 420mm iron ventilated discs, ensuring there is no mistaking the sense of occasion this vehicle presents. At a whisker over 5.3-metres long, it’s incredibly difficult to miss.
Up front, you have jewel–like headlamps at the leading-edge of a long and relative straight bonnet line. It’s the commencement of the gorgeous 3-box sedan styling that Bentley has thankfully maintained for generations.
Continuing down the long and meandering almost 3.2-metre wheelbase is the cabin, which then leads to a large rear luggage compartment. The lower edges of the vehicle are finished with a beautiful carbon fibre skirt-kit.
Part of the optional Styling specification, it had us thankful for the adjustable air suspension. Despite the world’s love for SUVs, it’s impossible not to love the elegance of a well-executed saloon car.
The Bentley Flying Spur Speed is at the top of that food chain for more reasons than this writer would’ve thought. You see, we came into this review with expectations; not uncommon and surely exacerbated by the history, panache, and appeal of Bentley.
We were markedly surprised at how different this vehicle was to the expectation. It happens from time to time, but certainly not to this magnitude. It wasn’t the interior, but that’s not to say there was anything at all wrong with it.
Opening the soft closing driver door reveals an exquisitely crafted, cigar-lounge-like space. The aforementioned wheelbase means there is no shortage of room for front or rear occupants in the Bentley Flying Spur Speed.
Jumping in for the first time sees one sink into a perfectly sized 24-way adjustable, heated and cooled massaging chair, covered in a pleasing combination of fine Nappa leather with Dinamica Pure highlights in an almost black dark-grey hue.
One thing that really stood out is that the seat, steering wheel, armrest and pedals are all pretty much perfectly positioned. This is without doubt the most comfortable cockpit yours truly has ever sat in as a driver.
The old adage that a Roll Royce is to be driven in while a Bentley is for the driver harked true to me at this point. Continuing the jewellery theme, the centre console has an array of beautiful polished aluminium switchgear that flank the Bentley-badge-emblazoned shifter.
Further up the dash, the visual feast continues until you reach the 12.3-inch screen that is the central point for vehicle controls, including the infotainment system. One thing we found puzzling though was the lack of wireless Apple CarPlay.
It’s not the end of the world but hanging cables really take away from the elegance of this space. We also should’ve opted for time with the Bentley team at pickup to help understand the vehicle interface, which took a while to work out.
The optional rotating screen reveals three stunning analogue gauges that sit flush in carbon fibre, matching the rest of the dashboard. Passengers are very well accommodated in the Flying Spur Speed too. The long wheelbase truly makes for unmatched rear leg room.
Aside from offering a soft Dinamica covered cushion for headrests, rear seating incorporates 14 points of adjustability, heating and cooling, massage and two memory functions. Rear occupants are also provided a glass panel overhead.
Obligatory electric blinds to match the rear windscreen and separate air conditioning and audio controls also feature. Interior space is rounded out by a large luggage compartment with a total capacity of 421-litres.
Now back to my point on expectation. So, it’s big, and it’s heavy, with the burden of almost any luxury one may want. To a true driver, these things can manifest as an impediment to the driving experience.
Then you push the starter button – which sends what feels and sounds like four individual start motors on a vintage fighter plane whirring into action, sucking an ignited concoction of premium unleaded fuel into 12 thirsty cylinders in a W formation.
The drama settles to a muted but snarly idle exhaust note – adjustable using the different drive modes which impact various drivetrain components, including ride height, exhaust valves, aggressiveness of the dual clutch transmission and throttle response.
We spent most of our time in the pre-set “Bentley” mode – but that is complemented by a Comfort, Sport or a Custom option. Here lies one of the true shames though, because the way of the world will see the W12 powerplant phased out in 2024.
In fact, it’s our understanding the current suite of Speed variants are the last ones coming into Australia powered by this engineering wonder. Having stood the test of time, over 20 years in fact, it delivers 467kW of power and 900Nm of torque in its current form.
Numbers on a page are one thing, but it’s the drama of the start up, the sound emanating from the exhaust when the valves open and the delicious delivery that make it special. You see that torque is remarkably available from 1350rpm.
Aided obviously with two parallel twin scroll turbochargers, there is little thought for fuel usage or economy (it’s 15.0-litres/100km – given the size of this thing, that’s rather admirable). Below a couple of thousand rpm, the driveline is completely imperceptible.
This means that when meandering around in traffic, you can treat your ears, with no distraction, to the excellent “standard” 650W 10-speaker stereo. If you’re lucky enough to have ticked the box, one of the optional hi-fi systems, will simply blow your mind.
Above this mark and where any level of bravado presents towards the accelerator pedal, she picks up her fine silk skirt and launches into oblivion. The first time we experienced it was a real treat – and it never got old.
We never expected it to be so brutal yet so refined in the way it gathered speed – and then there’s the powertrain’s soundtrack. It’s hard to explain, but we liken it to the guttural wail from 15 angry sasquatches atop Mt Everest.
It is simply unexpected and unlike any other vehicle this writer has experienced. Blistering pace is delivered through an 8-speed XF dual clutch gearbox.
That sends power, mostly seamlessly, through an active all-wheel drive setup, although we did note the gearbox was at times confused when taking off at a roll. We’ve experienced this before with DCT’s, but would’ve liked that ironed out in a vehicle of this calibre.
Despite the AWD, we found over-zealous throttle application in corners can provoke power oversteer, within limits, before the system picked it up and set us on the straight and narrow again. Its 2.4-tonne unladen kerb weight is partly to blame.
However, the combination of airbag suspension, 48v active anti-rollbars, that AWD system and rear wheel steering all result in a remarkably enjoyable vehicle through the bends. It’s incredible how it shrinks around the driver.
With all this tech, safety is also well accommodated for. There is a full bevy of airbags front and rear, head-up display, road sign recognition, active lane assist, and cruise control with traffic jam assist.
More interesting though is night vision, which provides forward vision in the dark, facilitated by the screen in the instrument binnacle. It’s a unique function, and one we’re glad we didn’t need.
The 2023 Bentley Flying Spur Speed W12 is a spectacular motor for a spectacular car, and it will be missed. We liked it so much we legitimately didn’t want to give it back, and wish we could have driven off into the sunset in it.
Bentley have a twin turbo V6 plug-in hybrid, which is impressive, but it will never match the drama of this powertrain. As tested you’ll need to part with $695,664 for the outgoing Speed. It’s a figure not for the faint of heart, but what price can you put on indulgence.
Our test vehicle was supplied by Bentley Motors Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Bentley Flying Spur Speed, contact your local Bentley dealer. Pictures courtesy of Andrew E Hempsall.