The Bentley Flying Spur luxury saloon has been given a host of changes to enhance the experience for both the driver and passengers. These changes should help it compete better with top-end versions of the Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 and Range Rover.
Like the outgoing model, the new Flying Spur is closely related to the Continental Coupe, but this time Bentley has given it more of its own identity. For starters, 'Continental' has been dropped from the name. There are also greater visual differences, particularly at the rear.
The use of new, lighter materials means the Flying Spur sheds weight compared with its predecessor, but an increase in luxury and equipment means that the overall saving is only around 50kg.
Despite this, the new version is more efficient than the outgoing model, while the 6.0-litre W12 engine has been given a power boost and now goes through a new eight-speed automatic gearbox.
There have also been substantial changes to the four-wheel-drive system, while revisions to the air suspension should help give the Flying Spur a softer gait, too.
What's the 2013 Bentley Flying Spur like to drive?
The previous Flying Spur wasn't a great luxury saloon, neither riding smoothly nor smothering wind- and exhaust noise effectively, especially for those sitting in the back. That's why engineers have paid particular attention to improving ride comfort and suppressing unwanted noise.
The Flying Spur now rides on relatively small 19-inch wheels as standard, while you can choose between four settings for the air suspension, ranging from 'comfort' to 'sport'.
The changes have worked to a degree. The ride is still a little unsettled at low speeds (particularly if you opt for optional larger-than-standard alloys) with every imperfection felt through the steering wheel, but the Bentley lopes along smoothly at motorway speeds.
There's still some suspension noise on poorly surfaced roads, but wind and roise noise are suppressed far more effectively than in the old Flying Spur.
Thankfully, this improved comfort and refinement hasn't come at the expense of agility, which is as good as you could reasonably expect from a 2.5-tonne saloon.
You’d hardly describe the Flying Spur as agile or particularly rewarding to drive, but it can munch its way along a country road at a surprisingly rapid rate, with huge amounts of grip and relatively tidy body control.
The W12 engine is an excellent ally for the job, especially now that it has even more power and is mated to an impressive eight-speed auto 'box.
The Flying Spur simply rockets away from a standstill, passing 60mph in an incredible 4.3 seconds before topping out at 200mph. However, you need only tickle the throttle to pile on speed quickly.
What's the 2013 Bentley Flying Spur like inside?
Even though the majority of UK owners will buy a Flying Spur to drive it themselves, Bentley knows that plenty of buyers will be travelling in the back, so that's where they've put in a lot of effort.
The rear windows are a fine way to survey the outside world, whether you're sitting on the standard three-seat bench or optional two-seat layout, which has a central console dividing the rear cabin.
Shoulder- and legroom are especially impressive, and although the swoopier roofline means headroom is slightly restricted, you'd have to be exceptionally rangy for this to be an issue.
Rear passengers can adjust their own seats electronically, and there's also an optional feature that allows you to slide the front passenger seat forward from the back to give yourself even more legroom.
There are options to improve the experience further, including a fancy multimedia system with twin 10-inch screens and the ability to control everything from a very smart touch-screen remote that docks in the central console. You can also specify on-board Wi-Fi, which can link up to six devices to the web, while you can play films, music or photos from a USB stick, an SD card or a DVD.
In the front, the Flying Spur’s lavish wood veneers, organ-stop air vent controls and hand-stitched hide seats punch home the old-money message, as does the analogue Breitling clock that takes pride of place on top of the dash.
However, given that Bentley has gone to such trouble to create plush surroundings, it’s a pity the switchgear is so low-rent. Most of the buttons and switches on the centre console would look shoddy in a VW Golf, let alone an almost £150,000 super-limo.
The infotainment system is also disappointing; it has a dim screen and an unresponsive touch-screen interface.
Should I buy one?
The new Flying Spur is better than the model it replaces, both to drive and be driven in. If you buy one you're unlikely to be disappointed, because you'll get prodigious pace and good levels of refinement, wrapped up in a supremely classy package.
However, there are two things to consider. Firstly, a cheaper V8 version will join the range before long and this is likely to be a more sensible choice without compromising on power too much.
Secondly, while a Mercedes S63 AMG might not have quite the same cache, it's objectively a better car in most respects. It's £20,000 cheaper to buy, too.
What Car? says...
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG
Engine size 6.0-litre W12 petrol
Price from £149,900
Torque 590lb ft
0-60mph 4.3 seconds
Top speed 200mph
Fuel economy 19.2mpg