By Hannah Elliott, Los Angeles
Bentley isn’t the first brand that springs to mind when it comes to green driving.
Tesla and Toyota have cornered that share of the market for now, flaunting electric-powered cars affordable for wide swaths of people who can overlook the appliance-like designs of the electric Model S and the Prius hybrid in favor of their fuel-efficient promise.
But credit should go where credit is due, even if it comes from unexpected places. Lately, Bentley has made smart strides in streamlining efficiencies across its models.
The 2021 Bentley Flying Spur is one such example.
From behind the wheel, the $198,000 V8 coach feels as throaty and thrusty as its W12-engine sibling, and it lacks the cultural references that signal piety when it comes to better environmental standards.
There are no leaf logos, hyper-green brake calipers, grotesque body lines, or, as on some cars with electric power, the word “hybrid” emblazoned across every surface imaginable—popular symbols for those who must advertise a woke choice when it comes to cars.
But a closer look will help assuage any twinge of guilt one might feel when purchasing such a gloriously decadent item.
Better yet, that psychic relief comes with sacrificing not a whit of the power and pomp we otherwise prefer from our Bentley-branded machines.
Bentley, now 102 years old, made its name selling powerful racing cars and heavy saloons that prioritized fast performance and plush digs rather than fuel parsimony.
Indeed, it is advertising this new V8 as a driver-oriented car, despite its regally outfitted back seat, noting that extensive internal research shows a growing percentage of Flying Spur owners are actually spending time behind the wheel.
So I drove the thing to Pioneertown, Calif., for lunch.
The Old West town formerly used as a Hollywood movie set 120 miles outside Los Angeles proved the perfect destination for a day trip during a global plague in which not much else is allowed.
The car performed admirably under its new V8 configuration, with the same silk-smooth eight-speed gearing and bold acceleration the Flying Spur has always maintained.
It shone most significantly at speeds above 70 mph, flying like a Concord jet when jumping between higher gears when I needed to pass (yet another) Prius slowing everyone down in the HOV lane.
The instant power available to make a pass at 60 mph and push to 80 mph made the Flying Spur feel far more special than just about anything else it offers.
If that’s not enough: the zero-to-60 sprint takes 4 seconds flat; top speed is 198 mph. And the newly tuned tone of the fresh engine lets everyone know it’s coming.
The Flying Spur has gained noticeable agility since losing 220 pounds from its W12 sibling, and has improved weight distribution across all four wheels as well.
The new model includes as standard adaptive air suspension, torque vectoring under braking and drive dynamics control; for additional cost, electric active anti-roll technology and electronic All-Wheel steering add even greater agility.
All these functions basically work to keep the body of the car stable and thus a plush experience for those driving or riding in it. This is a Bentley, after all.
The dynamic ride system controls ride comfort and lateral roll, cushioning passengers from excessive movement; the air suspension system uses air springs that contain 60% more air volume compared to the previous generation Flying Spur, and therefore allow more range between the car’s stiffness in sporty handling to softer luxury limousine cruising, depending upon the drive mode.
As you know if you’ve been anywhere near Joshua Tree National Park, there are many dirt roads to explore, and I admit I took the Flying Spur down a few.
It’s no off-roader—and it’s not meant to be one—but those fancy systems smoothed out even that bone-shaking terrain like a tablecloth.
That weight loss also bolsters some newfound eco efficiencies. To maximize fuel economy when torque demand is low and the engine is below 3000 rpm, the twin-turbocharged V8 engine will shut down half of its cylinders.
Other Bentley vehicles have offered this technology before now, but this is the first time it has been offered in the Flying Spur.
The change is completely imperceptible while driving and good enough to help expand total driving range to a whopping 400 miles.
Total fuel consumption in the 2021 Flying Spur is 17 mpg combined. That’s an embarrassingly low number compared to many other luxury sedans, but it’s 16% better than in the W12.
Does it help to know the Flying Spur is produced in Crewe, England, at the world’s first carbon-neutral factory for producing luxury cars? Not enough to save the world, but baby steps, folks. Baby steps.
It is unusual for me to get this far into a column without mentioning how a car looks on the outside or how it feels inside.
That’s because the Flying Spur lacks the visual presence and even the drama we expect from a vehicle of this price point. I nearly walked past the Flying Spur I had parked in the Red Dog lot to indulge in my desert repast.
Yes, it has a bold, tall fence of a grille and the most gorgeous headlights—they look like cut-crystal beakers for holding precious whisky.
Newly standard quad exhaust finishers and new, optional 22-inch gloss-black Mulliner Driving Specification wheels make the Flying Spur look slightly more athletic, although I’m not sure that’s what we want in what should be a stately sedan of some consequence.
The interior beckons with beautiful wood veneers, high-gloss accents, and a novel dashboard display that rotates between a 12.3-inch touchscreen and elegant analog dials. Yes, the seats are deeply comfortable; the sound and entertainment systems are extensive and intuitive.
But the overall stance of the vehicle lacks that sense of occasion that the Bentley badge promises; it feels dulled-down from previous generations, the body lines along the rounded sides flattened out like those dusty trails under Bentley’s air suspension treatment.
It’s an evolution wrought from an overabundance of caution among Bentley’s brass that these elite cars not appear too … outré.
Calm reserve and elegance befit a Bentley, the thinking goes, not brash, look-at-me airs.
And while the world continues to stratify the distance between haves and have-nots, those who can afford the car don’t necessarily want to advertise that they can afford the car.
Though Bentley may have dialed back one notch too far in the current iteration of the Flying Spur, it’s a minor grievance. I’m just glad they didn’t make it look like a Prius.