The entire world should be very scared of China. I last visited Beijing in 2005 and at that point the roads, if you could call them that, were clogged with Volkswagen Santanas, Chinese Buicks and roughly 10 million bicycles. Now, a mere eight years later, you can drive a Bentley down the highway at 70 mph and nobody even pays you any attention because it’s probably not the first one they’ve seen that day. Back in 2005, there were tollbooths but no cars. Now there are bike lanes but no bikes. It seems like 50 years of development happened in about five.
Bentley launched the new Flying Spur in China for the simple reason that China is on the verge of becoming Bentley’s biggest market. Last year Bentley sold 2,253 cars in China, more than a quarter of its total sales and right on the heels of the Americas — still the biggest market, for now. China, for its part, has accommodated the influx of 600-hp machinery by building a thoroughly modern road system seemingly overnight. If you want to get stuck in rush hour traffic surrounded by Audis and Bimmers, Beijing is now as good as LA. Fortunately, our cadre of jetlagged drivers embarked on a route that ranged far outside the ring-road traffic snarl, a 250-mile loop that snaked up into the mountains for a stop at the Great Wall at Jinshaling. Up near the Great Wall, there are some Great Roads and Pretty Decent Restroom Facilities.
In terms of accelerative capability, the new car has three things going for it. First, it’s about 100 pounds lighter than the outgoing car. Second, the 6.0-liter W12 now makes 616 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, which is the kind of output that used to be reserved for the Continental’s Speed iterations. (As for a V-8 model, there is no V-8 model. Because you can’t can’t spell “wealth” without a W…12.)
Finally, the Flying Spur gets the ZF eight-speed transmission that delivers a tighter spread of ratios to keep those turbos spooling. The result is 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds, which is slow for a Porsche 911 Turbo, but pretty quick for a 6,546-lb four-door that’s a half-foot longer than a Chevy Tahoe. Top speed is a nice, round 200 mph.
While the performance enhancements are nice, the most important changes pertain to the skin, the basic look of the thing. The last Flying Spur always struck me as somewhat disjointed, with the familiar aggressive nose of the Continental GT grafted to an oddly formal roofline. It wasn’t ugly, but it aged quickly in the era of the so-called four-door coupe, that genre of sexy sedans begat by the Mercedes-Benz CLS and defined, in the Spur’s price range, by the Aston Martin Rapide.
The restyled Flying Spur unmistakably resembles its former self, but the sweep of the roofline is now in sync with the performance promised by that bombastic front end (which, for hardcore Bentley spotters, is actually different than the Continental—the larger headlights are mounted toward the outside of the car, rather than the inside). The rear fenders rise up in pronounced sculpted haunches that lurk in the rearview mirrors and trunk is longer and lower than before. It’s a more cohesive design, one that manages to tread the thin line between elegant and trendy.
Inside, Bentley claims that the only carryover pieces are minor parts like the sun visors and grab handles, which is good news if you’re at the junkyard looking for a sun visor for your 2014 Flying Spur. The back seat is subject of much fettling, the better to entertain those Chinese customers who will inevitably ride back there while planning China’s new city on the moon or supersonic submarine or whatever they’ve got cooking in the next six months. There’s a detachable touchscreen that allows the back-seat drivers to control myriad functions, from the stereo to the rear sunshade. And if that sounds like the kind of thing you should be able to do from your iPhone, don’t worry: Soon you’ll be able to use your iPhone, too.
At its price point — $200,500, if you’re counting — the Flying Spur actually has a lot of competition. The Aston Rapide, the new Maserati Quattroporte, the Porsche Panamera Turbo and the more extravagant versions of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class all contest the $200,000 territory. The Rolls-Royce Ghost might be tempting (as it certainly was to one Chinese person I saw driving one on the highway). So this car had to step up its game, and it did. The Panamera still owns the performance territory and the Aston wins the beauty pageant, but the Bentley carves out its own niche as a massive, beautifully wrought high-speed limo. It’s a beast. And now a good-looking one at that. But if you want to go 200 mph in China, you’ve got another, cheaper option that wasn’t available in 2005: just take the train.