Thu, May 18, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Sex on wheels

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur weighs 2.5 tonnes, has a top speed of 312kph and 11 hides go into making the upholstery. The price tag for this beautiful beast is a cool US$171,285


The 2.5-tonne Bentley Flying Spur: How can something so heavy move so fast?

Excess takes various forms -- righteous, wretched, divine -- and comes in many sizes. The newest Bentley packs its excess into XXL formal wear.

Before we go an inch further, let's get the complaining out of the way. The Bentley Continental Flying Spur does not have great cup holders. They will secure a cold Pimm's Cup No. 3 when you're parked on the corniche, looking down (in all conceivable ways) upon the principality of Monaco, but they spat out our empty plastic soda bottles like watermelon seeds in summer.

There is more.

The Flying Spur has no DVD video system to deliver Fawlty Towers reruns while your 87-liter fuel tank is being filled. (At an EPA-estimated 4.76km per liter in town, and 7.64km on the highway, such pauses are frequent.) The Flying Spur's sunroof is not complemented by a see-through moonroof, evidencing a complete disdain for yin and yang.

And you are obliged to accept two separate layers of legal bulletins (don't drive like a twit; life ends with death) before being permitted to adjust the Bentley's audio system, climate control or Swedish massage.

The navigation system is a triple threat, combining poorly detailed maps with irritating controls and a database contained in a stack of CDs instead of a single handy DVD -- or, in the latest twist, on a hard drive in the car.

So this is hardly the perfect luxury sedan, though the engineers at Volkswagen (VW) has come tantalizingly close.

What, you didn't know that VW owns Bentley? Yes, it does, and apart from ruffling a few feathers along the shore in Greenwich, this is not a bad thing. While VW has striven manfully and womanfully to retain the British tone of this very big, very fast sedan, the Flying Spur benefits from the best German engineering. Just look under the hood.

Well, no, don't look. All you'll see are injection-molded plastic lid covers; they look like battle-hardened Tupperware designed for Operation Desert Storm. But underneath lies a 6-liter W-12 engine, essentially the same 12-cylinder power plant that was used in the costly, sales-resistant Volkswagen Phaeton, recently withdrawn from these shores for lack of suitors. This distinctive engine is two 3-liter V-6's joined at the tuchis, and in the Bentley it gets a goose from twin turbochargers to yield 551 take-no-prisoners horsepower.

Relatively compact as monster engines go, the W-12 is wider than a conventional V design but only slightly longer than a V-6, front to back. This allows Bentley to slip an all-wheel-drive differential in front of the engine without mimicking the look of an old Citroen.

And what could be more reassuring in a megasedan than all-wheel drive? If you face the prospect of forcing the Bentley's 2.5 tonnes up a twisty, snowy mountain road on a late February night, you will be thankful for having traction at all four wheels.

Bentley claims an understated zero to 100kph in 5.2 seconds -- understated because Aunt Vanessa's Flying Spur routinely achieves that figure pulling out of Food Giant. Car and Driver magazine horsewhipped the Spur to 100kph in just 4.76 seconds, a feat that rivals the performance of all but the most superlative supercars. What makes this utterly impossible to accept is that the Spur goes from 100kph in 4.76 seconds while weighing 2.5 tonnes.

With such avoirdupois, the Flying Spur has none of the mallet-in-the-back-of-the-head suddenness of a Porsche Carrera; the Spur's acceleration is majestic. Visualize a mile-long freight train powered by a Saturn 5 moon rocket. Your progress is unexpected, forceful and, for once, the word awesome applies. If you're on an unrestricted autobahn and you keep your foot down, you'll achieve 318.6kph, neck and neck with the latest Porsche 911 Turbo.

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