Although we've known for some time that Bentley's mighty 626-hp twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12 is approaching retirement, we've assumed that the company's less profligate 542-hp twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 would outlive it by a few years. That is, until recently. Bentley's recent announcement that all of its vehicles will be either plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) or full electrics as soon as 2026—and that it will produce its last combustion engine by the end of the decade—means that the smaller engine's future isn't any rosier. This 2021 Flying Spur may be the last new car the V-8 appears in.
As with Bentley's Continental GT coupe and Bentayga SUV, the union between the V-8 and the Flying Spur is a happy one. Buyers of the smaller engine need sacrifice only a smidge of forward thrust compared to the big W-12, but they also gain a rortier soundtrack, crisper handling, and a 17-mpg EPA combined estimate, up from the W-12's 15 mpg. At $201,725 to start, the V-8's $22,200 discount in base price over the W-12 is a relatively modest saving in this rarefied segment, and one that will be easily offset by a modest foray into the Spur's pricey option list. But buyers of the lesser car certainly aren't getting a stripped-out model. Regardless of its engine, the Flying Spur's cabin combines exquisite materials with a design that blends modern and traditional themes. Space is generous for front- and rear-seat occupants alike, and the levels of comfort and refinement remain impressive even when cruising at extralegal speeds.
The only visual distinctions versus the W-12 are modest V8 badges on the front fenders, quad exhaust finishers in place of twin ovals, and standard 20-inch wheels instead of 21s. Our test car in England was fitted with a substantial load of options, including the $19,395 Mulliner Driving package with its 22-inch wheels and more decadent interior trim, plus the $8555 Touring package, which adds lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, and night vision. An additional $7730 added rear-wheel steering and Bentley's Dynamic Ride system with its 48-volt active anti-roll bars. The Spur's rotating dashboard panel—which allows the infotainment screen to be replaced with a trio of chrome-ringed instruments—remains a neat embellishment, even if it does cost a substantial $6425.
The V-8's character is different from that of the W-12 but definitely not inferior to it. The larger engine delivers its grunt with minimal effort across its rev range. The V-8, on the other hand, needs to be worked a little harder. But that is no imposition; all of its 568 pound-feet of torque are present at just 2000 rpm, yet it feels more enthusiastic as you explore the upper reaches of its tachometer. It also sounds markedly better than the W-12, its exhaust note hardening and gaining a compelling V-8 rasp above 5000 rpm, although the aural signature is more subdued here than in the Continental GT or Bentayga V-8s.
The Spur's standard eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sharpens the V-8's motivation further. At lower speeds it comes close to delivering the smoothness of a conventional torque-converter automatic. Once rolling, however, the shifts come fast and seamlessly, regardless of the setting. The standard all-wheel-drive system delivers plentiful traction even during hard launches and should help the Flying Spur V-8 reach 60 mph in 3.9 seconds—only 0.4 second behind the W-12 model that we've already tested.
Not long ago, the level of luxury delivered by the Flying Spur's sumptuous cabin would have been accompanied by a suspension with the manners of a thumped waterbed. But the latest model manages to combine endless comfort with dynamic purpose better than almost any other sedan. Body control is exemplary, the combination of air springs and adaptive dampers keeping the Spur's 5000-plus pounds under tight control over all types of road undulations. This big sedan also turns and responds remarkably well. Our test car's active anti-roll system largely eliminated listing from the body under all but the hardest cornering. There are several drive modes, but the default Bentley setting seems to cope well with everything.
While our test car's Pirelli all-season tires were able to generate impressive grip on the damp, slippery asphalt of wintery England, little meaningful resistance came through the steering wheel. The slick conditions also meant it was hard to notice any dynamic improvements from the claimed 220 fewer pounds that the V-8 car carries over its front wheels compared to the W-12, although we have no doubt that weight difference would be more obvious on grippier surfaces.
Bentley is not a brand for those who would deny themselves pleasure or even delay its gratification, and it's not one generally associated with the idea of less being more. Yet, the new Flying Spur V-8 proves that a reduction in power doesn't have to mean an inferior experience. While many potential buyers will likely prefer the Spur's brawnier W-12 engine, the V-8 makes a strong case as the more intelligent choice.
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