The trickle of electrons at Bentley is soon to become a flood, as the automaker prepares to fully electrify its entire lineup by the end of the decade. While this is a goal shared industry-wide, it's a rather monumental shift for Bentley, whose reputation has been defined in large part by its massive—and thirsty—engines. Hence the existence of the Flying Spur Hybrid, a 5600-pound steppingstone placed between the shores of those gargantuan powertrains and the horizon of total electrification.
As befits this interim role, visual changes are kept to a minimum, with only fender-mounted "Hybrid" badges and a J1772 charging port concealed behind a door on the left rear flank. Distinct quad oval tailpipes complete the exterior transformation. Inside, the infotainment and driver screens now feature EV-specific readouts. We were particularly intrigued by the EV Range overlay function on the navigation map—a translucent green zone hovers over the vehicle's position, outlining the boundaries of electric driving range. As the battery level drops, the zone shrinks accordingly. On the center console, an EV button cycles through the three electric drive modes: all-electric EV Drive, Hybrid, and Hold, which maintains battery charge to be deployed later.
The Flying Spur follows in the footsteps of the Bentayga, which first tiptoed into the hybrid waters back in 2019 as Bentley's first electrified model. Both employ plug-in systems, as the larger battery delivers motivation that a regular hybrid can't provide. Here, the Flying Spur uses a 410-hp version of the corporate 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6. It's the first six-cylinder found under the hood of a Bentley sedan in 64 years. A 134-hp electric motor occupies the space between the engine and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. With a combined output of 536 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, the hybrid powertrain delivers numbers that are on par with its rowdier 542-hp V-8 big brother.
As a result, the hybrid's performance should also be similar, despite a couple-hundred-pound weight disadvantage. With both motors singing and all four wheels pulling, the Flying Spur hybrid should be able to reach 60 mph in 4.0 seconds. (We recorded a 3.5-second time for the Flying Spur V-8.) Top speed is limited to 177 mph, versus 198 for the V-8. While Bentley emphasized that the EV system is optimized for urban journeys, it also touted the hybrid's ability to cruise at speeds up to 80 mph in EV Drive mode. Official numbers have yet to be released, but we'd estimate the 14.1-kWh battery will deliver about 21 miles of range. Nor are EPA fuel-economy estimates available, though one would hope to see them notch a significant gain over the V-8's 15/20 mpg city/highway numbers.
The joy of electric thrust lies not in its mechanical voice, but in the absence of it. Bentley touts that the cabin of the hybrid is 50 percent quieter than that of the V-8's at 50 mph. On its own, the electric motor produces 295 pound-feet of torque, all of which is available from a dead stop. It's more than capable of sustaining the big Bentley's momentum through traffic. When rolling along in EV Drive mode, the Flying Spur Hybrid provides a marvelous glimpse of what an all-electric Bentley might be like.
It's only when you sample Hybrid mode that this graceful serenity is upended. Prod the accelerator and the V-6 unceremoniously crashes the party. Gruff and guttural, the engine's unrefined character is in total contrast to the rest of the underlying package. We found its presence to be particularly obtrusive when in Hold mode, droning away constantly at what amounted to a heightened idle speed. Occasionally, the gas engine and electric motor jockeyed for position, resulting in a brief hiccup as the computer scrambled to make peace between the two. And a pronounced transition between regular and regenerative braking made it difficult to smoothly modulate to a stop.
Keeping the battery charged avoids this morsel of powertrain inelegance. The 7.2-kW onboard charger can fully replenish the battery in approximately two and a half hours, according to Bentley. We suspect most owners will rely on a dedicated home charger rather than cool their heels at a public unit. That's just as well, as the Flying Spur's charging-port placement and substantial length make it challenging to squeeze into crowded bays, as we discovered. Speaking of maneuverability, the Spur's rear-wheel steering and the 48-volt active anti-roll bars are not on the options list, as the bulk of the hybrid components now occupy the space normally reserved for them.
As a result, you feel every bit of the 125.7-inch wheelbase going through turns. While navigating the twisty canyon roads of the Transverse Ranges just outside Ojai, California, we discovered that the hybrid was happiest with a more deliberate corner entry. Despite the lack of the active anti-roll system, the rest of the chassis still retains the Flying Spur's improbable sense of dexterity, thanks to the three-chamber air suspension and adaptive dampers. When the road unwinds, the default Bentley drive mode provides a commendable dynamic balance, though it's a bit floatier than we'd like. Conversely, the dampers in Sport are a tad too choppy. We'd lobby for a setting that split the difference. Bentley Plus, perhaps.
In a recent survey of its customers, Bentley discovered that roughly half of them expressed interest in either purchasing a PHEV or EV vehicle. But at this juncture, the hybrid version of the Flying Spur is missing those few key traits that make the gas-powered variants so delightfully engaging. For those early adopters, however, the hybrid's rough edges might be a tolerable tradeoff.
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