Bentley Continental Flying Spur: Understated styling

Bentley's Flying Spur is both understated and stately, with clean lines that belie its huge mass. Sean O'Grady applauds such craftsmanship

Price: £115,000
Engine: 6.0 litre petrol
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 4.9 secs; 16mpg; 195mph
CO2: 410g/km
Worth considering: Audi A8, Range Rover, BMW 760, Maserati Quattroporte

One method of assessing the desirability, or otherwise, of a car is to see how many stares it gets. Some cars go exactly where you would expect them to on the "gawp-ometer". The McLaren-Mercedes SLR attracted jaw-dropping alarm and hordes of admirers wherever it went. Similarly, and as you'd expect, the Peugeot 607 that I drove round London the other day never raised a second glance. But some cars prove less predictable.

I had expected the Bentley Continental Flying Spur to be closer to the SLR than the 607 in its visual impact, but I was surprised. Some favourable comments were proferred by a party of American students and (I think) from a drunk hanging out of a Lithuanian-registered van on the M1, but otherwise not much. This Bentley is not for those who wish the world to stop and stare. It is more modest than that. Strange, but true.

It's down to the understated styling. The Bentley is huge, but its lines belie its sheer mass (all two and half tons of it). Indeed, around the rear window pillar in particular, it bears a family resemblance, as Bentley is part of the Volkswagen family, to some of its relatives - the VW Phaeton, the new- shape Passat, and, even, the Skoda Superb. Nothing wrong with that, though, as these are handsome creations and the Bentley is unlikely to be confused with them. Only from the front, where it has an identical "face" to its coupé sibling, the Continental GT, is there any chance of a mix-up.

Under that stately panel-work you'll also find plenty of VW Group DNA, but, again, there is nothing to apologise for in that. The Bentley engineers in Crewe have had a hand in adapting the car's suspension and its W12 six-cylinder engine, and have done so to the extent that Bentley can now proudly claim that its Continental Flying Spur is the fastest four-door saloon in the world, no less (just as its namesake predecessor in the 1950s was).

At speed, you feel safe, sensing that all that power has been properly tamed and that only the most reckless driver could overcome the supreme composure. It feels as though it will happily convey you across a continent, rather than you driving it to its destination.

Yet, what makes this Bentley special is not its sober styling or its gadgetry (including seats that give you a massage), or even its superb engineering, but its craftsmanship. The walnut door-cappings are finished so that the patterns on either side mirror each other. There's two-tone leather that covers even the roof-lining. At your fingertips are "organ-stop" controls for the ventilation, just like Bentleys had in the 1950s. It is beautifully, tastefully done. Not flashy at all.

Tariq Lateef, 34, technical manager from Birmingham
USUAL CAR: BMW 330 SPORT

The Bentley is quality: impeccably built, well laid out, lavishly equipped, and with swift acceleration (if a little too sudden at times). For such a large, heavy vehicle, the drive is relaxing; I quickly adapted to its size as it wafted effortlessly around scenic Leicestershire countryside on a glorious sunny morning. Fantastic! The engine start- up sound alone is worth half the price. The exterior is understated, and I really liked it. If I could afford to, would I buy one? No. There's an old-fashioned feeling about being seated at the wheel of this Bentley. If I were a 58-year-old foundry owner, this is the car I would choose to de-stress in on the way home. But I feel too young for it.

Phil Scotney, 27, environmental health executive from Nottingham
USUAL CAR: TOYOTA AVENSIS ESTATE

My expectations were high and, I am happy to say, they were fulfilled. The interior of the Bentley is crafted to a level of quality that I've never seen before. There were no blemishes in the vast amount of leather, every stitch was perfect, and the finishing touches, such as the chrome pull-out organ-stop style controls were in a different class to those of other cars. In the sporty set-up, with tougher suspension, lower ride height and sport-mode transmission, it was surprisingly nimble on the country lanes and boasted a huge amount of torque across the rev band, good for overtaking. The fortunate few won't be disappointed.

Peter Kibble, 48 , IT company director from Bingham, Notts
USUAL TRANSPORT: LAND-ROVER DISCOVERY, HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER

They really have nailed the interior, and herds of cows must have been used for the leather trim. The craftsmanship and the attention to detail is superb and delightfully tactile, the build-quality superb. Even the hints of Passat in the styling are forgivable. Sadly, the ride and the drive train disappointed. I wanted to be wafted, but power-on, power-off transitions cause shunting in the drive train. Low-end torque felt weak for such a large engine and there was distinct patter and rumble from the suspension on less-than-perfect roads. A Bentley demands a certain character; the mechanics didn't quite deliver.

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