The New Bentley Flying Spur is the Antidote to the Ultra-Luxury SUV

The proliferation of SUVs is letting luxury sedans get even better.

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Bentley

Though the all-new Bentley Flying Spur has the word flying in its name, it is, in fact, attempting to arrest flight. For those of you who have been ignoring automotive trends for the past decade or so, there has been a pandemic-like departure of consumers from elegant, traditional, and stable three-box sedans into high-riding, wobbly, and often ungainly SUVs. This decamping has reached such heights that nowadays, fully two-thirds of all vehicles sold in America are trucks and trucklets. This metamorphosis is happening even in the most elevated segments of the automotive marketplace—witness ultra luxury customers’ flight to the hideous Bentayga.

But, times may be changing for the better, and the Flying Spur is part of the solution. “It’s been ten or fifteen years since people’s obsession with SUVs really began,” says Brett Boydell, Bentley’s head of interior design. “I think there’s a little bit of a shift to ‘actually I want a car again,’ which is fortunately tied in with our release of the new Flying Spur.”

Fun zayn moyl, in Gots oyer, as my 98 year-old Bubby says. (From your mouth, to god’s ear.) It’s true that this stunning, capacious, $214,000, all-wheel drive, twin-turbocharged W12-powered four-door can do just about everything that a Bentayga can, except look like a tarted-up Touareg, or ford a stream. But how many Bentley owners actually want to do anything with Ford in the description? Moreover, because of its design, it is also superior to a big SUV in the most relevant ways.

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Bentley

Here’s the thing. The ideal use case for an ultra-luxury SUV, in terms of the notions of privacy and exclusivity that consumers of such vehicles crave, peaked when the fewest possible number of marques actually offered an ultra-luxury SUV. Now that every brand in the category will sell one—including traditional players like Mercedes and Land Rover, and arrivistes like Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, and Ferrari—the specialness quotient has plummeted considerably. And unless your gold chrome wrap covers the windows, if you’re driving your ultra-luxury SUV alongside another ultra-luxury SUV, everyone can see right into your truck.

The Flying Spur defends against such intrusions on multiple fronts. First, it’s a traditional sedan, but there’s nothing particularly conventional about its exterior design. It’s so clean and uncluttered and low and long, that it almost looks shaved. And the very high beltline and plunging roofline give a sensation that it is chopped as well. It’s like a ’62 Sedan DeVille low-rider, in the classic California car modifier sense. “I did speak to my exterior colleagues at one point and I said, ‘you do know we’ve got a borderline hot rod here,’” Boydell says.

Coupled with a thick C-pillar, this means that the rear seat feels cocooned and protected in a way that an SUV never could. The windows back there start around a passenger’s collarbone. With the window shades powered up, and the $14, 680 Mulliner-spec quilted Blood Diamond leather on the seats and door panels, it almost feels as you’re in Liberace’s coffin, in the best sense. Permanently protected, sealed away from prying eyes.

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Bentley

All of this vault-like rear insularity bodes particularly well for the Flying Spur’s (and Bentley’s) key market, China, where consumers are privacy focused and mainly chauffeur driven. Does this mean that China might be saving the four-door sedan, just as it saved Buick and helped bring ambient lighting and the scrawlable infotainment track-pad into existence? It’s possible. The market there is weirdly capricious. Regardless, Bentley has decided that the Flying Spur has enough potential to be a key rebound vehicle that it has earned a place, for the first time, as the locus for introducing new features that will eventually appear on other Bentley products. This includes four-wheel steering, a new touch-screen rear remote, a retracting and light-up flying-B hood ornament, quilted leather or quilted wooden door panels. Also, more knurling.

You know about knurling, right? Long a signature brand feature, this metal-smithed ridging used to appear only in certain limited locations inside Bentleys, like the shifter knob and maybe an infotainment controller. Now, for the first time, here in the Flying Spur, it shows up on the inside of the door handles, on the material around the HVAC vents, on the reverse edges of the aforementioned rear touch screen remote, and on the underside of the center console handle lid, among other hidden places.

This knurl-fest isn’t just about enunciating a brand equity. It’s about delight, that alluring yet elusive feature that automakers attempt to bake into their vehicles because, like affection for a human love object, it is the ever-burgeoning attribute that makes you keep coming back. “For me, that is part of the ownership experience, which I think is most special—where they’re on this constant journey of discovery, where the design is revealing itself all the time,” says Boydell. “And so, when you look, there’s a lot, but it shouldn’t all smack you in the face in one go. That’s what we want to try and achieve on the interior, where the design kind of goes in layers, and the discovery of that design can take time.”

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Bentley

This may not be a coded metaphor for falling back in love with the four-door sedan, but we’re going to take it that way. Speaking of desirable limousines, if you’re at all concerned, like we are, that the up-scaling of the Flying Spur will threaten to replace our most beloved Bentley, ever, the Mulsanne, stop panicking. Though Boydell isn’t allowed to say so on the record, (“I wouldn’t be allowed to say,”) he does hint quite strongly that our beloved occasion car will live to see another set of occasions. (“The future of the Mulsanne is going strong.”) And there are hints of hybrid and fully electric Bentley sedans to come.

Given this proliferation in the sedan category, and given the choice between a now ubiquitous SUV shape, and a suddenly special sedan, we’re hoping that more consumers will start to make the proper choice.

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