How does a 103-year-old British luxury automaker, which is celebrated for building some of the world’s finest 12-cylinder combustion engines, transition into an electric world? The answer is with innovative, technically advanced, and fuel-efficient sedans such as the new 2022 Flying Spur Hybrid – arguably the finest example of premium hybrid luxury in showrooms today.
In late 2020, Bentley announced that its first all-electric model would arrive in 2025. And by 2030, the company would be selling only EVs. Eight years is but a blink away in the fast-paced automotive world, so the company will move quickly – its first step towards dropping the traditional combustion engine is with gasoline-electric hybrid propulsion.
Bentley is no stranger to hybrid vehicles. The automaker introduced its plug-in Bentayga Hybrid last year, but the Flying Spur Hybrid is different. Unlike the popular Bentayga crossover, which is drawing younger customers to the brand who are eager to adopt new technologies, the Flying Spur is a traditional long wheelbase four-door – it is Bentley’s foundation. The company has to get it right.
The third-generation Flying Spur is a spectacular vehicle that shares platforms with the Porsche Panamera. It is visually stunning, beautifully appointed, and it’s a driver’s car – on-road dynamics are first-rate. With standard all-wheel drive, it is offered with a choice between a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, or a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12. The powerful engines provide sports car-like acceleration (the 0-60 sprint takes about 3.5 seconds) and deliver about 20 mpg on the highway. Around town, that number drops to the low teens.
Flying Spur customers expect their vehicles to be extremely powerful and refined. To live up to those anticipations, Bentley equips the hybrid model with a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 developing 410 hp (there is no shame in admitting that Porsche uses the same engine in its hybrid Panamera), which is complemented by a 134-hp electric motor sandwiched between the engine and the 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. Total system output is 536 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque – the hybrid output is nearly identical to its V8-powered sibling.
The plug-in hybrid Flying Spur is also fitted with a 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery that will deliver just over 20 miles of pure-EV driving (a Level-2 home charger, which every owner should have, will fully charge it in fewer than three hours). While the EPA has not released official fuel economy numbers, the hybrid powerplant should easily provide a 20 percent or greater improvement on efficiency. (In the hands of a consumer, hybrid fuel efficiency is purely dependent on usage – someone with a 5-mile daily commute could literally see 100-plus mpg on average, while someone with a 90-mile commute will see 25 mpg overall.) Bentley states that the Flying Spur Hybrid has a cruising range of 450 miles – that’s more than six (bladder-busting) hours on the highway.
While owners may casually press the start button, engage drive, and head on their way in BENTLEY driving mode, Bentley also offers a three position E Mode driving selector to customize the hybrid driving experience. EV DRIVE holds the vehicle in electric mode (unless the driver presses the accelerator too hard), HYBRID maximizes efficiency by working in conjunction with the navigation system to optimize energy usage, and HOLD mode preserves the battery power for later use (e.g., heading into a city center that only permits electric operation).
Left simply in drive, and assuming there is juice in the battery, the Flying Spur will pull away with only its electric motor for propulsion. Ignore its 134 hp rating, as the electric motor develops 295 lb-ft of instant torque – that’s strong enough for swift acceleration around town and through traffic (of course, the twin-turbocharged V6 is always standing ready to provide additional assistance if the driver’s foot calls for it).
From behind the wheel, the Flying Spur feels as if it is effortlessly gliding. There are no synthetic sounds playing within the cabin, so the experience is completely silent. The electric motor provides ample propulsion, despite the Bentley’s 5,600-lb curb weight, so the sedan cruises easily with the other vehicles around it.
Occupants riding within the Bentley’s plush leather-lined cabin will be astonished at the serenity while the Flying Spur is operating in pure electric mode. The lack of combustion eliminates nearly all of the traditional car noises at low speed, so the cabin is whisper-quiet. At higher speeds, only the sound of the rushing wind over the glass and distant tire noise is able to penetrate the well-insulated passenger compartment (according to Bentley, the Hybrid is 50 percent quieter than the V8 model at 50 mph).
Mash the accelerator pedal, or switch over to HOLD mode, and the combustion engine immediately fires to life. Gasoline-fed engines aren’t anywhere near as smooth as an electric motor, so its addition is immediately audibly noted and there is drastically more vibration. Nonetheless, the twin-turbo V6 is powerful – it’s a very sporty and athletic powerplant – the Bentley surges forward with authority. By the numbers, and seat-of-the-pants observation, it’s likely only a few tenths of a second slower than its combustion-only siblings (although Bentley electronically limits the Hybrid’s top speed to 177 mph, versus 198 mph for the V8).
Innovative powertrain aside, the Flying Spur Hybrid drives nearly identically to the V8 and W12 models. The ride is smooth, well-controlled, and the four-door demonstrates impeccable highway manners. The steering is responsive in the corners, and the sedan never feels floaty or unbalanced. The Hybrid is not offered with the sophisticated 48-volt adaptive suspension, or rear-wheel steering, but we sense that few owners will care – this sedan is about premium comfort and efficiency, and it delivers both in droves.
And as is the case with other Flying Spur trims, the Hybrid buyer is offered the opportunity to choose paint, upholstery, trim, and accent details only limited by the imagination. The smell and touch of rich upholsteries, complemented by the feel of fine woods and the coldness of real metals, makes riding within the Bentley a first-class experience that borders on surreal – it’s not just transportation. Experiencing a Flying Spur Hybrid is a reason for celebration.
We consider the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid a well-calculated, and correct, step towards the company’s electrified future. Unlike most other premium automakers, who are stumbling as they attempt to restyle or redefine what their brands represent as they march toward a combustion-free future, Bentley has done very little to differentiate the Flying Spur Hybrid from its combustion siblings. The Flying Spur Hybrid is 100 percent what its traditional buyers expect while delivering everything its newest customers will be seeking. The company’s latest and most fuel-efficient offering remains true to brand and continues to foster Bentley’s 103-year-old history.