Autocar took to a streaming-wet Goodwood hillclimb at 10.45 on Sunday morning, having watched a scary series of antique bikes and cars wobble and weave in the rain to the top of the famous course.
We shouldnâ€™t have worried about the fortunes of the all-new Bentley Flying Spur â€“ or its 626bhp W12 â€“ because a proper expert called Andrew Unsworth, the Crewe companyâ€™s head of vehicle dynamics, was at the wheel, and in any case the car bristled with stability and traction controls tuned for difficult occasions like this one.
Whatâ€™s more, the Flying Spur is a brand-new design, based on the Volkswagen Groupâ€™s MSB architecture specifically designed for its largest vehicles, that shares its major elements with the Porsche Panamera. Whereas the previous Flying Spur was related to the now-defunct VW Phaeton limo, and was severely limited in packaging and tyre sizes by that, the new model, about to go on sale, has a chassis and suspension set-up whose main elements were included in the original MSB programme, with Bentley engineers carrying as much clout in the negotiations as their Porsche colleagues.
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â€śItâ€™s not really a platform in the conventional sense,â€ť says Unsworth, â€śbecause itâ€™s highly flexible and can be altered quite radically in dimensions to suit particular applications.”
We drove slowly along a crowd-lined passage to the start line, entirely surrounded by car lovers as we waited to run. As usual, the knowledge and enthusiasm of the Goodwood crowd was deeply impressive, even intoxicating, and it was clear (because so many of them told us) that the new Bentleyâ€™s much more graceful proportions were obvious and very appealing.
Suddenly it was time to go, and though we could see from the cars ahead that the greasy road was upsetting many, the Spurâ€™s four-wheel drive and sophisticated traction control system had no trouble laying down the power with barely half a revolution of wheelspin. We fairly rocketed off the start and towards the Goodwood hillclimbâ€™s first double-apex bend, the space and leathered luxury of this car (as usual with a Bentley) not quite computing with the huge performance, accompanied now by a smooth and well-bred roar from the engine.
Itâ€™s hard to think under such conditions but I have three main impressions: first, the way this car can lay down its power and torque under difficult conditions is exceptional (in yesterdayâ€™s timed runs, our Flying Spur shamed many supercars). Second, the influence of this carâ€™s long (3194mm) wheelbase has on its comfort and stability takes it away from sports cars â€“ in a good way. Third, the way Bentleys mix extreme refinement with top performance is still very special.
Unsworth, who has been working on this car for three years, was the perfect demonstration driver, but I felt that even in the hands of a much less able driver (such as your ham-fisted humble servant), this car would have been a brilliant all-rounder. Chuck in the beautiful styling and the huge road presence, and suddenly the predicted ÂŁ170k price (plus options, of course) looks like value.