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Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed Series 51 Review & Road Test (2011)

Wed, 13 Apr 2011

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed Series 51

We’re a picky bunch, us Brits. However brilliant anything is we have to find a way to denigrate it. It’s as if we can’t live with success; we need to find fault and a way to put things down.

It’s a national pastime to compare what we have now with what we had in the past. ‘200 channels of garbage’ we cry about our TV package. ‘There was more choice when we just had three channels’. No, there wasn’t.

‘Cars were better when you could fix them yourself’ the Luddites say. No they weren’t. Although cars did used to break a lot. Which they don’t anymore.

‘VW Bentleys’ the denigrators cry at the mention of the Continental Series of cars. ‘Nothing but a glorified Phaeton’, they  proclaim. But really, although technically correct, it’s a very long way from the truth.

The truth is that the Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed Series 51 we have in this week for review and road test is very much a Bentley. In fact, despite the acknowledged Phaeton starting point, the Flying Spur Speed is a car the Bentley Boys would recognise as very much a real Bentley.

It’s beautifully made, with Teutonic standards of fit and finish made human with traditional elements of veneers and leathers and chrome organ stops for the air vents.

There are quilted leathers with contrast stitching – Mulliner-style, in Bentley’s world – which, in this 51 Series car, come in a tri-colour version of complimentary shades. The facia is covered with machined aluminium, evoking a time of Le Mans and victory and tyres and smoke and all things Bentley past.

There’s acres of room – in front and behind – and the seats adjust to suit your shape, whatever your shape. Yes, the instruments and some of the stuff on show look a bit more posh VW than truly bespoke, but that’s not the end of the world. And at least it all works. Not something you could often say about Bentleys past. Particularly swift Bentleys, which tended to break when asked to demonstrate their raison d’être.

Toys abound, as you would expect, from TV and Video to heated and cooled and massaging seats. But one toy stands out, although it’s a not insubstantial £5k extra – the Naim Sound System.

Never, in more years than I care to remember, have I experienced an in-car sound system so perfectly attuned to its environment. Not just perfectly attuned, but offering ear-bleeding volume alongside awesome detail and nuance. That’s ear-bleeding volume at the same time as awesome detail and nuance, not separately. A clear difference between the merely good and the simply great. An experience that balances the sensation of sound somewhere between agony and ecstasy. Stunning.

So the Continental Flying Spur Speed is a good place to be, even if there are echoes of its VW heritage. But the point of the ‘Speed’, if Bentley is being true to its heritage, is to create a car that not only cossets and comforts but also thrills and exhilarates.

Can a big, four door, 4WD lump of a Bentley – however powerful – really thrill and exhilarate?

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By Cars UK