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Bentley’s Flying Spur and Mulsanne Saloons

Automotive opulence.

Soaring high above a vast array of vineyards in Napa Valley are clusters of colourful hot air balloons. To be among the fortunate few who ride in one means rising well before the sun—and trusting that you’re putting yourself in very capable hands. A balloon travels at exactly the speed of the wind that’s carrying it, and steering it means floating between the layers of the atmosphere. When the balloon I was riding in descended back to Earth one crisp fall day, there was a Bentley Flying Spur V8 S waiting for me to take its wheel and steer on the roadways of California’s wine country.

The Flying Spur V8 S (priced in Canada from $225,500) is a sport-oriented version of Bentley’s entry level sedan. In this iteration, the 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged and direct-injected V8 is given a jump of 21 brake horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque over the base V8 for a total of 521 and 502 respectively, delivering a top speed of 306 km/h and a 0–100 km/h sprint time of 4.9 seconds. This car, like all Bentleys, is hand-built at the brand’s headquarters in Crewe, England.

Much like the morning’s balloon ride, the one delivered by the Flying Spur is disarmingly smooth with effortless precision. In standard mode the steering is relaxed, the cabin is exceptionally quiet, the handling is refined, and it’s surprisingly nimble despite its size. The eight-speed automatic transmission flicks easily through its gears, and the permanent all-wheel drive, which defaults to a 40:60 rear-biased torque split, can shift its balance from 65:35 to 15:85 to deliver stability without a second thought. Enable the sport mode in the drivetrain and suspension, though, and you awaken a beast with a vibrancy that makes spirited driving through winding curves a sheer delight.

The 2017 models have been given a design refresh, and the new V8 S comes with some custom styling including a black finish grille, exclusive front bumper treatment, Beluga Gloss rear diffuser, optional dark tint front and rear lights and black gloss exterior mirrors, and 20-inch open-spoke painted wheels that can be upgraded to 21 inches with a black and bright machined six-spoke design. As with all Flying Spurs, the V8 S is available in a four- or five-seat configuration and the list of options is extensive: a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot, a two-bottle refrigerator, and a 1,100-watt Naim for Bentley sound system. However, these cars are not brand new from top to bottom. Where this comes through most is in the technology: the infotainment system is prone to lag, and instead of a USB port, this model still uses Volkswagen Group’s legacy 30-pin connector. This means that while devices of all types can be plugged in via the proprietary cables, items such as splitters or thumb drives cannot.

If there is a theme that unifies Bentley’s design and engineering, it is one of effortlessness: graceful lines and an ease of acceleration that belies its bulk.

Next, the Bentley Mulsanne. I took this 6 ¾-litre twin-turbo V8, with 505 brake horsepower and 752 lb-ft of torque, straight to the most dramatic mountain road I could find in the area. And when I was done, it had left a serious impression.

It comes with the same features as the Flying Spur—the ultimate in luxury appointments, the exceptional driveability despite its five and a half metres of length, and the Bentley-built engine with highway-cruising cylinder deactivation paired with a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission—though Canadians who live in harsher climes should note that the Mulsanne only comes with rear-wheel drive.

That said, this car has been significantly updated and overall is built to satisfy more modern sensibilities (starting price is $335,100). Its infotainment system is Bentley’s latest, and on top of being faster and more user-friendly than the one in the Flying Spur, it features updated graphics and an excellent new navigation system with available real-time traffic data shown on an 8-inch touch screen. It’s equipped with a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, and Apple CarPlay is available as an option.

For back seat passengers, who benefit from a more defined seat design, a pair of detachable 10-inch Android tablets can function independently for browsing the Internet, playing games, listening to music, or watching video via streaming or the Mulsanne’s 60 GB on-board hard drive. Passengers can listen with a set of Bluetooth headphones or the car’s sound system: the 14-speaker standard system or the optional 20-speaker, 2,200-watt Naim for Bentley arrangement.

Behind the steering wheel, the paddle shifters are tight and streamlined. And, in what may be one of the more contentious automotive features of modern times, this larger sedan sports the humble Micro USB port. An exterior redesign sees the all-new LED headlamps levelled to be in line on either side of the front grille, creating a more streamlined look around an 80 mm wider, squared-off grille featuring stainless steel vertical vanes. Lower and wider front and back bumpers give the Mulsanne a more confident stance, and new B-motif rear LED tail lights let those around you know you’re at the wheel of a Bentley.

With 530 brake horsepower and 811 lb-ft of torque, the Mulsanne Speed is the most driver-focused vehicle in Bentley’s flagship sedan lineup.

Leather, chrome, and glass are given comforting warmth with an unbroken ring of wood that fully embraces the interior, with stone available as a bespoke option. Particular attention has been paid to making the cabin as quiet as possible. The Mulsanne’s V8 engine has been hushed by 25 dB using a closed loop system with active cancellation of vibration, and a further 4 dB with hydraulically damped subframe bushes. The tires also feature noise-absorbing technology that reduces peak rolling noise by 50 per cent.

The Mulsanne Speed continues for 2017, tuned for even greater performance with its 530 brake horsepower and 811 lb-ft of torque, making it the most driver-focused vehicle in Bentley’s flagship sedan lineup. It features a number of styling cues such as dark tint front and rear lamps, an exclusive five-spoke wheel design and sport pedals, revised suspension and chassis dynamics, and newly available carbon-ceramic brakes—a first for a luxury limousine. Those who prefer that their passengers receive the bulk of the attention need look no further than the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase. Bentley expects to build roughly 25 of these for North America in the first year at a starting cost of $397,700, placing the first round of owners in a very exclusive club. Back seat passengers benefit from 25 centimetres more legroom and a host of upscale amenities such as reclining seats with electronically extending leg rests; electronic blackout curtains; the aforementioned seatback infotainment system; a folding table of such precision that it consists of 761 unique parts; and an embedded champagne fridge with crystal flutes, plus an optional bottle cooler.

Since Queen Elizabeth II herself travels in a purpose-built Bentley State Limousine, the Bentley Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase brings its owners about as close to travelling like royalty as one can get.

If there is a theme that unifies Bentley’s design and engineering, it is one of effortlessness: graceful lines and an ease of acceleration that belies its bulk.


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