2015 Bentley Flying Spur V8 First Drive

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When last we left the Bentley Flying Spur, we were wending our way through Beijing traffic, hurtling toward the Great Wall and dodging an Olympian course of randomly placed and chosen obstacles, all while soaking up the Spur's leathery, woodsy accoutrements and the sonorous W-12.

A year later, and we're needling our way through London traffic, hurtling toward the Salisbury Plain, and dodging an Olympian course of randomly placed and chosen obstacles, immersing ourselves in a different engine note and a red-and-white leather interior worthy of a classic Porsche or Corvette.

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The Flying Spur is the latest Bentley model to get a downsized engine option, which this year breeds the Flying Spur V8. And instead of being half a world away, we went just a quarter-turn around the globe--to Carnaby Street in London and out to the hinterlands, to sample the "small" Bentley in its home element.

Regardless of which powertrain it has, the Flying Spur inhabits a world in which 500 horsepower and a $200,000 asking fee are considered more economical choices. Let's be honest, though. No one who owns a Spur is looking to economize--unless they're buying a fleet of vehicles.

So what's the appeal of a less powerful Bentley? About exactly that of the twelve-cylinder car. It's more of a phase-one reeducation than an abrupt slide down the socioeconomic scale. The V-8's the beginning of a wave of more efficient cars to Bentley, which started with the V-8 in the Continental GT. In the offing: diesels and plug-in hybrid models, including some Flying Spurs.

Even true luxury brands have to face the political need for greener cars. They should all manage their green game of thrones this well.

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Parlor game

The Flying Spur has championship-caliber parlor game. It's practically a drawing room on the inside, a trump card of wealth from the outside. It's an entirely different implication of luxury compared to some of the German-branded luxury cars, though the new S-Class is clearly on Bentley's radar, with its more emotional design and upcoming supersize edition.

The Spur has stately elegance in its corner. It's evolved away from the close kinship to the Continental GT (the two are spun from the same architecture). At the nose, the twin Spurs have larger oval headlamps at the outboard position; Conti GTs put the bigger ones inboard. The hot-formed aluminum panels have tighter and crisper creases, and the fenders wear those fantastic statement pieces of jewelry, the flying-B logo.

The clubby stance continues down the sides, with the most gentle slope to the rear quarters, and a squared-off decklid and taillamps counterbalanced by oval-shaped cutouts for the exhaust. On the W-12 cars, the pipes themselves end in ovals; on the V-8, they're formed in a figure eight--an infinity figure to go with the discreet red-background badging and a black-finished grille.

The cabin is a soothing place, with some of the most indulgent finishes this side of Bentley's own Mulsanne. Bespoke to a degree, it wears chrome, leather, and wood like they've never gone out of style. (They haven't.) The corporate bits don't look far out of its fashion--that big touchscreen knows its place. The best details still are the chromed pulls that open and close the round air vents, and the B-cast brake pedal.

By just those measures, the Flying Spur V8 is one of the finest vehicles made. Add in its complex array of pistons, gears, differentials, and sensors, and it's still never in doubt.

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