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Driving the world's fastest sedan

July 16, 2005 13:23 IST

Bentley Continental Flying Spur -- the world's fastest sedan -- is in India now, and it costs a cool Rs 1.7 crore (Rs 17 million). Photograph: Bruno Vincent/Getty ImagesDo you know what happens when you drive at 300 kph everyday? You grow horns and start staring at your very own arrow-tipped tail. None of you, dear readers, I bet, can challenge me on that statement of mine (Narain, are you reading this?).

Because none of us, and that includes me, get to do 300 kph on Mother Earth everyday. Seriously, it is like one of those discussions that involve life after death -- you can talk about it for hours but no one would be able to confirm that topless angels really do exist.

But I had my chance. I had at my disposal a car that would oblige and do 300 kph if I had the guts to floor a simple accelerator pedal and keep it there long enough. And if you are the lucky sort with just about Rs 1.7 crore (Rs 17 million) to spare on a new set of wheels, the Bentley Flying Spur will be yours -- yes, that means you can do 300 kph every day if you can find a decent stretch of road.

Now, I will certainly get the devil out of you if I try and explain the roots of the Flying Spur, but some essential info is important. Sometime in the fifties, when Bentley was owned by Rolls-Royce, a two-door sports car by the name Continental S1 was created with express instructions to coachbuilders not to build a heavy four-door body for it.

HJ Mulliner, the famed coachbuilders, defied the rule and built a four-door version called the Flying Spur that was more practical but had the same weight as the two-door car.

Today, Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, and they build the extremely capable Continental GT sports coupe, and the new Flying Spur is a four-door sedan based on the same mechanicals.

The GT was already amongst the fastest things on earth -- this side of perhaps a ballistic missile in the wrong hands -- and even with the four-door body and the additional luxury titbits adding an extra 200 pounds, the top speed of the car remains a neat 312 kph.

Why are we talking of speed and speed alone when most of the prospective buyers, especially in our country, will throw the keys to a chauffeur? If I am selling Bentleys in this country, then I would frown upon such people and ask them to go buy an S-Class Mercedes, or if they are even wealthier, a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Because, Bentleys were, is and will be meant to be driven. I can hear the question coming, 'Then why build a four door car?' Thankfully, I am not selling Bentleys in India.

Alright, Bentley wants the Flying Spur to pamper those customers who may end up in the back seat so they made sure that at least 11 cows donated their hide to make up its interior. And then they chopped the finest of rain forests to layer its innards with wood.

There is enough aluminium inside to make a light aircraft and more steel to make small economies envious. Yet all that brashness combines to form one of the most exquisitely crafted cabins I have ever been in.

The only thing loud inside is the optional 5.1 audio system. Tradition is honoured the way dials are drilled into the facia and the Breitling clock is a uber touch. The driving position is brilliant and the electrical adjustments are top notch too.

My favourite touch is the brushed aluminium aircon vents that actually 'sweat' as you motor down at terrific speeds. Cribs? Don't tell me VW couldn't pay enough to the guy who supplied the cigarette lighter so that he refrained from putting 'Made in Germany' on his creation. C'mon, this is a Bentley and that means it is supposed to be as British as afternoon tea.

That said, the fact remains that the lighter would light a million cigarettes before it conks out. The best thing that has happened to both Bentley and Rolls-Royce is that they are now owned by VW and BMW respectively.

The deep German pockets have ensured that all that British heritage can now be transformed into machines that deserve it.

The Flying Spur is a Teutonic conquest of the modern kind and WO Bentley would have been proud of it. The W12 engine is out of a VW Phaeton, but develops 552 bhp at 6100 revs and 65 kgm of turning force from 1600 rpm onwards. Now, not many Ferraris can boast those figures.

Sink the throttle into the plush carpeting and the two turbochargers go to work almost instantaneously -- the result is a blisteringly quick car that slams you back onto the backrest as it guns for 100 kph glory in under six seconds.

Even though the powerplant (it really is one) is married to a six-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to all four wheels via a centre differential. Every conceivable electronic adjustment man has invented has gone into this system to ensure that the Flying Spur decides to live up to its name and take off.

Like the GT, cornering the Spur is an extremely predictable and safe affair and you are best advised not to look at the speedo while at it -- if you do that, you are bound to wake up the next day thinking that you are Michael Schumacher.

Those of you who already own an S-Class (what an upgrade the Spur would be for you!) are allowed to think that their steed rides better over bad terrain. The air-sprung Spur has independent suspension all around, but it is tuned to give a certain degree of feedback from the road -- very important when your car is capable of insane speeds, you see.

We have talked about interiors and powertrain, but how about looks? The face of the new Bentley when seen in the GT was a bit of a shock and it took time to grow on people.

But the Flying Spur looks perfectly formed and that is a big compliment, since it is developed from the GT and not from a clean sheet of paper. One difference when compared to other ultra luxury cars is that the Flying Spur looks magnificent when it is brutalising tarmac and splitting wind with focused ferocity than, say, posing in front of a seven-star hotel.

Time to conclude and allow me a bit of chest thumping. I have driven the Maybach, the Phantom and now the Flying Spur. Which one would I take if that proverbial rich uncle pops and leaves a will for me?

The double M badge promises exclusivity but is not much of a looker. The Spirit of Ecstasy is the last word in luxury automobiles but you really need to be royalty to carry it well. The winged B mascot ensures that you are young, rich and tasteful. Now, I really don't mind wearing a pair of horns and an arrow-tipped tail.

Above: Bentley Continental Flying Spur -- the world's fastest sedan -- is in India now, and it costs a cool Rs 1.7 crore (Rs 17 million).
Photograph: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

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Bijoy Kumar Y in Mumbai