It would usually be the hallmark of journalistic laziness to describe a new Bentley as near-silent. Such an assessment would then focus on the pillowy-smooth ride and serene, soundless progress made through somewhere glamorous, like Los Angeles. But instead of being a threadbare cliche, that is, quite literally, where we find ourselves today.
I’m behind the wheel of the new Flying Spur Hybrid, which for the first couple-dozen miles of the journey through Beverly Hills, towards the winding canyon roads draped across the outskirts of Los Angeles, runs purely on electricity. The 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine under the hood is switched off, leaving a 134 horsepower electric motor and 18kWh battery to do all the work.
You may already be familiar with the twin-turbo V6 hybrid system used by Bentley in the Bentayga SUV. But while that powertrain is related to one used by Audi, the Flying Spur’s hybrid V6 is a close relative to the Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid. The motor is fitted between the engine and an eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission, and Bentley says the hybrid is only 110 pounds heavier overall than the V8.
The Flying Spur Hybrid doesn’t make quick progress in pure EV mode – hardly a surprise given the vast, four-door executive limo’s 5,523lb mass – but in the notorious LA traffic a lack of shove doesn’t really matter.
Some might scoff at the claimed 25 miles of battery range on offer. But this is precisely what such hybrids are for. They glide through congested, polluted cities in silence and with zero tailpipe emissions, then fire up the engine once in a more suitable environment.
That said, in the Bentley it’s tricky to keep the engine off for very long, as more than the gentlest press of the accelerator summons extra power and kicks the engine into life. A new interface on the driver display shows exactly what’s going on with the hybrid system, and a button on the center console lets you switch between modes, such as one that holds the battery at its current charge level, ready to be used later if preferred.
Before we leave the busy city roads, a quick nod of appreciation to whoever chose the specification of the Flying Spur I’m driving. The color is called Jetstream II. Pale but bright blue and very California. It would stand out like a sore thumb in London on this early-January morning, but under the unseasonably warm sunshine of La La Land it couldn’t feel more at home.
The Flying Spur Hybrid is priced from approximately $210,000. This particular vehicle featured just under $70,000 of optional extras, including the Mulliner Driving Specification ($20,295), Styling Specification ($12,245) and the Naim premium sound system ($8,970).
On leaving the hotel parking lot I’m reminded of the Flying Spur’s rear-wheel-steering, turning the rear axle a few degrees to virtually shorten the wheelbase and make the 209-inch long car feel more maneuverable.
Once out of the city and onto LA’s sweeping canyon roads, we’re heading to Santa Barbara and the car’s hybrid system automatically works out when to switch between gasoline and electricity, and when to use a bit of both. At cruising speeds the process is near-seamless, the engine shutting off when coasting and staying dormant until the right-hand pedal is pressed sufficiently to call upon more than the motor alone. With the car in B mode – standing for Bentley and being a Goldilocks-esque middle ground between performance and comfort – the hybrid system’s demands for power are issued with professional butler levels of discreteness. And other such cliches.
Prod the accelerator more firmly for an overtake or junction exit, however, and there’s a noticeable pause while the system works out what’s needed and summons the engine. It’s barely more than the kickdown of an automatic gearbox, but is noticeable nonetheless.
The brakes take a few miles to get used to. They tended to grab at little too abruptly at low speed, making chauffeur-style stops tricky, and like other hybrids there’s a noticeable handoff between energy regeneration and the use of the physical brakes when transitioning from engine-off coasting to engine-on braking. But these are all things owners (and their drivers) will adjust to quickly enough.
Shortly before our planned driver change the roads turn things up a notch. Lazy, meandering freeways give way to tighter, twisting country roads, soaring and swooping through the rocky landscape. I switch to Sport mode, take manual control of the eight-speed ZF gearbox with shifters behind the steering wheel, and the Flying Spur Hybrid puts on a performance on par with its V8-powered sibling. It’s more composed and enjoyable than a car of this type has any right to be. The evocative soundtracks of its stablemates – a burbling V8 and a sonorous W12 – are missing, and so too is the 48V anti-roll system of the W12, but it’s still an enjoyable thing to drive.
There’s a combined 537hp from the V6 and hybrid system, and with 553 lb ft of torque the new model’s 4.1-second 0-60mph time is just a tenth behind the V8; 100mph is dispatched in 9.5 seconds and the top speed is 177mph. But the driver’s ears are missing out. It’s a little muted, and gives the impression the engine is being asked to work harder than it would prefer. While the performance is on par with the V8, it’s clear the Hybrid would rather settle down and cruise more efficiently than its sibling – and for up to 450 miles, Bentley says.
Comfort break and driver change complete, I switch to the front passenger seat, giving me time to enjoy the Flying Spur’s ride quality (as good as ever), bask in the quality of the optional Naim sound system (magnificent, but expensive) and remind myself that Bentley’s interiors are the best of any manufacturer today. From the softness of the leather to the quality of the stitching – and of course the rotating dashboard display – it all oozes quality.
After a second stop I switch to the rear seats as a chauffeur drives from Malibu back to Beverly Hills, and the Flying Spur reminds me how it’s a car to be ridden in as much as it is one to drive. Only discreet ‘hybrid’ badges and a second fuel filler flap for the charge port differentiate the V6 visually from its V8 and W12 siblings, and when relaxing in the back there’s no real difference at all.
In return for shunning the allure of a more traditional engine and outright performance, the Flying Spur Hybrid delivers a very similar experience, while being kinder to both the environment and your fuel bill.