MALIBU, Calif. – When I first moved to New York City in the early 1990s, two careers before I became an automotive writer, I worked as a preschool teacher in Brooklyn. I rode my bike to work from Manhattan each day, over the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most bountiful opportunities for car-spotting in a city with the nation’s lowest rates of automobile ownership. The most notable vehicle I saw regularly was a stately and very violet Bentley sedan. The only thing more outrageous than its Azure Purple exterior color, and the distinctive rumbling of its signature 6.75-liter V8, was its vanity license plate. Seeming to signify that its owner was a proctologist or gastroenterologist, it read, MD TUSH.
As I drove that car’s descendant, an excessively purple Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid, I couldn’t stop thinking of MD TUSH, whomever they were. Their flash. Their panache. Their dedication to being seen – even from the elevated bike path of New York’s original suspension bridge. One could argue that this is part of the job of an occasion car like this, a $204,000 (base price) sedan that is as long as a Chevrolet Tahoe. It is supposed to make an impact.
So it’s counterintuitive that the Flying Spur Hybrid always starts off in EV Drive mode, which prioritizes the sole use of the rechargeable 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It decidedly does not make an impact. I suppose that one cannot discount the element of surprise. But in that mode – one of three accessed through a metal button on the center console’s button-resplendent surface – the big four-door skulks off with eerie silence, and will continue to do so for about 25 miles on the European WLTP cycle (EPA certification has not yet been completed, but it will likely be lower than the EU number), whereupon it needs 2.5 hours to charge with a fast charger of unspecified voltage via a conspicuous port on the left rear fender.
As a preview of Bentley’s promised all-electric future – which will begin with its first fully battery powered-vehicle in 2025, en route to a full-line voltaic conversion by 2030 – the Flying Spur has some allure. With its silence, thrust, and uncanny eeriness, electric power suits ultra-luxury limousines.
But while the electric motor provides a not-insignificant 134 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque – enough to propel the 5,523-pound behemoth up to 80 mph, eventually – it’s mostly meant for low-speed use around town, particularly in urban locales that have or are about to ban (or heavily tax) the use of ICE vehicles in the city center.
As a stopgap compliance car, this makes some sense. However, like Bentley’s previous effort at hybridization, the Flying Spur Hybrid sports some challenges. With its new 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 adding 410 hp and 406 lb-ft to the electron sipper, the PHEV has a combined total of 536 hp and 553 lb-ft. That’s just a bit less than the 386-pound-lighter Flying Spur V8, but acceleration doesn’t suffer as much as you’d expect: the 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds is just one-tenth of a second slower than the V8. The trouble is it does so in a rather un-Bentley-like manner. The powertrain doesn’t feel as effortless as a car from the Flying B brand should. There’s something slightly coarse about its action, its emotion. Something almost reaching, like the engine is working harder than it should to achieve its tasks.
It also feels oddly indecisive when in the two other drive modes: Hybrid, which blends power sources to maximize efficiency, and Hold mode, which effectively locks out the all-electric range so there’s still some available when you reach one of those EV-only urban centers. Instead of a consistent, and enjoyable, thrum, the powertrain switches modalities with the capricious fervor of a cat with the midnight crazies. Electric! Engine! Both! Engine! Electric! It’s noticeable, which it shouldn’t be in a Bentley, all the more so because the brand provides a dedicated gauge in the cluster that charts only this. It’s the first time I missed the days of old, when cars like this didn’t even bother with a tachometer. Rolls-Royces still don’t.
This touchiness also somehow took away from the car’s driving, handling, and braking capacities. In previous engagements, the non-hybrid Flying Spur absolutely astounded with its agility, the result in part of its trick four-wheel-steering system, its active anti-roll bars, and the disc brakes housed within 20-, 21-, or 22-inch wheels, each of which is approximately the size of Polyphemus’ contact lens. The mountain and canyon roads driven here in Malibu are among the most ideal in America. Yet I didn’t feel the same glorious, joyous giddyup of the W12 or V8 in the Spurple Reign. I tried the sport mode, dubbed “Bentley,” and even toyed with the Individual setting for the computer controlled throttle, steering, and transmission. It was far above average, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the spurs into this Spur.
Fortunately, the cabin maintains most of the qualities that make a contemporary Bentley such an extremely pleasant place. The dolphin-colored leather on the seats and steering wheel might as well have clicked like Flipper it was so enchanting. The purple leather everywhere else would’ve made Prince feel at home. The optional five-figure Naim stereo absolutely pulverized, transforming the new Weeknd album into nihilistic disco bucket wheel excavator. The carbon fiber trim is no doubt among the finest available, but personally, of the 56 billion ways Bentley says you can configure a Flying Spur, carbon fiber wouldn’t be on the build sheet for my $250,000 sedan. Crewe’s veneers are among the best in the world so why skimp on the marquetry in favor of, well, plastics?
Nothing is skimped on in the back seat, which I enjoyed even more than the thrones up when given an opportunity to be chauffeured. It reclined, it lacked superfluous LCD displays. (Thank you, I have my own superior screen here in my hand.) It even had massagers, something that purple butt doctor’s Bentley didn’t possess, even though, unlike this imperfect version of a nearly perfect sedan, it would have been exactly on brand.