At first glance, things haven't changed much at Crewe over the last 70 years. They still stitch seats by hand and carefully cut and polish each piece of heavily lacquered wood at the U.K. factory where Bentleys are made. Yes, you'll find the odd bit of automation on the new assembly line, but the stately British automaker's transformation is most evident in what rolls off the end of that line. Since its introduction, barely two years ago, the Continental GT has shifted Bentley sales into overdrive and created a 10-month waiting list. "It is not a question of how many we could make," says Bentley's affable German chairman, Franz-Josef Paefgen, "but how many we will choose to make."
What Bentley is choosing to do right now is add a model. You won't miss the family resemblance. The new Continental Flying Spur sedan shares the GT coupe's chromed, crosshatch grille and the sculpted quad headlights that flow into the hood as if shaped by the wind. It also has the same taut, coiled feel that makes it seem ever-ready to leap into motion. The physics of its high rear-deck lid give the Spur an even lower coefficient of drag than the coupe.
While the platform has been stretched 20 inches, the Flying Spur feels even more nimble when driven aggressively because the added length balances out the heft of the big, twin-turbo W-12 engine. With 552 horses and weighing only 312 pounds more than the coupe, it still gallops from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds. With a top speed of 195 mph, it's tempting to measure the Spur's merits in muscle car terms, but there's a lot more to this ultra-luxury sedan.
Bentley makes good use of the added space. The GT offers a cramped, barely usable rear seat. The Flying Spur's is positively cavernous, encouraging you to let someone else drive while you stretch out, especially if you opt for the reclining rear bucket seat package. You'll be enveloped by a forest of wood and a herd of cowhide in your choice of seven woods and 16 leathers. More options, such as brushed aluminum, are under development.
The Spur's only shortfall is technological—and it's temporary. The navigation system has an outdated and undersized CD format. But an update arrives in 2006, along with DVD-Audio with 5.1 surround sound, Bluetooth technology and a remote keyless start. If you haven't already plunked down a deposit, you'll likely not take delivery until Bentley has those minor kinks straightened out.