I have to admit it, I'm hooked on Speed. The 2009 Continental Flying Spur Speed, that is. What may be one of the longest nameplates ever to grace a fender belongs to the newest offering in the Bentley lineup.
It's been five years since the British marque touched off a revolution. Its Continental GT was a dramatic departure from the classic—some would say boringly staid—products that defined the top end of the luxury car market, the automaker's aging Arnage being a notable example. The high-performance coupe was dramatically styled and thrilling to drive. And it begot a pair of additional offerings, the ragtop GTC and the roomy Sedan, the Flying Spur.
The first-generation Spur—which revived a classic Bentley name first used in 1957—bolted an extra 20 inches onto the back of the GT. It provided the massive rear cabin you expect from this classic marque, yet because Bentley engineers found a way to keep the added weight down to a few hundred pounds, the Spur maintained much of the GT's sporty manners.
Yet, there were some compromises made to meld refinement and performance into one package. And, so, with the '09, in what is commonly referred to as a "mid-cycle refresh," Bentley has wisely decided to split the seams a bit, offering up two separate versions of its best-selling sedan.
The "base" Spur is, at first glance, much the same as in prior years, save for the more upright grille and chrome headlamp bezels. But the emphasis on comfort and refinement quickly becomes apparent. Like all members of the Continental lineup, the Spur can be enjoyed from the driver's seat or the back, now available with an electronically-reclining rear split bench. Wherever you sit, you'll notice that wind and road noise levels have been cut by more than half, thanks to a new, trilaminate underbody blanket and the use of side and rear laminated glass.
At 552 horsepower, this car is no slouch, capable of blasting off from 0 to 60 in just 4.9 seconds, and topping off at a breathtaking 190 mph. But for those who want maximum performance, there's the Speed (pictured), its massive, 6.0-liter W-12 engine tuned to make 600-hp. It'll cut four-tenths of a second off launch times and push the limit to an even 200 mph.
The distinctions marking the Speed edition are subtle, notably the smoke gray grille and lowered suspension. The Speed is also equipped with 20-inch wheels for the bespoke Pirelli P-Zero UHP tires, which are rated to 207 mph.
Bentley's transformation began with the breakup of its long marriage to that other British icon, Rolls-Royce. Now the flagship division of Germany's Volkswagen AG, Bentley has the financial and engineering assets it long needed to develop a world-beater like the Spur. Yet the maker was initially slow in adding the cutting-edge electronics that high-line buyers expect. No longer. Both '09 models now have Bluetooth and DVD navigation. They also get the optional, $6,900 Naim audio package. Producing 1,100 watts of crystal pure sound through 15 channels, it is yet another reason why anyone who can come up with the cash for a Spur—$174,100 for the base model, $198,500 for the Speed—just may never want to park it for the night. Visit bentleymotors.com.