Electrification has hit the highest end of town with Bentley's big saloon, the Flying Spur, landing in the UAE.
Admittedly it's not a full EV but a hybrid, meaning it has a 100-kilowatt electric motor supporting a 2.9-litre twin turbo V6, but it can be driven in full EV mode and charged from a wall socket, so you can save the petrol for longer drives.
Prices start from Dh1.35million depending on the options and bespoke requests for Bentley’s flagship saloon. While the hybrid is a toe-in-the-water exercise for the company at the moment, Bentley plans to follow up with pure EV products and will be an EV-only company by 2026.
Of all the segments in the automotive field, the elite luxury sector where Bentley dominates is possibly the best suited to switch to electrification. The company has spent nearly a century refining these combustion engines to be powerful with masses of low-end torque, yet also silky smooth and as near to silent as possible.
These are the exact qualities that describe electric vehicles, so driving the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid in full EV mode feels almost identical to driving its bigger 12-cylinder twin-turbo cousin. It wafts along in complete silence, yet put the foot down and its hefty 2.5-tonnes rockets to 100kph from 0 in just 4.3 seconds, which is only 0.8 seconds slower than the 6-litre W12 model.
Compared also to the V8 that sits between this and the W12, it delivers 536hp and 750Nm of torque with a limited top speed of 285kph, so only marginally down on the V8’s figures of 542hp, 770Nm and 320kph respectively.
While the factory says its 18kWh battery returns 56km of pure electric range, we squeezed up to 65km without sacrificing speed or acceleration. I managed a solid day of errand-running around Dubai in full EV-mode without thinking to save power and charged it up again that night in under three hours.
Even when the battery is showing 0km of range and the petrol motor has taken over, there’s still 0.9kWh of battery charge in reserve. So even with an empty battery, it will still start in EV mode to get its mass rolling, which is where most CO2 emissions come from. Once the hard work is done by the battery, the petrol engine fires up to carry on until the car is plugged in again.
Driving the Flying Spur Hybrid still feels presidential and even though the car world remains in love with SUVs – even for top-end brands such as Bentley and Rolls-Royce – there is nothing quite as luxurious and eye-catching as steering a large saloon through town.
Perhaps its Flare Red exterior complemented by the Mulliner touches, such as the bright chrome, double-diamond grille paired with matching bright chrome lower bumper grilles and brushed alloy wing mirrors on the outside, caught everyone’s attention. Or maybe the two-toned Flare Red with cream leather, offset by piano black veneer and knurled solid alloy touches on the inside did the trick?
Either way, there’s no question that the attention to detail on the exterior is outstanding, and the quality and finish inside is simply the best in the business.
Massaging seats in both the front and rear are dangerously good. Rear-seat passengers can select their own configurations from a smartphone-style device stored in the centre console. This can also change the temperature and ambient lighting, close or open the side and rear privacy curtain, and take care of the music. Those in the rear also get two powered folding picnic tables that lock into the back of the front seats, and a chill box for drinks.
Up front, the driver gets a large 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen that can swivel out of sight if the screen ruins the interior mood. It spins around to reveal a choice of either three softly backlit analogue dials or an added swathe of piano black veneer for a minimalist look across the dash.
The Flying Spur includes a 10-speaker stereo, while The National’s Mulliner-spec test car had the range-topping 19-speaker Naim system with illuminated speaker grilles. There’s a 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen option as well.
Traditionally, the worst part of a Bentley is its fast-dropping fuel gauge, so the Flying Spur Hybrid eliminates that without interfering with luxury, performance or driving characteristics. It’s a perfect use of EV technology with the backup of a smaller, yet still 536hp, engine for longer drives.