The clock is ticking on Bentley’s combustion era. The British luxury maker has said every model in its entire range will offer a plug-in hybrid variant as soon as 2024, it will launch its first EV in 2025, and that it will have produced its final gasoline engine of any kind before the end of 2030. But while the 2019 Bentayga Hybrid was a very gentle start in this move to full electrification, the new plug-in version of the Flying Spur sedan is a far bigger step.
Because while the Bentayga PHEV has less power and more mass than any of its stablemates, the Spur Hybrid is far closer to the existing V8 in terms of matching output, weight, and performance. That’s down to the Spur sharing its core architecture with the Porsche Panamera rather than the Cayenne, meaning it benefits from the newer 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 and double-clutch gearbox from the Panamera 4S Hybrid, the engine using a pair of tiny turbos packaged within the vee of its cylinder bank to make 410 hp. Electrical power comes from a 134-hp motor sandwiched between the gasoline engine and the eight-speed PDK gearbox.
The system’s peak output is slightly under the combined total of the two sides of the powertrain, but 536 hp means the Flying Spur Hybrid makes just 6 hp less than the V8 version (and 93 hp more than the Bentayga Hybrid.) The weight penalty has been cut, too—on Bentley’s numbers the plug-in Flying Spur is just 110 lbs more than its V8 sister—and the new car’s official 4.1-sec 0-60 mph time is just a tenth slower.
Visually the two cars are close to identical. The giveaway details are ones that only the most attentive will spot—a second fuel filler cap to cover the charging port on the car’s left side and tiny ‘Hybrid’ badges at the base of the fenders. Inside there is a revised digital dashboard and some eco display screens for the central touchscreen, plus an ‘E Mode’ switch on the center console. Apart from that the cabin is as beautifully trimmed and finished as in any other Flying Spur, combining traditional design features and a well-judged balance between technology and usability. Keeping conventional switchgear for heating and ventilation feels like the right call in a car like this.
Electrification suits the Flying Spur well, certainly at urban speeds. The 14.1kWh battery pack that sits under the rear seat doesn’t have an official range yet; Bentley says it is predicting 25 miles under Europe’s best-case WLTP certification. On a test route that started in Beverly Hills (apparently the most Bentley-rich part of the United States), the Spur Hybrid powered itself near silently along surface streets. The company says cabin noise under electric power is just half as much as that in the already calm V8; the reality is almost spookily quiet.
Yet although the Flying Spur defaults to EV mode every time it starts, it is unlikely to stay in this for long. That’s because anything more than gentle pressure on the accelerator fires the V6 into life and switches the car into its blended Hybrid mode. There isn’t a haptic resistance point in the pedal travel to indicate when this is about to happen; the only way to tell when the e-motor is giving its all is to look at the power flow meter integrated into the rev counter display.
Combustion power arrives almost imperceptibly at low speeds, although when pushing for sudden acceleration when running electrically—making a short notice passing move, for example—there’s a noticeable pause as the engine fires and the transmission tries to pick an optimal ratio. The brakes also suffered from a very slight grabbiness at low speed, possibly as regeneration gave way to pure friction retardation, which made it hard to make the sort of imperceptible stops chauffeurs strive for.
With the V6 and the motor working together, the Hybrid feels impressively brisk, although the engine’s muted exhaust note lacks the compelling soundtrack of the snarling V8 and W12 versions. Gentler progress suits the car far better, with the lack of drama giving a good preview of what the fully electric Bentleys of the near future are likely to feel like. Oddly, although the powertrain has a ‘hold’ mode to conserve charge for later in a journey, the Spur can’t substantially recharge its battery pack through engine power. So if the full charge is used early on there won’t be any left at the end of the journey. Bentley says that if a destination is programmed into the onboard navigation system, the car will try to make the most efficient use of its available electrical power, prioritizing the use of this at lower speeds and in urban areas. Replenishing the battery takes around 2.5 hours from a fast charger.
The Hybrid sits on pliant air springs and gets smart adaptive dampers which do an excellent job controlling the car’s mass under bigger loadings, but my test car’s optional 22-inch wheels gave the ride a low-speed edginess I suspect would have been missing with the smaller 21-inch (or standard 20-inch) rims. The Hybrid also gets rear-axle steering as standard, this invisibly improving low-speed maneuverability and enhancing the sense of stability in quicker turns, but it lacks the 48-Volt active antiroll system which is standard on the W12 and optional on the V8, and harder cornering loads do bring lean. Although the all-wheel-drive system prioritizes sending torque to the rear axle, the Hybrid’s front axle runs out of grip first when hustled—which, although fun, is an unlikely way to drive a Bentley. Cruising is what this car does best.
On paper the Flying Spur Hybrid is a slightly strange proposition, its proximity to the existing V8 model on power and performance means that Bentley has effectively created two different answers to the same question. While prices haven’t yet been announced, even on that point the Hybrid is likely to fall within 3% of the V8’s sticker, starting around $212,000. And although the new car lacks the charisma of the V8, it is a demonstrably greener choice—one that will be able to conduct much of its life electrically with regular use of a charging port. While we will have to wait longer for a true Bentley EV, the Flying Spur Hybrid demonstrates a promising future.