Bentley's new Flying Spur: the next generation super saloon
The limousine continues to hold a fascination in the executive world. The umbilical link between car and status is unbroken, and the world's newest car markets - now so advanced they can hardly be called emerging any more - have adopted the hierarchies and obsessions that shape what's on the roads, with only a few exceptions.
It's certain that the ongoing importance and survival of the traditional four-door saloon is down to the Chinese market, where the sedan and saloon still hold a massive amount of sway. As a result, carmakers have gone the extra mile to develop cars that tickle this particular itch - and if they also sell well elsewhere then everyone's a winner.
Bentley has hardly had to break out of its comfort zone to satisfy China, with its long history of making stately four-door sporting saloons. Ironically, the car that re-launched the brand, the Continental GT, isn't considered the biggest draw in the Far East. That honour goes to the Continental Flying Spur, the four-door variant of the big, bruising grand tourer.
For its second generation, launched earlier this year, the Flying Spur has dropped the 'Continental' and been given a major restyle. The end result is soberly elegant - unsurprising given the amount of available metalwork to work on proportion and detail - making the Flying Spur a far better car to look at it than its rather lumpen predecessor.
Inside, it's a showcase for Bentley's interior design skills. If luxury is best defined in terms of polished wood, hand-stitched leather and finely machined metal details, then the Flying Spur is perhaps the most successful expression of these time-honoured automotive tropes. Bentley's target market seemingly can't get enough of this particular ambience, and the company's craftspeople deploy their skills with unstinting precision. Underneath this richness lies a platform engineered by the VW Group to provide steely reliability for years to come.
Like all Bentleys, the Flying Spur is powerful, so powerful in fact that it feels something of a liability. Instead, you must summon your inner chauffeur and softly stroke the accelerator so that the giant 12 cylinder engine carries you along effortlessly in near-silence. In truth, the majority of Flying Spur owners will opt to sit in the back - where accommodation is sumptuous and sprawling - leaving someone else to do the driving.
Soft, gentle progress is also the best way of keeping this car even vaguely efficient, for the combination of engine size and weight will swiftly demolish the contents of the fuel tank. If you do chose to press on, however, the Flying Spur's vastness amplifies the performance to anti-social levels - you can't deploy this kind of power in a built up area. If an Audi RS or M series BMW is a concealed carry permit, then the Flying Spur is a blunderbuss worn on a shoulder holster. It demands an open, empty road and preferably somewhere where speed limits are either optional or entirely ignored. A top speed in excess of 200mph needs an Autobahn and/or your own test track or Gulf state to experience.
Perhaps one day the Flying Spur and its monumental ilk will slide into the tar pits of automotive history but right now, the world is still enthralled by this very traditional demonstration of power and sophistication. Profligate it may be, but the Flying Spur has real charm despite its brutish nature. For Bentley and its rivals, the real question is how much longer will such charm suffice.