Bentley Flying Spur or Rolls-Royce Ghost: Which Fantasy Car Is for You?
Everyone likes a matchup. Senna vs. Prost. Pacquiao vs. Mayweather. Federer vs. Nadal. Heck, even Jay Z vs. Kanye. (Oh boy.)
I can’t afford a Bentley. But when I test drove the 2017 Flying Spur recently in upstate New York, I found myself deliberating whether I’d rather own that or its closest equivalent competitor, the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Which all-star rides higher in the sky? (Spoiler alert: Can’t afford a Rolls, either. No one ever went to journalism school to get rich.)
Here’s why this is an interesting question, for aspirational fans and owners alike. First, these cars are the absolute top of the line in their category. They are astronomically expensive, sure, but not in one another’s context. So which brand is operating best at this level?
And second, some people are actually making this choice. Where many who drive a McLaren will also own other superfast things from Porsche, Aston Martin, or Ferrari, when it comes to Bentley vs. Rolls, you’re generally one or the other. It’s similar to the way that you’re either a Ford house or a GM house, but on the other end of the spending spectrum.
I’ve driven every Rolls on the market today, plus some from decades ago. For performance and looks, the cars more than live up to their status as the most regal automotive brand in the world. On the other hand, the (less elegantly named) Flying Spur is a phenomenal driving sedan, plush inside like a British club room and on the outside a little less square than the Rolls—which is either a positive or a negative attribute, depending on who’s doing the looking.
All right, so how do they compare?
Let’s start with the basics. These are each the midsize four-door sedans in their respective brand’s range. (For Bentley, the Muslanne is the bigger sedan; for Rolls, it’s the Phantom.)
For the $244,600 Flying Spur, Bentley has continued its special W12 S engine line with a 626bhp machine that gets 605 pound-feet of torque. (This power is a boost from the 616hp and 590 lb.-ft. of the W12 model.) The sound of it is divine—it starts with a low rumble that fades into a disciplined British throat-clear as you move through the gears. Or you can choose the $205,000 Flying Spur V8 S edition, with 521hp and 502 pound-feet of torque and equally smooth in character. They each have a flawless eight-speed transmission—placid as a country pond at five a.m., unmoved as yet by wind.
Rolls doesn’t make a V8 option on its Ghost. The feeling is that it would dilute the brand and the associated prestige of having a dozen massive cylinders underneath each hood. That may be right. But when it comes to comparing the base versions of each, for sheer engine options, capability and efficiency, Bentley, to my mind, manages to win the advantage.
These numbers on the W12 Bentley are impressive because the $310,650 Ghost has an excellent 12-cylinder BMW Group-made engine but reaches a lesser 563hp and 575 pound-feet of torque. The W12 S Bentley gets 12mpg in the city and 20 in the highway; the V8 S version hits 14mpg in the city and 24mpg on the highway. The Ghost rather splits the difference, with 13mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. Again, these are small differences, but in this rarified echelon it’s the smallest details that separate the excellent from the astounding.
Engine variants are most important, of course, because they translate into how each car feels when you drive it. Where the Bentley muscles you into gear and then glides like an ocean liner, the Rolls feels higher, more like riding atop a sleigh.
The steering in Ghost is lighter, looser, and more elegant than in the Flying Spur, too, which offered supreme, racing-tuned precision and surprising (for a sedan) dynamism as I drove up New York’s 9A toward Stone Ridge and the boutique hotel Hasbrouck House two hours north of Manhattan.
Bentley’s W12 hits 60mph in 4.2 seconds; Rolls’s V12 hits 60mph in 4.8 seconds. Top speed is 202mph (Bentley) vs. 155mph (Rolls), which is a stark contrast indeed. Even the Bentley V8 S I mentioned earlier beats the V12 Rolls. It has a 60mph sprint time of 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 190mph.
The lesson here is that Bentley’s success at channeling its “Bentley Boy” racing dominance from decades ago is evident even in this four-door, 5,456-pound sedan. If you drive each of these cars, you’ll see it’s more about comparing Bentley’s power position against Rolls’ elegant refinement: This isn’t an argument about which is better—it’s more about what you want.
In fact, while moving in a straight line is no problem for most hulking pieces of metal, it’s shocking that the Flying Spur can change lanes and navigate curves with this kind of finesse. It is a big car. But when you look at the numbers, it makes sense: The Bentley Flying Spur is shorter (208 inches), lighter, and wider (78.1 inches) than the Rolls Ghost (212 inches long, 5,490 pounds, 76.7 inches wide). It’s closer to the ground both in its physical stance and in its driving character, gripping the asphalt in a vice. The Rolls, on the other hand, feels like you’re gliding along a monorail.
Inside, the comparison is virtually a draw. Each comes with two rear seats (or three, if you so choose—but I wouldn’t) spaced far apart enough to accommodate such accouterments as automatic fold-down polished wooden writing tables, television screens, ventilated reclining chairs, champagne coolers, privacy shades, and trunks large enough to fit luggage that’ll hold you over for a week. Yes, they both offer these.
Both the Flying Spur and the Ghost offer supreme conveniences inside—this is not new. In general, Flying Spur is slightly more minimal, while Ghost feels opulent, with more knobs on the dash and controls throughout, plus plush leather pillows with your initials embroidered on them. Ghost’s inch-thick floor mats are a wonder; the heavy-duty long umbrellas in the doors are a treat most consumers would love to be able to flaunt. Bentley doesn’t have them.
New this year for Flying Spur are a unique "SportPlus" steering wheel and engine-spun aluminum trim inside, knurled and carbon fiber detailing, and optional two-tone seats with a contrasting roof ceiling. As in the Ghost, you can also get contrast stitching and dozens of color combinations on leather hides carefully selected from the best bovines in Europe; you can also choose to have a Wi-Fi hot spot, privacy glass, and Beluga gloss on the side windows, and even an electric sunroof with solar cells, among other things, if you want.
And that’s just for the conventional option list. Both Bentley at its Crewe factory and Rolls at its Goodwood headquarters offer extensive bespoke and one-off capabilities for customers for whom money is no object. When I visited each, I saw special cabinets made for watches, safes, whiskey carts, jewelry boxes, wooden script inserted into the dash, picnic baskets, and exterior paint colors (Kermit the Frog green; banana peel yellow) only an eccentric could love. If you have unlimited funds, the only limit to what you can commission is your own imagination and daring. The designers there may tell you that you have to wait a while to get your special project produced—but they will not tell you no.
Here more than elsewhere, looks do matter. Ghost is squarer at the front—emotionally and literally. The hood is longer, angled at the edges, and often (unfortunately) painted in the two-tone mode. Its single headlights are streamlined and minimal, and the grill is tall, with long vertical slats set up underneath the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy lady sculpted above. A 24-karat gold hood ornament and 21-inch silver alloy wheels are optional. As a closet introvert who has driven both cars in some of the best neighborhoods in L.A. and New York, I can tell you that the Rolls creates much more of a scene when you drive it. You’ve got to be ready, emotionally, to handle the attention.
The Flying Spur has a more rounded countenance, with two sets of rounded dark tint bi-xenon headlights with LED beams and a softly rectangular grill struck through the middle by one bar of bright steel. The “flying B” wings on the front lie flat and nearly flush with the hood of the car. The 21-inch, seven-twin-spoke wheels in glossy black are new on the W12S and are handsome.
In the rear, the Bentley roofline slops toward a short trunk (it looks a little slouchy, to my eye). The overriding feel is evenly muscular rather than the statelier Ghost. The lines on the Rolls are bolder, more blunt. I like that. But as with fashion, you’ve got to be able to handle it: Wear the car. Don’t let the car wear you.
This, then, is the determining factor: Do you want a powerful sedan that you can drive with real purpose, even aggressively—one that is the perfect blend from the company that makes Her Majesty the Queen’s State Limousine and the world champion GT3 endurance racer? Choose the Flying Spur. It is more dynamic to drive and more engaging as a red-blooded sedan.
On the other hand, do you want to feel like an emperor in the backseat, with all the pomp and circumstance associated therein? Do you want a light feel at the wheel and an association with the most prestigious car brand in history? Choose the Ghost. Its exquisite craftsmanship inside and regal aura will fill your fondest regent fantasies.
Whichever you choose, you’ll have a good drive (or ride, as is more often the case for all of you back-seat enthusiasts who buy these cars). And you’ll be very lucky.