Published on Sunday 21 December 2014 18:38
Ten Second Review
The Bentley Continental GT Speed offers crushing performance, unimpeachable build quality and far more agile handling than the W12-engined Continental GT that spawned it. Rival manufacturers make great play of cars that do a lot less than this power-packed Bentley, but overstatement has never been Crewe's style.
The Speed badge has long been a Bentley staple, having first appeared on a Bentley model in 1923. The standard Bentley three-litre had already established Bentley's engineering excellence in terms of roadholding, handling and braking, but W.O. Bentley, the company's founder, recognised the market potential for a more potent version aimed at the enthusiast driver who demanded superior performance. His response, the 3-litre 'Speed Model', complete with twin SU carburettors and a higher compression ratio engine, became one of the most coveted of all Bentleys.
The name was revived in the first generation Continental GT Speed, introduced in 2007, and this proved to be an extremely sought after model. Now the badge is back, this time attached to the second generation Bentley Continental GT. If you thought the first one was good, wait until you run the rule over this one.
Go for a standard Bentley Continental GT and you get a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liitre 48-valve 12 cylinder engine that develops 555bhp. Upgrade to the Speed and you get a modified version of this engine, good for no less than 626bhp. With 800Nm of torque on tap, this is an engine with absolutely prodigious pulling power. It'll have no problem deploying that amount of muscle either, with drive going through all four wheels via a centre Torsen differential, backed up with one of the best traction control systems around. Torque is nominally split with a 60:40 rear bias. Flat out, it'll crash through the 60mph mark in just four seconds on the way to a top speed of 206mph.
A close-ratio, ZF eight-speed automatic transmission delivers rapid gear changes through intelligent adaptive control software and makes a significant contribution to an overall twelve per cent improvement in fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Uprated steering and suspension systems and a lowered ride height help keep the physics in check. Drive any Continental GT and it'll shrink around you right up until that time when you come to park it. Then you realise what a wide car it is.
Design and Build
The enhanced chassis is complemented by 21-inch Speed wheels, available in two finishes, and fitted with 275 35 R21 Pirelli PZero ultra-high performance tyres. The muscular coachwork of the Continental coupe is subtly enhanced with design touches which reinforce the character of the Speed. Most notable are the dark-tinted matrix front grille and lower air intakes and the 'rifled' finish to the exhaust tailpipes. Open the bonnet and the theme continues, with a black inlet manifold a visual clue to the new 625PS W12 Speed engine. Even the suspension, lowered by 10mm, adds to the impact.
The interior is demonstrably Bentley with the Mulliner Driving Specification as standard. A new engine spin option in Dark Tint Aluminium is available, unique to the Continental GT Speed and available for the fascias, console and roof console. Alternatively, you might choose the Carbon Fibre option for the fascia. Or indeed have this finish coating not only that but also the roof console and the centre console, its satin effect specially developed to reduce unwelcome reflections. As in every Bentley, the choice of interior colours is almost endless. Seventeen different hide colours are available, but you also have the choice of single or two-colour hide upholstery with darker colours, recommended for surfaces such as the fascia top roll to prevent unwelcome reflections. Needless to say, the choice of carpet and seat belt colours is just as extensive. From steering wheel to gear lever, seat and armrest, every soft-touch surface in the cockpit is covered with soft leather.
Market and Model
We're looking here at the coupe version of the GT Speed, a model that sits at the head of the Continental GT range. With most cars leaving dealers carrying a price tag of around £180,000 including options, it doesn't seem like the most conspicuous bargain in the world. Bear with me here though, because there's more to this car than meets the eye.
Take its positioning against some of its key rivals. How many other cars offer this sort of power, quality and depth of engineering for anything like this price? I'll tell you. None. What's more, the Bentley Continental GT Speed has grown up as well, becoming a more accomplished and less ostentatious thing than the previous generation.
Cost of Ownership
Around 17mpg on the combined cycle means that the Continental GT Speed is a car that needs deep pockets to run. It'll also be expensive to insure, tax and sell on, as residuals for big twelve-cylinder petrol engined cars are rarely great. That said, the ownership experience is one that is so beguiling that many look at the sums and decide that it's a price worth paying.
The Bentley Continental GT Speed is an interesting flagship for this model range. Just as the V8 model was looking as if it was about to establish itself as the choice for enthusiast drivers, Crewe has served a reminder that the W12 engine is the one that carries the big stick and if you hanker after a generous surfeit of power, the GT Speed is the car to target.
The Speed badge is one that has graced some serious metal and it's not one that Bentley applies to any half-baked special edition. This Continental GT Speed is all about capability, expressed with confidence but not ostentation. With this vehicle, more than any other, it's clear the Continental GT has come of age.