What is it?
The fastest production Bentley yet. The new Bentley Continental GT Speed gets the gentrified twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12, which has been updated with new engine management software, and mated to the new ZF eight-speed automatic (which will also be the standard gearbox in the 567bhp standard W12 as well as the V8, from now).
The figures are impressive to say the least, with peak power output up to 616bhp and 590lb ft of torque on offer from 2000-5000rpm, meaning 16bhp and 37lb ft more than in the previous-generation Conti GT Speed. The four-wheel drive system retains the 60/40 rear/front bias, while the suspension is dropped by 10mm and gets stiffer springs, bushes and anti-roll bars over the standard car. As ever, the Conti GT is air-sprung at all four corners and you get four settings to vary their response, ranging from Comfort through to Sport.
All of which adds up to a 62mph sprint time of 4.2sec, 100mph in 9.0sec and a top speed of 205mph. Economy is also up to 19.5mpg. Which sounds all very admirable until you consider the Bentley’s stonking 2320kg kerb weight. At which point it becomes evident just how much of an achievement these performance figures are.
What is it like?
Well, the battle between brute force and unyielding mass dominates the driving experience just as much as the on-paper figures suggest.
The Speed is, of course, intended to be a more sporting drive than the standard W12, but in truth that’s similar to saying that a fork does a better job of being a knife than a spoon. So if you were hoping for razor-sharp responses, you might as well strike the GT from your list now. Even this firmer, faster Speed version of the W12 Conti never feels like anything but a seriously well sorted GT car.
But if it is an absorbing, usable and earth-shatteringly rapid GT bruiser you’re after, you are in the right place. And it’s clear why the Speed has become a staple in the Continental GT line-up, accounting for more than 60 per cent of the GT’s sales in 2011. Because while you will still feel the nose wash into ponderous understeer if pushed hard, and need big, meaningful imputs into the main controls to get the best out of it, this car does sparkle when asked to.
The incremental differences between the damper settings are hard to distinguish unless you go from the softest to firmest, and any do a decent job of keeping the Conti’s girth in check. Fast, sweeping corners and direction changes can be taken at frankly alarming speeds and with an impressive sense of stability and balance.
Tighter corners undo the GT Speed a little, with the weight of the massive W12 pushing the nose wide easily despite the best efforts of the four-wheel drive system. It’s not an unsettling or even unpleasant thing to thread through tight, winding roads, but you are always aware of its size and weight.
The steering does its best to aid this situation. The electrically assisted, speed-variable set-up weights up until it delivers a meaty, satisfyingly granular response at high speeds and in hard use, communicating well enough what’s going on at each corner. It loses a quite dramatic amount of that connection at normal road speeds, but many will appreciate the light, linear response in real-world use.
Ride quality is just as GT-biased. We’ll have to wait for a UK drive to make final judgements, but on Munich’s smooth black-top it felt composed and absorbent despite the monstrous 21-inch wheels. Although it was hard to tell on the roads around our Munich-based test route, it felt composed and smooth.
Perhaps the biggest achievement here is the powertrain. The first thing you’ll notice is the noise. No longer do you have a slightly underwhelming woofle of the previous W12; stick the slick gearbox into ‘S’ and the cabin is flooded with a guttural, reverberating bass of the W12. It’s a unique, enraged exhaust note that encourages the driver into all sorts of antisocial behaviour as capably as most of the V8s out there. Yet if you back off and snick into ‘D’, the noise recedes and you are left with a remarkably refined car. Very little wind and tyre noise creep in through the weighty shell of the GT, and even engine noise subsides to a gentle thrum.
Power delivery is explosive, and even on wet roads it can be transferred to the asphalt remarkably well in a straight line, if with a little scrabbling and ESP interruption on the twisty bits. The eight-speed gearbox does precisely the job you want it to when in ‘D’ mode, blurring shifts adequately, if not in quite the imperceptible way that we’ve experienced in other eight-speed luxury motors. The ability to jump ratios, from higher to lower gears without having to drop through all the available ratios, is also a useful new ability.
There is an issue with ‘S’ and the manual mode (the latter of which will revert to auto if you stop paddling for a short period of time), not because of the shifts – which are faster, later and thoroughly excellent. But with either setting you get substantially sharpened throttle response, and this can make modulating the throttle from step-off or even simply when applying power out of corners a touch jerky.
Brake pedal feel is decent, and the actual stopping power is truly outstanding thanks to the optional 420mm carbon-ceramic brakes.
Should I buy one?
If you like current Bentley Continental model, you’re likely to be 100 per cent in tune with the appeal of this one. Yes, it’s a touch sharper, delivers organ-squeezing acceleration and will do 200mph while playing your music in surround sound, giving you a massage (if you spec the optional seats, at least), and navigating you to the nearest Michelin star restaurant. Which makes the £150k-plus list price seem quite reasonable.
We would still advocate the V8 as the best all-rounder in the Continental GT stable. But if you don’t expect purist handling, and simply accept the Speed for what it is – a lavish and charming 200mph-plus continental cruiser – the W12’s many emotive delights could easily justify the price premium for some.
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Price £151,000; Top speed 205mph;
Economy 19.3mpg (combined);
Kerb weight 2320kg;
Engine W12, 5998cc, twin-turbo, petrol
; Power 616bhp at 6000rpm
; Torque 590lb ft at 2000-5000rpm
; Gearbox 8-spd auto