What is it?
The new, second-generation Bentley Continental GT Speed is the fastest road car Bentley has produced to date. How relevant is that? To most of us, not very. But to those customers who keep demanding more of everything, the fact that the Speed can do 205mph – thereby topping even the exotic Supersports version of the previous-generation coupé (by 1mph) – no doubt earns them serious bragging rights.
Based on the latest W12-engined Continental GT and driven here for the first time on British roads, the £151,100 Speed costs roughly £15,000 more than the regular model, and for that you do indeed get some significant upgrades: more power and torque, more performance, a higher standard specification and greater presence on the road. The only things that haven’t grown, happily, are the kerb weight and fuel consumption and CO2 figures, all of which remain identical to the standard GT’s.
Compared with the standard W12 model, the Speed’s twin-turbo 6.0-litre engine gets an extra 49bhp and 74lb ft of torque. The ride height on the air-sprung suspension has been lowered by 10mm, the alloy wheels are a unique 21-inch design, the desirable Mulliner Driving Specification is standard (adding things like quilted leather on the fabulously comfortable seats) and there are subtle external tweaks, including a dark chrome finish to the mesh on the radiator grille and front air intakes.
What is it like?
With 616bhp at 6000rpm and 590lb ft of torque from just 1700rpm, the new Bentley Continental GT Speed is now virtually on a par with the much more expensive Mk1 Supersports in terms of outputs and performance. And what epic performance it is. Aided by a responsive, smooth-shifting ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, the 2.3-tonne Speed hurtles to 60mph from rest in a neck-snapping four seconds flat (and to 62mph in 4.2sec) and continues to deliver relentless, titanic thrust wherever, whenever. And it does so in the most refined and undramatic way possible, thanks to a sophisticated all-wheel drive system that refuses to allow any slip or unruly behaviour, even in the treacherously wet conditions encountered over much of the Christmas period.
The W12 still doesn't sound all that special, though, even with the Speed's louder exhaust. With the big, knurled gear selector in 'D' the engine is hushed and remote – just what you want for grand touring – but the booming and rumbling that emerges from the rifled tailpipes in Sport mode is often not all that pleasant or welcome. Frankly, the V8 in the entry-level Continental sounds far better.
With a 10mm lower ride height than the standard W12 and wearing unique 21-inch alloy wheels, the Speed rides and handles as impeccably as any Continental, but inevitably its dynamic character is defined by its mass; don't for one moment think 'Speed' means it's more sporting. With the W12 up front, it felt a tad nose-heavy and understeer-prone in corners in the slippery conditions of our test. As a grand tourer, though, the Speed is crushingly effective, especially when you factor in the peerless sense of occasion provided by its luxurious four-seat cabin.
Should I buy one?
Magnificently fast though the Bentley Continental GT Speed is, for our money it's not the best Continental; that remains the £27k cheaper V8. While you can't blame the company for trying to give its customers what they want, we'd be much more interested in seeing Bentley do a Speed or Supersports version of the V8, uprated to, say, 580bhp. Now that could be something special.
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Price £151,100; 0-60mph 4.0sec; Top speed 205mph; Economy 19.5mpg (combined); CO2 338g/km; Kerb weight 2320kg; Engine W12, 5998cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 616bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 590lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic