First DriveBentley's big seller has a facelift for 2015 and we've driven it on UK roads for the first time in twin-turbocharged 4.0 V8 form.
First DriveGo-faster Bentley Continental feels effortlessly quick despite its considerable weight
What is it?
It’s not just been given more power, though the output of the GT’s 6.0-litre W12 engine does rise from 552- to 600bhp; it also has a load more torque (553lb ft vs 478lb ft), a strengthened gearbox, firmer suspension, revised steering, optional (£10,000) carbon ceramic brakes and the chintzy Mulliner driving spec interior, a £6725 option on the standard car.
The normal Conti GT continues in production with some of the efficiency enhancement mods of the Speed, but none of the performance tweaks.
To get the extra power from the motor, Bentley didn’t just wind up the wick on the turbos, as this would have played havoc with the torque curve. Instead there are new pistons, conrods, better crankcase breathing and new engine management system, as well as a tiny rise in boost from 0.6bar to a still-very-light-pressure 0.7bar.
As a result the exceptionally high 9.0:1 compression ratio has been retained and, while peak torque now comes at higher revs, it develops more torque at all points in the rev range than the standard Conti GT, and delivers maximum urge from just 1750rpm.
What’s it like?
A little disappointing at first, to be honest. Drive it at the medium effort level at which the old GT was happiest and there doesn’t seem to be much gained from the extra £17,000 it costs over the standard car.
Sure, it packs a mighty whack and drops the 0-60mph time from 4.6- to 4.3sec while raising top speed from 198- to 202mph, but the standard car is hardly deficient in straight line terms.
In the corners it still feels heavy because it is. Bentley is rightly proud to have shaved 35kg off the car's kerbweight, but when the result is still a car weighing 2350kg, the champagne should perhaps remain on ice a little longer.
But just when you’re on the point on concluding that the car offers a little more of the same old thing, you up the work rate a bit and discover that there is, indeed, a new level of poise and response waiting to reward the enthusiast driver.
You need to be going pretty hard to find it, but once the suspension is loaded and the bespoke Pirellis working hard, the car comes alive. It no longer feels nose heavy but, instead, impeccably well balanced. You can use your right foot to shuttle the torque between the front and rear axles, neutralising its inherent desire to understeer with little more than a twitch of the toe.
When you’re in the right mood and on the right road, this GT is actually quite beguiling, which is almost certainly the first time any of us has written that in relation to the way any Continental GT has conducted itself on difficult bitumen.
Should I buy one?
If you’re going to be able to use the extra performance and have the small matter of £137,500 looking for a home then, sure, the Speed makes sense. But we suspect that most people looking for a car to drive as hard as the Speed must be driven before it’ll reveal its true character, might not have a Continental GT at the top of their shopping list anyway.
Bentley itself doesn’t know how popular it will prove; estimates ranging from 15- to 50 per cent take up, though we suspect that the desire to be seen in the latest, quickest, most expensive and powerful car in the range will see the true figure close to the higher figure.
It’s a fine car, the GT Speed, but we can’t help but think that of all performance cars, a Bentley is the one you should be able to enjoy to the full with a minimum of effort. And for all its charm and talent, that is emphatically is not the case with this one.