WE’D ALL like something for nothing, but few of us are sufficiently naïve to think this happens on a regular basis. You could argue that Bentley’s Continental GT Speed doesn’t come for nothing either – not with a list price of £151,000 – but even at the super-luxurious end of the scale you can now have more power, torque and performance with improved fuel economy and emissions. That’s something you can’t complain about.
The second-generation Continental GT has been with us since early 2011, and following the deeply impressive V8 version early in the year Bentley has turned its attention back to the W12. The Crewe firm takes the Ronseal approach to its naming policy with the GT Speed; you get a monstrous 616bhp from the 6.0-litre 12-cylinder engine, up 49bhp over the regular Continental GT and torque is also up 74lb.ft to 590lb.ft. These are genuine supercar numbers however you measure it.
As before all that power is fed to all four wheels with a 60/40 split biased towards the rear, but the W12 now gains the impressive eight-speed automatic transmission used on the V8. Bentley claims it offers faster up- and down-shifts, and combined with the power boost improves acceleration times. Although the substantial brakes remain the same (with the option of even larger carbon ceramic discs) the chassis has also been significantly revised. Springs and dampers have been tweaked, the car rides 10mm lower than before and both the suspension bushes and anti-roll bars have been uprated.
There are visual enhancements too. The giant 21-inch wheels are the most obvious and are standard on the Speed, while the front grilles are a smoked chrome rather than the more obvious brightwork. At the rear there are ‘rifled’ exhaust pipes, while the new chrome lamp bezels are now standard across the GT range.
Climb inside the Speed and you are met by the same sumptuous cabin as you get in a regular GT, but with the optional Mulliner pack as standard. There are virtually limitless combinations of leather, wood, aluminium finishes, even down to the colour of the stitching. It’s the kind of interior you wouldn’t think twice about spending several hours in, which is exactly how a Grand Tourer should be. Prod the starter button and the mighty W12 fires with a hearty but muted rumble. Slot the chunky aluminium shifter into Drive and the Speed rolls forward with no discernable effort on that vast wave of torque.
It may be on huge 21-inch wheels but comfort is the key word. The combined noise from the tyres and the engine is faint, and certainly with the suspension in comfort mode the ride is surprisingly good. Surprising because this is a big car on big wheels with definite sporting aspirations, but the changes that have been made underneath haven’t hurt its ability to smooth out the poorest roads.
Acceleration is always available, even with the merest squeeze of the accelerator. The eight-speed automatic inherited from the GT V8 is smoother than the previous gearbox, and although the multitude of ratios means it will flick quickly up and down there is so much torque and such a silken shift action you barely notice what it’s up to. The Speed is so comfortable and effortless it makes you want to cross whole countries in a single bound, simply because you can.
But this is genuinely only half the story, because you can change the Speed’s demeanour by simply shifting the gearbox into S mode. Do that and the shift pattern and speed changes, the exhaust opens up for full noise and the throttle response sharpens too. Now it leaps forwards as you press the accelerator and the burble from the exhaust becomes a distinguished roar.
And then there’s the performance. The sheer physics dictate that an enormous amount of power is required to hurl this 2.3 tonne car from 0-60mph in 4.0 seconds, and one prolonged punch of the throttle is all that’s required to confirm it. The Speed simply bounds forwards with utter relentlessness, even past 100mph and won’t let up until you run out of bravery. The test route included many of miles of derestricted German autobahn, and despite weather and traffic stopping play, several runs beyond 170mph proved the point: the Speed is a devastatingly fast machine.
It carries on in the same vein when you reach a bend. The brakes were tested severely from those high speeds and brought it down very quickly and without drama. Pitch it into a bend and it hides its size well, feeling like a much smaller car. There’s no drama as it settles comfortably and grips strongly, and the 40/60 front to rear power split means you can adjust the car’s attitude with ease and power out with total four-wheel drive security.
Perhaps the most surprising fact about the Speed is that the previous version outsold the standard W12 in almost every year it was on sale. That suggests that more is certainly more for Bentley customers, and the completeness and breadth of ability that the new Speed shows will mean they’ll love this one even more. Lottery winners and aristocrats alike have a new dream machine.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Bentley Continental GT Speed, £151,000
Engine: 6.0-litre petrol unit producing 616bhp and 590lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic driving all four wheels
Performance: Top speed 205mph, 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds
Economy: 19.5mpg combined
Emissions: 338g/km of CO2