One approaches any car billed as having a ‘dual personality’ with some caution. All too often this leaves a car stranded between two marks, unclear of quite what it’s supposed to be. Bentley goes to great lengths to pitch its new Continental GT Speed – the new flagship variant of the footballers’ favourite – as both a rewarding supercar and an effortless luxury cruiser. We know the GT, revised in 2010
with sharper styling, is the consummate long-distance device in either V8 or W12 form, but those claims of sports car dynamics seem optimistic given the 2,320kg kerb weight.
Because the standard one is underpowered...
The rest of the spec sheet makes for more encouraging reading though. The Speed gets an extra 50hp compared to the ‘entry’ W12 model, lifting power to 625hp, while peak torque of 590lb ft is available from 2,000rpm. The four-wheel drive system favours the rear axle with a 60:40 torque split while an eight-speed ZF auto ’box aids both acceleration and fuel efficiency. The Speed rides 10mm lower than the existing W12 while the springs and anti-roll bars have been stiffened and there’s significantly more negative camber; it’s such changes that are said to endow the Speed with its sportier nature.
The objective of this first taste of Bentley’s fastest ever production car, then, is to ascertain just whether or not its sporting pretentions translate into genuine sporting ability.
Mighty W12 gets that bit mightier
The Speed variant of the original model – introduced in 2007, some five years after the arrival of the standard car – eventually accounted for half of all GT sales, so this latest version arrives hot on the heels of the updated GT and is of paramount importance to Bentley (which has become the world’s most prolific manufacturer of 12-cylinder engines, impressively).
Bentley quotes some remarkable performance figures for the Speed; 0-62mph is dispatched in 4.2 seconds while the top speed is 205mph. Can you think of a heavier production car that’s capable of hitting 100mph from standstill in 9.0 seconds flat?
Fat tie brigade
There’s no doubting the Speed’s straight line performance, nor the way in which that twin-turbocharged engine delivers huge overtaking potential in any of the lower six ratios. With a ride quality that’s both cosseting and controlled over all but the roughest of surfaces and decent suppression of wind and road noise, the Speed is a more appealing device for covering ground than most forms of air travel.
The 2,320kg elephant in the room...
That’s true of the standard W12, though. Move the gear selector back into Sport mode, which sharpens throttle response and opens exhaust valves as well as selecting a more aggressive gearshift map, and the GT takes on a different persona. With the adaptive dampers in the firmest of four settings, the chassis is similarly primed to tackle a demanding stretch of road. The Speed responds better to being hustled than you imagine, for it’s not quite the barge its kerb weight suggests it’ll be. In the wet conditions that blighted our time with the car, the levels of confidence inspired by its surefootedness were deeply impressive.
The Speed never manages to overcome its mass, though, so although it doesn’t kick and scream its way reluctantly along a twisting stretch, nor it doesn’t cry out for more.
Set-up is noticeably more aggressive
The weight over the front end blunts direction changes and the driver contact points offer neither support nor meaningful insight into grip levels, but the gargantuan 405mm steel front discs and eight-piston calipers do at least shed speed effectively and consistently.
One slightly disconcerting characteristic, particularly on really demanding roads, is a stickiness to the throttle upon lifting off. The Speed continues to surge forward for a split second, which is both alarming upon first acquaintance and disruptive to your flow.
Boys from the black stuff
There is pleasure to be had from edging the Speed towards its limits, but it remains a much more adept Autobahn stormer than back road blaster. An aspect of our test car’s sumptuous cabin summarises the Speed quite neatly; carbon fibre trim sits awkwardly alongside dark wood, and it’s the black stuff that feels out of place.
Culture clash with the interior trimmings?
Although the new Continental GT Speed isn’t quite two cars in one, it’ll certainly be a hit with those buyers for whom bragging rights matter. Rather than dual personalities, we’d be much happier to hear that Bentley has produced a stripped-out, single-minded version of the new GT, as it did with the original model in the shape of the Supersports. If Bentley chooses to base such a car on the nimbler V8 model, we’ll be banging down the doors at Crewe for a test drive.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT SPEED
Engine: 5,998cc, W12, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed ZF automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 625@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 sec
Top speed: 205mph