The similarities between the Bentley Continental GT Speed and Porsche 911 Turbo S are quite striking. Both with 650hp or so, four-wheel drive and twin turbos, and each one a two-door coupe with tiny rear seats. In truth, though, the differences are vast enough to make those commonalities seem trivial.
Their engines, for instance, could hardly be positioned more differently, the Bentley's sitting mostly ahead of the front axle line and the Porsche's entirely behind it. Never mind that one has twice as many cylinders as the other. The GT Speed looks big and weighty and the Turbo S low and lithe, and the difference in weight between them - a little over 600kg - is as much as some entire cars weigh (albeit very small and lightweight ones).
So why bother getting them together? They're both grand tourers for one thing and it might be instructive to see how differently they go about doing basically the same thing. But these very recent models also encroach ever so slightly into one another's territory, each one shiftily placing at least a couple of toes over the line in the sand to steal a little of the other's turf.
The Continental GT Speed, you see, is the most inherently sporting Bentley currently available. Actually, the company itself calls the new Speed 'the most dynamic road car in Bentley's 101 year history'. It features one or two ambitious engineering upgrades intended to make it more than just an obscenely powerful private member's club on wheels. It should do corners, too. Meanwhile, without optional sports suspension, this particular 911 is the Turbo S at its most luxurious. Add in this example's plush Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur upholstery and the idealogical chasm between these GTs appears more like a bridgeable gorge.
I'll take some persuading on the beige interior, but I will specify my 911 Turbo S with the same standard suspension as this car when my numbers roll in, so rarely would I ever want a greater sense of connection or the fractionally tauter body control that would come with sports suspension. Every single time I rolled over a pothole or a broken patch of asphalt - which, let's face it, would be every time I drove the car given the state of the roads in this country - I'd be glad I left that particular box on the options sheet unticked.
There isn't a great deal of wheel travel, which means the car's body does tend to move around a fair amount on uneven road surfaces, but there's such lovely cushioning within what travel there is that the ride is always composed and comforting. Never does it become tough or unyielding. But as well as the Porsche might ride, it may as well be a skateboard sent clattering down a flight of stone steps compared to how serenely the Bentley glides along even a badly surfaced road.
Even this more athletic kind of Continental GT rides so brilliantly that after owning one for a while, I'm not sure you could ever go back. Anything stiffer would just annoy you. It would be like bathing in bubblebaths for a year then trying to make do with wet wipes. It's also quiet enough at a cruise that you can hear your own hair grow, whereas the 911, like so many 911s before it, is surprisingly loud on the motorway. The tyre roar is surface dependant to some extent, but it's always there.
What's more, the Bentley has probably the best interior of any car on sale this side of £250,000. Mine will have a subtler interior with fewer textures, materials and finishes, but the quality from top to bottom is exceptional. It all means the Continental GT Speed is far and away the better long distance device of the pair, although I'm not sure the Bentley would ever come off second best in that regard no matter the opposition you presented it with.
Despite its size and weight, there's good agility to call on once the motorway ends and the B-road begins. The previous Continental GT Speed appeared every inch the sure-footed and effortlessly stable back road companion, like it would hold your hand and never let go. But it was actually very heavy in the nose and lively at the rear, so you could turn into a tight-ish bend and be alarmed to feel the tail swinging around without warning.
That made it a tricky car to really romp along in. As a result, you'd be circumspect through corners but hold nothing back along the straights. This new model, though, is in a different league. It's keener on its way into a bend, better balanced, far more stable and altogether more approachable when the mood takes you.
It features all-wheel steering, which so often makes a real difference in bigger, heavier cars. In Sport mode it works hand in glove with the active anti-roll bars and the electronically controlled limited-slip differential (a Bentley first) in the rear axle to ramp agility levels all the way up. The four-wheel drive system has been tweaked to the same end, all of which means you can, for the first time, really get stuck into a great road in a Continental GT.
The twin-turbo W12 is a wonderful engine with effortless torque available through the rev range and creamy smooth power delivery. Meanwhile, the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox now shifts gears in half the time, in Sport mode at least, compared to the standard W12 model.
Just when you think Bentley has gone and produced a true driver's car, you switch out of the Speed and into the Turbo S and realise what that phrase really means. You sit so much lower in the Porsche, feeling properly dialled in to the machine beneath you, while the seats fix you in position. There's so much more precision in its steering and far sharper responses too, and when you tip the car into a bend you actually feel the grip rather than merely learn than it's there.
Of course it's no surprise the 911 is more rewarding to drive at or around the limit, but what's definitely worth noting is how much more engaging is this model than the last. I found the 991-era 911 Turbo S crushingly effective on the road, but also remote and distant enough that you often didn't bother. This new 992 is more capable still (faster, grippier and even better controlled over three-dimensional road surfaces) but it doesn't keep you at arm's length. Importantly, there's now so much more to enjoy about it than just the enormous wallop you get in the small of your back under full acceleration.
And what a wallop it is. There's actually so much power and torque on tap now that even with four-wheel drive, it's not unusual to feel all four tyres slip. Thereafter it thumps so hard you should only explore the full travel of the throttle pedal if you're absolutely sure there's nothing solid between you and the horizon.
I like that this 3.8-litre engine delivers its power in a distinctly turbocharged way, with a fractional delay when you open the throttle quickly followed by a great rush of boost. I want a 911 Carrera engine (which also has two turbos these days, of course) to feel as naturally aspirated as possible, but in a 911 Turbo I want to sense the full force of its forced induction. With an optional sports exhaust it actually sounds quite tuneful, too, the rich, flat-six howl of 911s of old unquestionably in there somewhere.
So what do we learn? For one thing and in their very different ways, both Bentley and Porsche have made their grand tourers so much more engaging without compromising the thing that makes them grand tourers in the first instance. I'm also reminded that no matter how much engineering and technology you throw at any car, the basic principles of physics still come first, second and third.
Bentley has gone to great lengths to make this Continental GT Speed steer and handle well, and it's worked, but compared to a car that's 600kg lighter and with a centre of gravity so much closer to the road, it's miles off. It might as well be an old Mulsanne.
And nobody will be surprised to read that. However you choose to go grand touring, Bentley and Porsche have never had you better accommodated than they do right now.
SPECIFICATION | BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT SPEED
Engine: 5,950cc, twin-turbocharged, W12
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 659 @ 5,000-6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 664lb ft @ 1,500-5,000 rpm
Top speed: 208mph
Weight: 2,273kg (EU)
Price: £209,900 (price as tested: £267,700)
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE 911 TURBO S
Engine: 3,745cc, twin-turbocharged, flat six
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 650 @ 6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590 lb ft @ 2,500-4,000 rpm
Top speed: 205mph
Weight: 1,640kg (DIN)
Price: £155,970 (price as tested: £169,484)
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