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First drive: Bentley Continental GT Speed. Image by Bentley.

First drive: Bentley Continental GT Speed
Its not a full road test yet in the new Bentley Continental GT Speed, but on this early showing the marque has given us an absolutely cracking sports grand tourer.

   



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Bentley Continental GT Speed

5 5 5 5 5

Bentley revives the Speed moniker for not only most powerful and alluring third-generation Continental GT yet, but also what it is claiming to be the 'most dynamic road car in the company's 101-year history'. That's some assertion, so we take the Continental GT Speed for a few hot laps of Silverstone's full GP circuit to find out if that declaration is on the button or wide of the mark.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Bentley Continental GT Speed
Pricing: Continental GT from 151,800, Speed likely to be from 200,000-plus
Engine: 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 petrol
Transmission: active all-wheel drive with torque-sensing centre differential and electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential, eight-speed ZF dual-clutch transmission
Body style: two-door high-performance GT coupe
CO2 emissions: in excess of 308g/km (VED Band Over 255: 2,245 first 12 months, then 490 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: c.20.8mpg
Top speed: 208mph
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Power: 659hp at 5,000-6,000rpm
Torque: 900Nm at 1,500-5,000rpm
Boot space: 358 litres

What's this?

A Bentley Continental GT Speed, the halo model of the current Conti's line-up. We can't say it's the most powerful Continental yet seen, as the 2017 iteration of the second-generation Supersports had fully 710hp to play with, but the Crewe marque is proud of its new creation. In simplistic terms, it is a 6.0-litre W12 Coupe with some chassis enhancements, bespoke styling appointments and a modest power increase of 24hp. In more complex terms, it's the new flagship of the range and while it is not trying to be a track car of the ilk of something like a Porsche 911 GT3, Bentley is majoring on the extra equipment it has fitted to make what is a circa-2.25-tonne car handle as sharply as it possibly can.

More on that anon, but just to recap the changes that make a Speed look different to a W12, it wears dark-tinted headlight clusters and metalwork, including the radiator grille, as well as '12' graphics in its side breather gills and a discreet 'Speed' logo on its front wings. It also enjoys its own design of 22-inch wheels available in one of three finishes (bright silver, dark tint or black high-gloss) and would ordinarily have the twin ovoid exhaust pipes of any other W12, only a noisier Akrapovic exhaust is optionally available and if it's fitted, the Speed reverts to quad ovals in the rear valance. The carbon-fibre front splitter, side sills and rear diffuser are also part of a cost-extra bundle but they give the Speed added presence.

Then, within, a bicolour leather treatment with diamond quilting bestows a more luxurious air to an interior that's already what many people would consider the height of opulence anyway, while engine-turned aluminium trim and that sportiest of accoutrements - an Alcantara steering wheel - further boost the quotient of specialness. As a Speed loses nothing in terms of rear seats or boot space compared to a W12, it ought to be every bit as cosseting to live with as its related model... although we obviously can't comment in that regard, because we haven't done any road-testing of this mega-Continental. Yet.

How does it drive?

We've made no secret of the fact that, in the Mk3 Continental line-up, we prefer the V8 model to the W12. It's a bit lighter over the nose, it doesn't feel much slower in a straight line and it makes a terrific, rumbling bellow as it goes about its business. However, unless a reincarnation of the sharper V8 S arrives in this generation of Conti in the near future, we're happy to go on record as saying that, even on the basis of a few hot laps on track, the Speed is where it's 'at' dynamically when it comes to Bentley's GT and it will remain so forever more.

Every third-gen Continental comes with torque vectoring by brake, three-chamber air springs with adaptive damping and active all-wheel drive as standard, while the W12 also benefits from 48-volt Bentley Dynamic Ride active anti-roll bars (they're a cost option on the V8). The Speed, however, has all of the regular features of a W12 and then goes beyond this point with the addition of Rear Axle Steering (borrowed and then adapted from the larger Flying Spur saloon), an electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential, and bespoke tuning of its ESC and steering systems to make it feel tauter and better to drive. It can also be specified with carbon-ceramic brakes, the largest fitted to any road car, which have ten-piston front and four-piston rear callipers gripping mighty 440mm discs on the leading axle.

All told, the Speed is in broadly the same ballpark for weight (around and about 2,250kg) as a W12 Coupe, but if you spec the carbon stoppers then you get a marginal reduction, of something like 19kg, in the car's bulk. That's because these items save fully 33 kilos of unsprung mass (that's the best kind of weight reduction, keen helmsmith-type enthusiasts will note), set against the fact the rear-wheel steering adds 10.8kg and the eLSD on the rear axle another 3kg to the Speed; some shonky maths quickly shows that you're left in credit when it comes to overall bulk. And no, those gigantic 22-inch wheels don't affect matters as they're forged, so they weigh the same as the regular 21s.

To ensure the Speed lives up to its name, peak power is tickled to 659hp with the same 900Nm of torque as usual from the W12, resulting in 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds and a V-max of 208mph. That's more than quick enough in anyone's eyes to merit this car being called 'Speed', although many would say the Conti is hardly slow in any guise. The price for all this extra goodness is not yet confirmed but it is not expected that the GT Speed will come in anywhere beneath the 200,000 mark.

So is it worth it? Can a few chassis extras and a mere 3.8 per cent uplift in power on a heavy old car really make all the difference? Goodness, yes. It takes about 50 metres to sense the steering of the Continental GT Speed is even better than that in the standard car, which we think is one of the most unheralded and underrated set-ups in the modern era. In the Speed, though, it gains that extra degree of acuity that allows the nose of the big Bentley to dive more keenly into tighter corners, one of the easiest ways of making a large car feel smaller than it actually is. Well, that and the nimble Rear Axle Steering as well, of course.

Either way, and even before you've fully opened the taps and flung the Conti into a corner at a pace that feels wholly unnatural for a GT, the Speed immediately feels more alert and granular in feel than the W12. It also beats the V8 for involvement, because it then goes on to do something no Continental we can remember before doing with any great ease: it oversteers. Not wildly, not like a Mercedes-AMG frying its rear rubber into oblivion for a gratuitous action shot, but rather the Bentley slides with a grace and elan that is most surprising in a car of its kind, and especially one with four-wheel drive. Indeed, the rear axle is a huge part of dynamic proceedings, not just for its turning wheels but for the way the Conti's line can be adjusted through a wide variety of angles of attack using nothing more than the throttle alone.

Punch the pedal down out of tighter corners and the GT Speed transitions to oversteer in an elegant fashion, rather than feeling spiky or like it is lumbering out of control. Load up the outer two tyres in a fast, sweeping corner (something a bit like Stowe), and you can tweak the stance of the car on the accelerator and with minute nudges of steering lock alone, the Bentley segueing into glorious four-wheel drifts if you're at the tyres' limit of adhesion. The car conveys all of its movements with incredible clarity to its driver, through both wheel and base of the seat, and so it feels magnificent. It feels marvellous. It feels like anything but what it genuinely is: a great big luxury coupe doing sports-car-like things on track.

Previous Speed iterations haven't been like this. They've been bonkers-fast torque monsters in a straight line, sure, but fun and engaging in the corners? Not so much. This one, though; this one displays its obvious developmental origins alongside the Porsche Panamera to great effect. Never more than now has the Conti GT felt like a long-distance luxury cruiser which can step up and give a truly exciting experience in the handling department when its owner finds the right road on which to exploit it.

And fast? Course it is. Down the Hangar Straight it was easily powering past 150mph, having left Chapel at around 70mph, and by the exit of Stowe on every lap it was running 90-100mph with no difficulty. As we had to wear an open-face helmet (which flatters no one) that muffled sound, we couldn't tell precisely what effect the Akrapovic was having on the notoriously quiet Bentley W12's voice but, standing beside the track as other Speeds were pounding the circuit, it definitely roared in a more strident and alluring fashion than the normal 6.0-litre model. In short, we cannot wait to get this thing out onto the public roads and find out if it is just as deeply impressive and gobsmacking there as it has already proven in a driving environment that is wholly not its comfort zone.

Verdict

Laps of a grand, open, fast circuit like Silverstone GP are rarely telling when driving an all-new car that's heavily prioritised for the roads, but in the case of the new Bentley Continental GT Speed our brief time behind its wheel was an eye-opening experience. Here's a Conti with all the thunderous midrange and upper-end acceleration of the W12, as well as cornering manners better than those of the V8 and yet one which can still blend all the traditional, luxurious Bentley appointments that the marque's customers demand into the GT's sensual bodywork. If it doesn't ride like a total pig out on the roads, and we can't imagine any reason why it would given the forged alloys and carbon brakes at all corners, then we've just found the best Bentley on sale right now. And, given the current portfolio of sublime models offered by the company, that's some glittering accolade for the Speed, it really is.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 5 May 2021



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2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.

2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed at Silverstone. Image by Bentley.








 

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