REVIEW: the new Bentley Continental GT Speed
Harking back to the golden age of the Bentley Boys and their magnificent racing machines, the new Bentley Continental GT Speed is a capable grand tourer with a penchant for performance
In the 1930s, racing was relatively simple. One (usually very wealthy) individual would purchase a chassis - complete with an engine - from a car manufacturer, find a coachbuilder to add the bodywork and then employ an engineer to make it as fast as humanly possible. From there, you'd glug a whiskey, head for the race track, do your best and then drive home. Job done. Well, at least that's the way the swashbuckling Bentley Boys did it. In short, pre-war Bentleys like the iconic Blower were just as happy cruising the Cote d'Azur as they were being driven in anger around a race track.
Now, 100 years on from the British marque's first race victory, its latest offering arrives in the shape of the Bentley Continental GT Speed. Channeling both the road and racing pedigree of its pre-war ancestors, the Speed is a subtly tricked and tuned-up version of Bentley's much-loved four-seater grand tourer. "There are almost 100 years between the Blower Bentley and this car although it ultimately descends from that," says Florian Sprenger, Bentley's head of chassis engineering in the pit lane of the British Grand Prix circuit at Silverstone. "The cars were very successful in racing and some of the genes definitely live on in the Speed here," he adds.
Sporting the marque's revered 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 engine, the Speed is the fastest production Bentley on offer, with a top speed of 208mph and an extra 24bhp on the regular W12 GT, taking the Speed's total power output to 650bhp. With that, it will make the dash from 0-62mph in just 3.70seconds, which neatly places it alongside rivals such as the Mercedes AMG GT S.
But, despite the name, there's more to the Speed than just, err, speed. While Bentley acknowledge it's not a track day car, the engineering wizards have worked their magic on the GT Speed, adding an anti-roll system (to help keep it flat in the corners) rear-wheel steering (to help it turn in sharper) and an electronically controlled limited slip differential, which is a first for any Bentley.
"The main philosophy and the main objective was to not compromise on the comfort of this car, but to stretch the envelope of the charisma," insists Sprenger. "We added an extra bit of agility and sportiness to the car, through the rear-wheel steering, the electronic limited slip differential and the optional carbon-ceramic brakes... the result is a fun to drive car, which is very adjustable, very controllable and very capable, not only on a track, but also on the public road," he says.
Once out on the British Grand Prix circuit at Silverstone, the Speed pulls out of the pitlane with force, making short work of the dash to 100mph and beyond with its huge 664lb ft of torque. Approaching two of the circuits more technical turns (Brooklands and Luffield), the GT Speed's 440mm diameter carbon-ceramic brakes come in handy to scrub off some speed before the car's trick differential, antiroll system and rear-wheel steer all come together to help the Speed effortlessly slip through the series of bends. After that, it's back on back on the seemingly endless power as soon as possible.
With the electronic aids switched on, the Speed defies the laws of physics with Sprenger and his team ensuring that the 2.3-tonne car feels impossibly nimble and light. Let's not forget, the Speed loses nothing of the standard GT's comfort or interior quality, so all that performance comes wrapped in all the quilted leather, turned metal and onboard tech you'd expect from a Bentley grand tourer. Turn the aids off, however, and the Speed is perfectly capable of smoking its way around Silverstone sideways, should you ever want to indulge your inner boy racer.
As an all-round package, the GT Speed hard to top. With no word on price just yet, you can expect to pay a substantial premium on top of the GT's £160,000 starting price and even more for the optional carbon-ceramic brakes. For the extra money, the Speed gets additional badges that hint towards the extra power and performance, as well as a darker front grille, diamond-quilted leather as standard and slightly more aggressive styling on the sills and skirts.
With Bentley's first all-electric car due in 2025 and a battery-powered future on the horizon, the Speed is a last blast of old-fashioned fun with a hefty dose of high-tech engineering thrown in. While the car loses nothing of its grand touring abilities, it gains significant new powers in the handling department, setting it apart from the rest of the Continental range. For those searching for a hugely capable cruiser with some added fun, Bentley's latest pumped-up grand tourer could well be the one.