Bentley’s Continental GT Speed More Than Lives Up To Its Name – Forbes

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014

Few automakers would have either the guts or gall to name one of their cars “Speed.”

At least not without the chops to back up the braggadocio with bravado, which in the case of the pumped and posh Bentley Continental GT Speed coupe comes courtesy of a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12 engine that puts 616 galloping horses and 590 pulse-pounding pound/feet of torque to the pavement.

The W12 enables the car to reach 60 mph in a sudden 4.0 seconds, which we were all too happy to confirm given any open stretch of asphalt we encountered during several days of testing a new Continental GT Speed coupe. It also boasts a top speed of 206 mph, which we instead chose to take on faith for the sake of preserving our precious driving privileges.

As tradition dictates in upper crust of British motoring, a Rolls-Royce might be the ride of choice for those who choose to be chauffeured, whereas a Bentley is sold for the sheer pleasure of driving one’s self. In fact, it’s a downright necessity here, as the Continental GT coupe (along with its convertible counterpart, the Continental GTC) comes with a back seat that – while meticulously crafted – suffers from the same dearth of legroom as virtually every sporty two-door car on the planet.

No, this is definitely a driver-focused ride, and it’s a substantial one at that. The Continental GT Speed is executed with passion and perfection to afford uncannily lively driving dynamics with a level of pure luxury that’s unsullied by an obsession with bells and whistles that tend to define more common high-end models these days.

The original Continental GT debuted in 2004 as the first all-new model under Bentley’s current owner, Volkswagen, though it continues to be hand-assembled in Crewe, England. The GT Speed version was added to the line in 2007 and rejoined the family for 2013 in an all-new version after a three-year absence. Inspiration for the model is said to come from the original Bentley Speed models that date back to 1923.

As with the rest of the Continental GT line, the Speed comes wrapped in curvaceous styling that’s a radical departure from the stately character of Bentley’s more-traditional sedans, yet it’s distinctive and exclusive enough to warrant prime valet parking position. Two pairs of oval headlamps flank Bentley’s signature mesh grille treatment, reaching up and into muscular front fenders. A long swooping hood with pillarless rear windows extends what seems to be a long way into a tallish rear-end that features LED taillights with a double-oval pattern that we reckon is made to resemble a “B.” A deployable trunk spoiler slickens the car’s already exemplary aerodynamics to a drag coefficient of just 0.33. Our tester was painted an eye-popping St. James Red and fitted with optional (at $1,495) red brake calipers that added a nice visual touch to the coupe’s already assertive 21-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels.

In Pictures: Bentley Continental GT Speed.

The Continental GT Speed’s opulent hand-stiched interior includes the top Mulliner Driving Spec treatment with diamond quilted perforated leather upholstery, drilled racing-style pedals and a knurled gear selector, which is a work of art onto itself. Our tester included contrast stitching with embroidered Bentley “Flying B” emblems front and rear, carbon fiber trim and leather-covered shift paddles. The heated 14-way power heated front seats are supportive enough to hold even a middle-aged torso in place during spirited handling maneuvers, yet remain eminently comfortable to make even the most grueling commutes serene. A rear-seat trunk pass-through accommodates skis and other long, narrow objects.

With a symmetrically sculpted dashboard design that mimics Bentley’s famed flying wing logo, the center stack of controls belies parent company Volkswagen’s penchant for efficiently designed switchgear. The driver faces proper analog gauges, with an easily mastered eight-inch touchscreen used to control the audio and navigation systems, sitting atop conventional analog buttons and dials on the center stack for the climate control. Prominent round aluminum air vents are operated via yacht-like plungers, with an analog clock courtesy of upscale timepiece maker Breitling embedded atop the dash.

Otherwise amenities are kept reasonably close to the essentials, with options including massaging seats, adaptive cruise control and an audiophile-grade sound system courtesy of noted British component maker Naim. This, by the way, is one of the few remaining cars to offer an available CD changer. Of course for those with extra deep pockets and a penchant for personalization, the sky’s the limit in terms of paint, leather and trim treatments.

But it’s the top version of Bentley’s twin-turbocharged W12 engine that earns the car its “Speed” badging. Not a typo, this unique engine arrangement is more or less like two V6s that have been joined at the crankshaft for more efficient packaging than a typical 12-cylinder powerplant affords, hence the “W” designation.

It enables the car to leap off the line with authority, though it takes a deft touch to finesse in excess of 600 horsepower in a mannerly fashion so as not to draw the attention of local law enforcement officials. But on an open road when the opportunity enables one to put their right foot to the floor the GT Speed responds instantly and with authority, turning the scenery into an impressionistic blur, which is no small feat for a car that tips the scales at just over 5,000 pounds. The car’s exhaust note is particularly authoritative, though its rich throatiness is hushed to a large degree by the passenger cabin’s superlative sound insulating abilities.

The only available transmission is an eight-speed ZF-supplied automatic that changes gears in a lightning-quick 800 ms, affording multi-gear “block shifting” on demand that enables thunderous passing abilities. It also includes manual gear selection via oversized paddle shifters on the steering column, though most drivers will likely cede this task to exemplarily automatic.

Fuel economy, while said to be improved for 2014, is barely worth mentioning at an estimated 12/21 mpg city/highway with the car being assessed a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax as penance for its sins.

In Pictures: Bentley Continental GT Speed.


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