I write these words while consumed with regret. Regret for not hounding the Bentley press department for a drive of the Continental GT Speed as soon as humanly possible. Instead, I’d not paid the car a great deal of attention – and, I confess, hadn’t cared much ever since the first Continental GT landed back in 2003. My turn behind the wheel only arrived once Bentley got in touch and arranged a weekend loan of its quickest-ever road car, and now I realize the error of my ways.
If only I’d been paying more attention. If only I knew what I was missing out on. Well now I do, and what I’d foolishly ignored until 2021 is utterly magnificent.
A two-plus-two GT car designed to romp across entire countries without pause for thought (although plenty for gas), the Continental GT is turned up to 11 with this, the Speed. Slightly improved performance is paired with a subtly sportier look, complete with carbon replacing wood inside, and dark highlights replacing chrome on the outside.
Under the hood sits Bentley’s familiar six-liter W12 engine, outputting 650bhp (659PS) and 664 lb-ft (900 Nm) of torque. Such power means 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds, a top speed of 208mph, and the sort of 50-70mph shove that makes the Continental feel more like a supercar than a grand tourer. It really is hilariously quick, with a twin-clutch, semi-automatic, eight-speed gearbox to match.
There’s massive traction, but for the Speed the GT’s all-wheel-drive system has been recalibrated to produce a more rear-biased power delivery. In other words, more power is generally sent to the rear wheels than in the regular Continental GT, giving the car a sportier, more dynamic character. This may sound like it has been lifted from the brochure, but a prod of the accelerator out of a low-speed corner really does make the car feel rear-driven.
Also helping is rear-wheel-steering, which ever-so-slightly turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front at low speed, virtually shortening the wheelbase and making the Bentley more maneuverable, then turning all four corners in the same direction at higher speed for increased stability. Also far from a gimmick, this helps the car navigate the tightest of city streets, and makes parking far easier than you might expect.
This then, is a car that is monstrously fast, with a sporty dynamic and clever steering that makes parking child’s play. A few paragraphs in and already Bentley is onto a winner.
There’s more too, because the interior might just be the best of any car on sale today. The leather, complete with three-dimensional diamond pattern, the stitching and the use of suede is all pretty much perfect. So too is the attention to detail poured into absolutely everything you touch. Stalks and dials are beautifully knurled, the fabrics are soft and comfortable, the interior lighting is just so, and the result is a cabin that lowered my pulse, deepened my breathing, and made me relax. It’s just wonderful.
Whoever specified this exact Bentley Continental GT Speed clearly had fun with the options list while their manager was at lunch. The exterior paint, called magenta, is a far brighter purple than the online configurator lets on, while the two-tone interior matches a similar shade called damson, with portland (cream-like) accents. It was like sitting in a very expensive handbag, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Optional extras ticked while the manager wasn’t looking include an audio system by British hi-fi company Naim (spectacular, but so it should be at £6,725), the Bentley rotating display, which spins like James Bond’s number plates to switch the infotainment touchscreen for three analogue dials (£4,865), and non-standard front seats (£3,210) with heating, cooling and massage function.
Further options include the Mulliner Driving Specification (£12,135), carbon ceramic brakes (£11,890), and both the Blackline and Styling specifications, at £3,315 and £9,180 respectively. Add all this, and a few other extras, to the £209,900 list price and this particular GT Speed was certainly not cheap. But honestly, whether you go mad with the options list or show some restraint, it’s worth every penny.
From the calmness and beauty of the interior, to the blistering performance, the surprising agility for a car weighing significantly more than two tons, the assertive-not-aggressive burble emitted by the exhausts, and the unsurmountable composure with which the car conducts itself, it’s a class act. There’s even a generous trunk and the rear seats aren’t as cramped as they are in a Porsche 911 or Ferrari Portofino. I’m 5’6 and fitted fine back there but, naturally, adults of a proper size will find it tight.
I only had four days with the GT Speed, but bonded so completely with it that I prayed for the collection driver’s train to break down somewhere far away. It wasn’t just the way it looks or the way it drives, but how the Bentley excels in every department. Sitting in London traffic, I was more than happy to enjoy the interior and the extraordinary sound system. I felt calm; safely cocooned behind double-glazed windows, away from the harsh reality of the outside world.
After just a weekend the GT Speed had worked its way under my skin and into my heart, where it would be guaranteed a place in my lottery-win garage. If my numbers ever do come up, the Bentley Continental GT Speed would be my everyday car, and it would be perfect.