A Bentley Continental GT isn't an unusual sight at the track, but it's more likely to be parked just outside the paddock, having conveyed its owner (who probably also owns the racing team) to the VIP skybox. Today, however, this one is waiting in the pit lane at Silverstone, with the full GP circuit open. It’s no normal example, but the new Continental GT Speed, which the company calls the “most dynamic Bentley road car in history.”
That road car bit is relevant, too, because despite the location today, Bentley’s people are emphatically pointing out that the GT Speed is not a track car. A capable vehicle, yes, but the only Continental GT Speeds likely to turn a wheel around a circuit are the five parked with their W12s idling in Silverstone’s blustery pitlane.
To make it a Speed, Bentley gave the Continental GT a bit of a tickle, with 659 bhp and 664 pound-feet from its 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged mill. Usefully, given the car’s significant bulk, that peak twist stays online from 1,500 rpm to 5,000 rpm; regardless of which of the eight ratios the automatic transmission’s in, there’ll be plenty of urgency to allow the coupe to get a move on. All that means 60 miles per hour arrives in 3.5 seconds, and 208 mph is possible, if you’ve got the space.
Outwardly, the GT Speed rides on unique 22-inch wheels and features Speed-specific cues like a darker finish on its grille, more shapely sports sills, and Speed badging. An optional GT Speed Styling Specification adds a high gloss black carbon fibre front splitter, rear diffuser boot lip spoiler, and branded side sills. That might sound like putting running spikes on a wrestler, but it works, giving the GT Speed a simmering intent that’s more aggressive than its non-Speed relations. It's all done very tastefully, as one would expect of any genteel grand-touring coupe.
With the Speed, Bentley promises more agility to exploit – and enjoy – the vehicle's higher limits. It involves the driver a bit more, rather than simply whiling them away cocooned in comfort as with the mere GT. Still, the more aggressive Bentley is adept in the luxury element as well, with all the exquisite detailing and fine materials one would expect of something with the Flying B badge. It’s impossible to sit in it and not paw at the chrome bullseye vents, or the organ-stop pulls that operate them, their satisfying operation almost justifying the lofty price of admission.
There are subtle differences inside the Speed with unique trim combinations and badging, more Alcantara as standard. Diamond-quilted stitching is standard here, too, rather than a checkbox option. Regardless, your choice of materials and their colours and finish are all personalised, the interior a tactile and visual pleasure, which despite its huge indulgence combines in a wonderfully elegant whole that’s in keeping with Bentley’s usual dignified restraint – those who want more flash should try to find a Bacalar that hasn't been spoken for.
The main instrumentation is a screen that displays a sharp representation of analogue gauges, bringing a necessary whiff of modernity to the comfortable cabin. The optional (a must have – even at £4,675) Bentley Rotating Display dispenses of the centre touchscreen once you’ve inputted your destination and tuned into your radio station, fantastically rolling it discreetly out of sight. Do that and the centre of the dashboard gains three beautiful analogue gauges – a thermometer, a chronograph, and a compass. You’ll never tire of watching the rotating display do its thing, and you might well wish the instrument cluster did the same neat trick.
Get Up And Go
The incongruity of driving the GT Speed down Silverstone’s lengthy pit is initially odd, but remember, Bentley fitted an electronic limited-slip differential and rear-wheel steering that delivers the promised added dynamism. The sporty coupe also features specifically tuned Bentley Dynamic Ride 48-volt anti-roll suspension, and engineers halved the speed of the eight-speed automatic’s shifts (in Sport mode) and added some exhaust sound.
If you pay a hefty premium there’s the promise of endless, neck-straining braking via Bentley’s carbon ceramic brakes, too. Check that box and up front, 10-piston callipers grasp at huge 440-millimetre discs (the 410-mm rear discs make do with four-piston clamps). Certain to be useful around Silverstone, the expensive brakes are less of a necessity for the majority of Speed customers, even if optioning them would improve the ride thanks to the loss of 33 kilograms (73 pounds) of unsprung weight.
Comfort aside, the repeatable stopping power is useful because the W12 gathers speed so effortlessly. Silverstone is vast, but the Bentley shrinks its lengthy straights without any apparent effort, that twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre 12-cylinder engine making light work of the GT Speed’s 2,281 kg (5,029 pounds) of luxury. It’s a bit more vocal, too, as much as can be judged through a race helmet.
Bentley recognised that Speed customers might want a little more audible drama, but the exhaust is far from uncouth, even when sampled here with the optional Akrapovic pipes. Bentley has yet to give a price for these or add them to the online configurator.
The more usual trade-off for the W12’s unerring pace – and why usually we’d lean toward the V8-engined Continental GT, is a nose-heavy feeling that manifests in the bends with copious understeer. That’s only applicable at higher speeds, but it’s long been a W12 GT trait, even on the admittedly sharper current model.
Nimbler Than Ever
There’s still some trace of that with the Speed, but the overall character is one that’s far more neutral, and indeed, rear-biased. Turning the steering wheel on the GT Speed is revelatory, with an immediate response that’s never been apparent before with the W12-engined cars. A good deal of that can be apportioned to the aforementioned rear-wheel steering, allied to the limited-slip differential, torque vectoring, and tuning of those systems in conjunction with the active 48V suspension managing the body and wheels. That’s over the already sizeable improvements the standard GT made over its predecessor.
We’re not talking about sports car levels of eagerness, feel, and feedback here, but instead an improved and welcome response to inputs behind the wheel. The steering weighting remains light, with precious little in what can be described as feel at the hand-stitched leather rim, but the greater accuracy is notable, the way the Speed’s nose turns in being far quicker, while the GT’s trajectory can be adjusted by lifting or applying the accelerator.
On track that means you can enter corners at higher speeds without washing wide, the more neutral stance during turn in and greater stability through the bend allowing you to transition that to exit with the rear powering and a degree of corrective lock in a slide. Your choice of angle is limited only by your initial commitment, the Speed’s playfulness being surprising and entertaining. The stability and traction control systems will allow this sort of silliness too, up to a point. and should you desire, you can switch them all off, seeing smoke leaving from the Speed not from a fine cigar via an open window, but its tyres.
All good fun, then, but arguably pointless, as Bentley itself admits that few will drive their GT Speeds around a track, however capable it might prove up to sizeable limits. No, what the coupe does promise is a more enjoyable drive on the road, that far crisper nose that’s at odds with the big, weighty engine behind it. With finer body control and some rear-biased throttle behaviour, your multiple-hairpin ascent up to your ski chalet will be that bit more amusing and engaging, all while retaining the surefooted assurance and massive traction of all-wheel drive.
The newfound chassis talent adds another facet to the Continental GT’s already broad and appealing repertoire, giving those buyers who might have grown out of the Porsche 911 Turbo a hugely luxurious GT that cossets as well as excites. That’s a tricky balance to get right, and it’s one that Bentley has apparently achieved, the “Speed” here not being the raw numbers possible – the GT has always been a fast car – but instead the ability to explore that power and thrust in corners.
Whether the Bentley’s spider chart robs some of its on-road ride for that handling prowess is still in question – today, we could only fast-lap the smooth, flat tarmac of Silverstone – but the chassis engineers are adamant that there’s very little trade-off. If that proves the case, the Continental GT Speed might just be the best Bentley coupe yet, usurping our usual preference for the V8 model (if we were ever lucky enough to be browsing the Bentley configurator with moneyed intent). Then again, we wonder how good the W12 Speed’s transformative chassis revisions would be, mixed with that lighter, nearly-as-powerful V8 under the bonnet…