My 2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed looked incredibly out of place in the ruins of Comiso Air Base on the Italian island of Sicily. Its sheetmetal gleamed in the sun, the light playing off my favourite colour in the entire Bentley portfolio, Verdant, while just a few feet away lay the deteriorating concrete bunkers that 30 years ago housed 112 nuclear-tipped BGM-109 cruise missiles.
I'd just blasted past the structures a few minutes prior, twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 engine thrumming in a display of power like what those nine dozen warheads promised to deliver had the Cold War turned hot. The shocking decay of the abandoned air base and the knowledge that the weapons stored there could have ended the world as we know it was an odd backdrop for the newest member of the Continental GT family. Three decades on, as I tested a 650-bhp, twelve-cylinder GT, humanity stands at the precipice of a different kind of world-ending disaster, with climate change driving increasingly devastating catastrophes around the globe.
Comiso and the future it threatened are a relic of a different time. And with Bentley phasing out petrol-powered engines by 2030, including the W12 engine that’s been its tea-and-biscuits powerplant for nearly two decades, the 2022 GT Speed is the swansong of another soon-to-be-bygone era. But while this former military base (thankfully) never went out with a bang, the last petrol-powered Speed does, taking a spectacular grand tourer to a new level.
Nuclear To Slightly More Nuclear
The Continental GT Speed's twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 is a known quantity, having served under the bonnet since the first-gen car arrived in the early 2000s. But where it started with 552 bhp and 479 pound-feet of torque, today's GT packs 626 bhp and 664 lb-ft, while this new Speed model is home to 650 thoroughbred Anglo-Teutonic ponies.
Unsurprisingly, that modest increase in output translates to a modest improvement in performance – the Speed scampers to 60 in 3.5 seconds to the standard car's 3.6. Put the stopwatch away and that difference disappears, although that's not to discount the effect of matting the throttle on a twelve-cylinder Bentley. A Conti with a W12 can and will rearrange organs with its performance regardless of the badge on the wing.
A Conti with a W12 can and will rearrange organs with its performance regardless of the badge on the fender.
Low-end torque is immense, with all 664 lb-ft available between 1,500 and 5,000 rpm (a slightly better spread for high-performance driving than the standard car's 1,350 to 4,500 rpm max), and on the few straight roads the Sicilian countryside presents, I was confident in Bentley's 3.5-second claim.
But it's the immediate thrust while rolling that sets the chonky 2,273 kilogram (5,011-pound) Speed Coupe back on its rear air springs. It’s addicting: diving into the throttle so you can feel the G forces at work. Limitless grip from the larger tyres (the Speed's standard 275/35 front and 315/30 rear rubber are optional on the regular W12) and standard all-wheel drive guarantee power reaches the ground, allowing the 650-bhp Conti to outpace most other vehicles on the road.
How the GT Speed tickles your ears will depend largely on which body style you go with. The howl of twelve cylinders up front is unmistakable in the hardtop model, with much less bass coming out the back. Opt for the convertible, as I did for the first half of my dash across the Sicilian countryside, and you’ll enjoy a booming exhaust note that overwhelms the drama coming from under the bonnet. Staccato barks from trademark oval exhausts accompany each wide-open-throttle upshift. It's hard to say which experience is preferable for audiophiles, but I'll give the edge to the Speed Convertible.
Mutually Assured Dynamics
While the Speed Convertible is an impeccable droptop – the roof is quick to raise and lower, wind management at speed is hard to beat, and the fabric roof has little negative impact on the shape – that's also true of the V8 or W12 models. If you're buying the Speed, it should be for the dynamic qualities it brings to the table.
Either body style comes with a host of technologies from the Volkswagen Group's high-performance parts bin, but two stood out on the roads of Sicily: active anti-roll bars and all-wheel steering. Whether on the Porsche Panamera, which shares its MSB platform with the Continental line, or the Audi RS6 Avant (from the related MLB architecture, which also underpins the Bentayga SUV), I've raved about these systems and their seeming ability to ignore the laws of physics. And across Sicily, both of these items offered a convincing argument that maybe Sir Isaac Newton got a thing or two wrong.
The active anti-roll bars quash body roll, even when faced with 2.2 tonnes of British grand tourer. They contribute to a flat cornering character that makes maximum use of the tires’ contact patches and provides added control, both in turns and on straightaways. All-wheel steering is a new arrival to the GT Speed line, but is no less impressive in the way it offers effortless high-speed composure – this Continental feels rock solid at speeds well beyond what the Carabinieri would find acceptable.
The other boon of four-wheel steering – low-speed manoeuvring – is harder to parse here, as the coupe's 112.2-inch wheelbase simply means there's less length to hide than in a Panamera or Bentayga. Still, the Continental GT Speed is more eager to change directions than the V8 model I drove a few years back, which minimises the feeling of weight over the front end that a 6.0-litre engine imparts – the lighter V8 feels more nimble than the standard W12, but the Speed closes the gap.
This Continental feels rock solid at speeds well beyond what the Carabinieri would find acceptable.
Managing the thrust from that monumental engine happens at both ends of the car. In addition to the standard all-wheel-drive system, the GT Speed adds a new electronic limited-slip differential that better manages all the power the eight-speed automatic sends to the ground.
While clean public roads presented precious few opportunities to feel the LSD working, the dusty and rock-strewn surface at Comiso was a natural environment. Mash the accelerator while exiting a corner and you can feel the diff transferring power side to side, maximising your grip and giving the car more agility while accelerating. Dynamically, it's the Speed's most substantial addition.
The carbon-ceramic brakes are substantial in an entirely different sense. These are the largest stoppers ever fitted to a production car – and they'd better be to manage a 2.2 tonne vehicle that can hit 208 mph. These things are comically large, with 10-piston callipers clamping down on 17.3-inch discs in front while each 16.1-inch rear disc pairs with a four-piston calliper.
Yet, Bentley claims the carbon brakes save 33 kilograms (73 pounds) of unsprung weight compared to the standard cast-iron discs. I wasn't able to test the standard brakes, but the stopping power of the CCBs would put most artillery pieces to shame. I just wish Bentley had tuned the braking a bit more carefully. The left pedal is occasionally grabby and difficult to modulate early in the pedal’s travel.
Ultra-luxury automakers like Bentley rarely upset the applecart when it comes to trademark designs, so the level of restraint in upgrading the Continental GT to the Speed is par for the course. Still, subtle touches highlight the exterior of this performance model in just the right way. The better part, though, is that you can throw away many of the changes Bentley made if you so choose.
For example, a Speed-specific grille wears a Dark Tint finish that you can replace with a blacked-out variant. There's also a subtle body kit available that adds a touch more aggression around the side sills, chin, and rear fascia. But beyond the Speed badge on the front wings/fenders, Bentley approached the exterior design in a typically conservative fashion.
The cabin is home to more distinctive Speed details, though. This high-performance Continental gets its own unique colour split, which shows off both the impressive (and standard) diamond stitching on the seats and doors and emphasises the sporty mission of this model via Alcantara accents. It's all a very subtle approach to design that befits an old-world automaker like Bentley. And as expected, the material quality is tough to match – only Rolls-Royce does a cabin better.
This Is The End
About 30 minutes into my drive, I came around a tight left-hand bend and the scenery opened in front of me. Much of it was black and scarred, the twisted corpses of olive trees and abandoned villas all that remained after devastating wildfires scorched the countryside (and much of the Mediterranean region) in August.
Two men started the fires on my drive route, but high winds and record-setting temperatures – 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) on parts of the island – driven by climate change exacerbated these disasters. And their reason for the fire? To create additional grazing land (which has also led to dramatic fires in the Amazon rainforest).
Witness the aftermath of such devastation after flying 4,000 miles (and back) to rip around in a 650-bhp, twelve-cylinder ultra-luxury car with several cows worth of leather in the cabin, and it's hard not to feel guilty. The Bentley Continental GT Speed is a stunning reminder of just how great internal-combustion engines are and how brilliant the current state of the grand tourer game is, but passing burnt-out groves, some hundreds of years old, left me questioning the cost.
Very soon, Bentley will introduce its first electric vehicle. And by the end of the decade, it will stop selling petrol-powered products. That will mark the end of an era, as the W12 goes the way of Comiso Air Base. I know I'll feel very sad. But when faced so directly with the results of modern man's gluttony, I'll also feel a little relieved. Automakers need to move to sustainable production and alternative propulsion, and while I'll miss the sound and feel of a twelve-cylinder engine, the latest and last petrol-powered Bentley Continental GT Speed is a fitting swansong for internal combustion I can imagine.
Correction: A previous version of this piece indicated that the Continental GT Speed was not available in the United Kingdom. This was incorrect and based on an old disclaimer from Bentley before the car was Type Approved for UK sale. China is the only market of those listed where the Continental GT Speed is not available. Bentley is currently accepting orders for the GT Speed in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Motor1.com UK regrets the error.
Continental GT Speed Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed: First Drive
2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed Coupe