Bentley Continental GT Speed
by Roy Brooks
Most Club members rarely drive any Rolls-Royce or Bentley other than their own, even less have the opportunity to experience the latest models. My work as a motoring correspondent, with over thirty cars a year delivered to my door for test, enables me to drive a vast range of models. Undoubtedly, an absolute delight for me was when Bentley Motors offered me a week’s trial in a Bentley Continental GT Speed, at the time of its introduction, the fastest and most powerful production car the company ever produced.
In a nutshell, the Continental is a fabulous looking coupé with probably all the comfort and safety features you could imagine, plus 600 bhp under the bonnet and a top speed of 202 mph. What is more, the price tag of £141,700 is remarkably reasonable so far as supercars are concerned.
Visually the ultra sleek two-door pillar-less coupé body with little more by way of bright-work than the front grille, fine side-window edging and huge alloy wheels, effectively disguises its 15ft 9in length so that it appears only a moderately-sized car. Importantly too, the styling is tasteful and quiet rather than the flamboyance associated with some other top flight models.
Open one of the two necessarily large doors to find a spacious but restrained interior, impeccably trimmed in top quality leather and carpets that would grace any stately home. A pleasantly classy touch comes from the quilted seat facings which include the winged Bentley B motif embroidered into each of the four backrests. Via a range of powered adjustments, including four-way movement of the steering wheel, the driving position can be tailored to almost any personal need.
Whilst the car has a whole range of comfort and convenience features, the minor controls appear to be logical in location and action and I felt at home remarkably quickly. Similarly the instrument panel, mounted directly in front of the driver with its saucer-sized major dials and centre information screen, did not present a cluttered mass – important when you are driving quickly.
A six-litre W12 twin-turbocharged 600bhp engine might, on paper, seem a fearsome beast. Not a bit of it with the key fob kept tucked away in your pocket, press the start/ stop button on the big centre console and the engine burbles gently into life; move the centre-mounted gear lever with its lovely knurled chrome and hide knob into ‘D’, finger-flick the parking brake release switch, apply a light touch on the accelerator and the car glides gently away. The ZF six-speed automatic transmission then looks after itself admirably thereafter. Keen types can use the manual override for clutchless manual changes via the gear lever or steering wheel paddles.
Even with a car that has the performance potential of the GT Speed, in real life precious few owners will ever be able to use it to the full – although it is satisfying to know that there are huge reserves available. However, even when driven in a fashion that is unlikely to bring one to the attention of the law, it still offers enormous enjoyment. Effectively, it is a pussy cat that has sharp claws if needed.
If you really want to try, 0-60mph can be done in a staggeringly quick 4.3 seconds, going on to reach 100mph in another six seconds. It is, though, in the mid-speed range, say for dramatically rapid overtaking, that the massive amount of torque available over a wide rev range is most appreciated. Floor the throttle and the response feels instant, along with a satisfying, though not raucous, roar from the big twin exhausts.
For a car capable of such performance, weighing 2350kg (2.3 tons) and with a 6-litre engine, the official combined fuel consumption of 17 mpg speaks volumes for the quality of the VW inspired engineering and the car’s dynamics. Over some very mixed driving I managed to reach 16.5 mpg, whilst on a couple of mainly motorway runs I averaged a remarkable 20 mpg. CO 2 emissions are 396g/ km.
Essentially too the Bentley offers outstandingly high levels of handling, stability and safety. For example the self-levelling air suspension adjusts the ride height and damping according to road conditions; whilst the big bespoke (expensive) Pirelli P-Zero tyres powered via permanent all-wheel drive felt to be incapable of slipping. Throw in the sharp steering response provided by the Servotronic speed-sensitive power-assisted steering, advanced electronic safety and stability programmes along with the largest brakes of any production car; then believe me the handling qualities are way beyond the norm.
All the occupants travel in great comfort, but getting into the two rear seats is best reserved for the slim and nimble, although I fitted in OK. If your need is for a four door car and lots of rear seat space, then go for the Continental Flying Spur, also available in the Speed specification. Recently, thanks again to Bentley Motors, I drove one of these saloon versions; it felt equally as rewarding to drive as the GT, but visually I prefer the lines of the two-door. Boot space is not great at 370 litres (13.1 cu ft), but there is a spare wheel, albeit a temporary one, under the beautifully carpeted floor.
Nothing is perfect, apart from the few points already mentioned; the sturdy screen pillars and rear quarters do restrict vision somewhat; the illuminating brilliance of the headlamp main beam makes the dipped beam seem weak; and the key-fob is nearly the size and weight of a small mobile phone. Idiosyncratic features that give character to the car or just a nuisance – take your choice!
The model name Bentley Continental has been iconic ever since the famous 1950's R Type and it successor the S Series, both of which I am fortunate enough to have had extensive experience. In their day they were absolutely outstanding and remain amongst the most sought-after classics of their era. The present Continentals are built in the same Crewe factory, though now by Volkswagen to (dare I say it?) even higher standards than at the time of Rolls-Royce.
Without doubt any current Bentley can be a distinct indulgence, but also seems certain to follow form by becoming another icon of its age. Given the chance I would be more than happy to own a Continental GT Speed; or maybe even better, having my cake and eating it. This would be by opting for the fractionally lesser performance GT version (552 bhp, 198 mph and 0.3 seconds slower to 60 mph) costing £123,800; the money saved could then purchase a small economical run-about, pay for its fuel for several years, reduce pollution and to help allay any conscience I might have about any over-indulgence.
On the other hand, financial constraints may dictate the purchase of a used GT model, early examples of which are temptingly on sale for about one quarter the price of new. Be warned however; have any potential purchase expertly checked by a factory appointed Bentley dealer or established Bentley specialist. Mechanically they are near bullet-proof, but the electronics are complicated and each of the multiplicity of circuits needs to be thoroughly interrogated via dedicated, factory-approved equipment – that alone might well take 20 minutes. For example a not unknown problem is blockage of the water drain hole behind the plenum chamber in front of the scuttle which causes (very expensive) problems with the wiring and electronics in the vicinity. As with so many modern machines, these are definitely not a car for the DIY enthusiast.