Illustrious heritage and timeless design forms are signature mnemonics of any luxury brand. For Bentley, even in its most modern vehicle, one will find a thread of design or engineering tradition that not only entrenches the brand’s historical charms but adds to the detail of production that ultimately sets it apart from others.
The size of the engine in the current Bentley Continental GT Speed is one such decision, that when considered merely on the surface, might beg some questions. I can assure you that those questions would have been carefully considered and dealt with in this, the most advanced iteration of a Continental GT ever. This is no ordinary Continental GT – it is the Speed, and therefore it represents the flagship-among-flagships and the pinnacle of grand touring. The ‘Speed’ suffix denotes a small increase in power and significant increases in dynamic ability. Think of it as the ultimate Bentley – if there could possibly be such a thing.
A 6.0-litre W12 seems woven into the engine bay, its significant power characterised on the exterior by subtle ‘Speed’ badges on the flanks, the elliptical tailpipes, Dark Tint grille and piano black light cluster surrounds and window trim which form part of the Blackline spec that is exclusive to the Speed.
Beyond these, the traditional Bentley signature lines stand out and true: the power line extending from that long bonnet to the pronounced bulge at the rear flanks. These, combined with the standard 22-inch wheels make for a profile that is unmistakeably Bentley in elegance and command. The light clusters are individual crystal cut glass pieces, works of an art in themselves with unimaginable detail from every angle. In their forms front or rear, they make for signature Continental GT finishes.
Those 22-inch wheels need further comment as they house one of the largest brake disc and calliper combinations in motoring. The 440mm, carbon ceramic brake discs are enormous but look closely and you’ll notice the largest brake calliper set fitted to a production car. These are standard fare on the Speed, such is the stopping power necessary to tame and temper some 2,3-tons of luxury grand tourer. And so it should be.
Of course, the pleasance of the cabin helps with that metaphor with first-class opulence and a cabin that is handcrafted to an owner’s idea of perfection. In Bentley terms, no two Conti GT’s will ever be the same and so in effect, we’re sampling a unique creation. Owners get to choose from literally hundreds of options. There is much to mention in the Continental GT but you need to see the entire cabin architecture and layout as one of bespoke luxury. Everything within has taken much longer to create and place than you would find in many other luxury cars. The switchgear is carved and knurled to jewel-like craftsmanship. So much so, that at times, the sparkle from the silver trim pieces does reflect into the cabin occupant’s eyes, something that could be avoided slightly by choosing console and dash trim in either single-finish or dual-finish woods or other material options. The hand embroidered seats and door trim feature Bentley’s signature diamond-in-diamond stitching for a true 3D look.
As far as in-car entertainment goes, the 12.3" high resolution touchscreen sits atop the fascia, with the full array of high-end functionality. You’ll recognise the UX if you’re familiar with other products within the group, but here it is Bentley branded and delivered within Bentley’s ultra-cool Rotating Display. It’s cool for various reasons: cool things are generally unnecessary. You don’t need it sure, but trust me, you want it. It’s cool because you can’t get it in any other car. It’s also cool because it rotates with the seamless precision that only Bentley would spend hundreds of hours to achieve.
If hi-fidelity sound is your thing, there’s another Bentley-only option to request, the 2,200 Watt Naim for Bentley system with bass that you’ll hear and feel through your seats. The system is extraordinary, beyond anything I’ve encountered. At more than R200 000, the Naim for Bentley sound is a step above other B&O options that cost R50 000 less.
The Bentley Continental GT Speed is about everything that name suggests. All Bentley and all Speed. Set off in Bentley (B) mode and essentially you’re in an auto driving mode where the car is reading your behaviour and adjusting to it in real time. The ride is immaculate even over harsh indents in the road, the ride quality is compelling yet expected. This is a Bentley after all. We dial things into ‘Sport’ mode and shift focus from just admiring the plush ride quality to actually unearthing the plethora of systems at work under the skin here. The Speed is presented as ‘the most dynamic road car in Bentley’s history’ and so they had to throw everything they could to make it so, not just near 500kW of power. It is the first of its kind to offer rear-wheel steering and an electronic LSD. This is big news. Add to that, an all-wheel drive system that is smarter to deliver more power to the rear (some 95%), a 48V anti-roll stabiliser and a torque-vectoring system.
To test this significant wizardry out, we’ve opted for the ‘stunning mountain pass’ option. My partner and editor Lerato is dubious at first, expecting some traits of the previous generation Continental GT to creep in – but no. We can report that this is indeed the most dynamic road-going Bentley ever created, such is its immense ability to turn in and rotate around anything we could throw at it. The 4WS makes a big difference here, but the torque split helps too, unloading those front tyres on turn-in and then holding true before 485kW and 900Nm pulls you out with mesmerising shove. We’re both astounded at the grip levels and the confidence with which we can push the car. For a 2.3-ton GT, this Speed is impressive but it isn’t lairy or loaded with acoustic drama. It’s done in a Bentley way, which means slight bassy burbles on lift-off and the incessant turbo breaths as you press on at full throttle and unleash all of the horses through all of those slick-shifting gears. The dual-clutch transmission is superb in any setting.
Everything about driving this car quickly has been considered to deliver it in a Bentley way. The steering too, as good as the car can rotate, doesn’t give you the pin-sharp accuracy and feel of a GT3 for instance but that’s okay in this environment because that would be out of place.
Mountain Pass complete, we head out onto the long and open road for scenic Grand Touring. After a few hundred kilometres, the Continental GT Speed is tempting us to just find the nearest place to make a U-turn and head on back to Johannesburg some 1,300kms away. It’s the Grand Tourer of GT’s with a low-flying ability second to none. Even at speed, the ride quality seems infallible. In Comfort mode, there’s a softening of the dampers for ultimate comfort.
As mentioned, the bespoke Bentley is yours to create and through that process, you’ll experience the very essence of luxury steeped in tradition. You’ll witness the difference between handcrafted and well manufactured and you’ll see that base price of R5 045 000 swell to something well into the R6M or R7M territory. Bentley has created some specification packages that group a number of them into one – this helps – but I can’t help think that Bentley customers would want to spend the time creating their own masterpiece, price and all.
Your other choices, should you want this level of handcrafted opulence? Not much. Certainly nothing as fast and certainly nothing within a hair of the price. The double 'R' brand will set you back much more money but nothing offered from Rolls is a sure competitor to the Speed. It sits in a league of its own really.
The Continental GT Speed is one of the finest cars that a significant amount of money can buy. It is intelligent and incredibly fast. It is striking and elegant too. If you get grand touring, you get Bentley. And if you’re searching for finely-mastered speed you get exactly that with this car.
The Speed is bristling with technology and power, too much to mention on a few pages here. Its improvement over its predecessor is immense and it will remain a timeless design for many decades to come. With Bentley pressing on towards hybridisation and EV’s in the very near future, this could be the last twin-turbo’d, W12, Continental GT Speed we’ll see.