When the Bentley Continental GT first appeared, I was not completely overwhelmed. It was hugely fast and completely dependable (unlike previous generations of Bentleys, whose reliability was not always in proportion to their price), but it felt a bit too similar to a VW Phaeton for a £120,000 GT.
Hence, when the GT Speed arrived in our office, I was not knocking people over in my rush to get to the keys. However, when I did take it out, I have to admit to being converted. The Speed adds a layer of visual drama to the basic car – especially inside with the quilted leather sports seats. It also raises the level of performance from "excellent" to "rocketship": even 2350kg cannot blunt the effect of 600bhp and 553lb/ft of torque.
However, the most surprising change is how much more dynamic the car feels. Nothing this heavy is ever going to handle like a Lotus, but it changes direction with real alacrity. For the first time, the Bentley does disguise its sheer bulk and can be driven as a (very large) sports car, rather than just aimed at a straight piece of road.
The really impressive aspect of the car is that the much improved handling has not impaired the ride quality. Despite 20-inch wheels and 35-section tyres, which normally sound the death-knell for comfort, the GT Speed has a firm, but beautifully controlled ride. This is truly an "and" car: towering performance and whisper quiet cruising, excellent handing and a comfortable ride.
You can argue that with a price of £144,000, you have the right to expect a car to cover all the bases, but price does not alter physics. It still takes a lot of skill to balance all those conflicting requirements no matter how much money is being spent.
As regards the price, I would say that the GT Speed is not bad value, even in these recessionary times. Having just driven the excellent £90,000 Jaguar XJ Supersports, you can still see and feel where the extra £50,000 goes in the Bentley.
Of course, when you get to the very top of any field, the law of diminishing returns applies. It's like football: the difference between the cost of a team that can finish in the Top 10 of the Premiership, and a team that can finish in the Top 4, is said to be £100 million. Put like that, the extra polish and performance of a Bentley is not a bad return for those fortunate enough to afford it – and the GT Speed is better value than the less expensive standard model.