First drive: New Bentley Continental GT Speed
What is it?
Bentley's new range-topping model has been created due to customer demand. It would seem a number of people with lots of ready cash to flash have asked the Crewe-based firm for something with more shove and drama. And this is it – the fastest production Bentley ever. To distinguish it over lesser versions, Continental GT Speed models get a dark tinted grille; chrome bezels on the rear lamp clusters; rifled exhaust pipes; unique 21-inch alloys; W12 badges on the front wings (added, once again, due to customer demand); diamond quilted leather; drilled pedals, knurled gear lever; 'Speed' treadplates; and an engine-turned aluminium dashboard. There's also a new sat-nav system that can take seven-digit postcodes – to satisfy customers who visit National Trust properties rather than football clubs.
> What's under the bonnet?
An utterly glorious heart. It's the same engine that's found in the standard Continental GT W12, but this has been vigorously reworked to throw out 616bhp. The hand-built, twin-turbocharged lump is mated to a four-wheel-drive system and can top 205mph. At that speed, 4,000-litres of air per second pass through the radiator, and along the way you'll be enjoying that prodigious pace courtesy of an entirely flat torque curve. The 800Nm of torque is available at just 2,000rpm, allowing the Speed to push on to a stonking 205mph top speed. Meanwhile there's a new eight-speed ZF gearbox to make the posh rocket as enjoyable and economical to drive. Combined mpg is a surprising 19.5 (Continental GT V8 returns 26.7mpg; the Continental GT W12 – the same 19.5mpg) and CO2 emissions are 338g/km.
What's the kit like?
Well, it's just as you'd expect. Speed owners get the Mulliner Driving Specification as standard, which includes such treats as diamond-quilted leather, a knurled gearknob and drilled aluminium pedals. The Speed costs £151k – that's around £15k more than the standard W12 Continental GT, and that's before the customer has even looked at the options list. Our test car retailed at £173k and had ceramic brakes that cost the same as a Renault Twingo. But even at £10,500, they are needed to help bring the 2.3-tonne Conti to a halt. In fact, if you stand on the brakes at 205mph, 10 MJ of energy is converted to heat – enough to power a family house for six hours!
Not many really – but, like the Bentley, they're all fabulously expensive. There's the four-wheel-drive Ferrari FF which has around 40 more bhp but costs £227k. Other two-wheel-drive rivals are the Aston Martin Rapide and the Mercedes-Benz CL 63 AMG – both at around £10k more.
Is it any good?
Gloriously so. GT Speeds also have a new free-breathing exhaust which, when Sport mode is selected, turns the normally serene Bentley into a hot rod. The noise emitted from the exhaust is biblical and on overrun, pops and crackles. The steering is heavy and direct, while the brake pedal has a pleasing amount of feel through it. The power is unrelenting and spectacularly linear, but it does feel nose-heavy during fast cornering. Also, the ride is stiff even in the most comfortable setting, and on some roads the car sometimes feels fidgety. Happily though, the interior is as cosseting as you'd expect a modern Bentley to be, blending technology and heritage in an impressive way.
The AOL Cars verdict
The GT Speed only exists because a number of wealthy owners want the very best Bentley regardless of cost. To us mere mortals, the £26k cheaper Continental GT V8 ticks all the right boxes, but we all know that the Speed will be hugely popular just because it is the fastest. There's no doubting how fabulously rapid the Speed is and it even feels tremendously useable everyday. We're off to smash the piggy bank open.
Model: Bentley Continental GT Speed
Price: £173,325 (as tested)
Engine: 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged petrol
Power: 616bhp, 800Nm
Max speed: 205mph
MPG (comb'd): 19.5