Bentley cracks the 200 mph mark with the Continental GT Speed.
by Lawrence Ulrich
The Bentley Continental GT changed the landscape of modern ultra-luxury cars “” and not just with its swoopy good looks.
The Bentley arrived as a 2004 model for $155,000: six figures and then some, yet barely half the price of traditional British royals from Bentley or former partner turned rival Rolls-Royce. By borrowing the aluminum chassis, all-wheel-drive system, and engine components from Audi/Volkswagen (which took control of Bentley in 1998), the automaker held costs in check without sacrificing style, luxury, or performance. In fact, the Bentley Continental GT was the fastest and most powerful Bentley in history, and more technically advanced than the far pricier and more conservative Arnage.
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The lesson Bentley learned was that even rich folks love a bargain: Continental GT sales exploded like the cork out of a bottle of Dom Perignon. The coupe”s success soon led to the Continental Flying Spur sedan and Continental GTC convertible. Last year, Bentley sold nearly 4,200 cars in North America, a nine-fold increase from 2003.
To sustain that momentum, Bentley is now pitching an upgraded performance version of the Continental, dubbed the GT Speed. While the Continental was already one of the world”s most powerful luxury cars with its 552-horsepower, twin-turbocharged W12 engine, the Speed edition rounds up to an even 600 hp. Thanks to its added muscle, the Continental GT Speed is the first Bentley to surpass the 200-mph top speed threshold; the company says it can hit 202 mph, which is 4 mph more than the base Bentley Continental GT.
The Continental GT Speed”s 0-60 mph sprint takes 4.3 seconds, shaving three-tenths from the standard coupe”s time. From a standstill, the GT Speed breaks 100 mph in just 10.3 seconds.
Besides added hustle, the Bentley Continental GT Speed is lower to the ground and has larger wheels with grippier tires, a sportier air suspension, recalibrated steering, and subtle styling changes. It also adds several standard niceties that are options on the Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible.
Naturally, the price rises along with the power. The GT Speed stickers at $206,285, which includes a $3,700 gas guzzler tax and a $2,595 destination charge. That”s a $26,000 premium over your basic Continental GT.
The Continental GT has a lovely, classic shape that perfectly suits its character as a generously sized four-seater designed for posh high-speed travel. Like all Bentleys, its styling suggests a particularly healthy financial portfolio, while staying well within the bounds of good taste.
All Continental GT models get a squarer, more vertical front end as of 2008. Wider openings on the dark-tinted chrome mesh grille and larger air inlets below the bumper are unique to the GT Speed and boost airflow to the engine by 14 percent, which is one secret to the GT Speed”s extra power. Larger, dual exhaust outlets with spiraled grooves inside also eke out more power: They have spiral grooves inside, like the barrel of a rifle, to better expel gases from the exhaust system and reduce backpressure that can impinge on engine power.
The Bentley Continental GT”s doors are long and awkwardly heavy. At least they”re designed to stay open by themselves at any position rather than swing freely like the doors on lesser vehicles. This feature can help to avoid smacking them into nearby cars or objects, whether you or a valet is parking your $200,000 super coupe.
The trunk opens and closes automatically but is hampered by a narrow opening. Once past this impediment, the space extends quite far toward the back seat. A pair of wheeled carry-on suitcases plus two or three smallish duffels will max out the 13.1 cubic feet of space.
We weren”t enamored with the Moroccan Blue paint of our test model, a $4,090 option that”s also available on the Arnage. The high-wattage hue didn”t seem to fit the car”s character; the Bentley Continental GT cuts a more persuasive profile in black or various shades of gray and silver.
The Bentley Continental GT”s cabin provides a plausible answer to the question of why anyone would drop six figures on a luxury car: Hand-crafted leather, burnished metals, and wood inlays with precisely matched grains put the Bentley a tactile level above a Lexus or Mercedes. The headliner”s front-to-back expanse of leather is richer than the seat coverings on some luxury cars.
The Continental GT Speed adds the Mulliner package of extras that are optional on other Continentals, including aluminum pedals, a diamond-quilted upholstery pattern, and a beautifully finished, knurled-metal shift knob that we find a key detail for this car: It”s the royal scepter of shifters.
A smattering of options, including 20-inch multispoke wheels ($1,320); deep-pile, leather-trimmed carpet mats ($440); extra wood veneer on the doors ($890); a two-tone leather steering wheel ($530); and seats embellished with “Bentley” lettering ($390), put the final tally for our test car at $215,655.
The Bentley Continental GT Speed offers many more bespoke options: Two new metals trims, in light or dark aluminum, can be had alone or in tandem, with a choice of seven different woods.
Our test model featured a striking two-tone combination of deep blue leather on upper cabin surfaces, with an orange-ish saddle leather called Newmarket Tan on its lower reaches, both well complemented by dark-stained burl walnut.
While the Bentley will make any front-seat occupant feel like a CEO, there”s barely room for two small children in back. Adults will fit only if people in front scoot their seats well forward.
There are a couple of quirks in the cabin: The six-disc CD changer is mounted in the glovebox, far from the driver”s reach. And while the wooden console that divides the front and back seats is as pretty as the counter at a Burberry boutique, the cupholders are only big enough for one beverage up front, one in back.
The Bentley Continental GT”s biggest interior missteps are the VW-based navigation system and audio controls. Not only are they the only visible evidence of this car”s down-market origins, the navigation system is among the industry”s weakest, with a dinky screen, dated graphics, and less-than-intuitive operation.
Like the VW Phaeton chassis on which it”s based, the Continental GT”s structure is made largely of weight-saving aluminum. Yet while Bentley managed to shave another 77 pounds from the GT Speed, this is still an enormously hefty car at 5,180 pounds.
The Bentley Continental GT Speed’s performance hallmark is how well it disguises its chubby weight. Its sheer mass ensures that the Bentley will never drive like a Porsche 911, yet it will still caress curves at ridiculous rates of travel. The Continental GT Speed is all about attaining and holding unspeakable speeds without disturbing occupants with such plebian things as the sound of a bellowing engine, squealing tires, or any other audible disturbance caused by more than two tons of metal flying around a bend.
At full throttle, you can hear some twin-turbo whine on top of the titanic W12’s hum. But ride and handling sensations are muted, except for the sense that all the other cars keep getting in your way. If it weren’t for median-lurking lawmen, the Bentley Continental GT Speed could cruise highways anxiety-free at 100 mph or even 120 mph.
Honestly, it”s not easy to sense the difference in acceleration between the 552-hp and 600-hp versions of the Continental GT: Both are rockets, so it’s just a matter of determining which will arrive at the moon a few moments before the other. Yet a 15 percent bump in torque, to 553 pound-feet, does make the Continental GT Speed feel stronger in some critical situations. For instance, going from 50-70 mph is a thrilling, 2.3-second explosion of force and makes passing Interstate slowpokes almost too much fun.
A rotary knob on the console adjusts the self-leveling air suspension to one of four settings, from softest ride to sharpest handling. We found the setting just below the full-sport mode offered the best mix of comfort and control.
Thanks to its upgraded chassis and suspension, the Continental GT Speed doesn”t ride much more harshly than the standard version, even with its chunky 20-inch wheels, shod with wider, lower-profile Pirelli P Zero tires designed specifically for this model.
The Continental GT Speed also adds a new dynamic setting to the standard stability-control system that intervenes later when it senses wheel spin and then reapplies torque quicker to allow for more spirited driving.
The six-speed automatic transmission can fend for itself, or be shifted manually via the console shifter or a pair of L-shaped paddles behind the steering wheel.
Not surprising considering the crushing combination of weight and speed, the Bentley Continental GT Speed features the largest brakes of any production car on the market as of the time this article was published. They work as advertised, reining the Bentley in with consistent ease. Carbon-silicon composite brakes are a $16,500 option, which reduce unsprung weight at the wheels by about 25 pounds to improve handling.
The Bentley Continental GT Speed seems to defy the laws of physics, but the payback comes at the pump: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy of 10 miles per gallon in the city and 17 mpg on the highway is dismal; we saw a combined 12 mpg over a week of driving.
In the unlikely event that a Bentley will rack up the 15,000 yearly miles of a typical car, that adds up to an annual fuel bill of roughly $3,500. Either way, we doubt that pricey fill-ups will dissuade anyone with the means to spoil themselves with a Bentley Continental GT Speed.
Is the Bentley Continental GT Speed for You?
Buy the Continental GT Speed if
You”re a price-is-no-object buyer who wants to command the road and the attention of passersby; 552 hp and the exclusivity of the base Continental GT just isn”t enough; the GT Speed”s added performance and features seem worth the extra price.
Keep Looking if
You”d rather not be stared at everywhere you go; the Bentley”s miniscule back seat doesn”t cut it, which makes a Bentley Continental Flying Spur or a rival sedan a better choice; the standard Continental GT is expensive enough, thank you.
Two adults up front, two toddlers or vertically challenged adults in back.
Aston Martin DB9; Maserati GranTurismo; Porsche 911 GT2; Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG; Mercedes-Benz CL600
Did You Know…
The Bentley Continental GT Speed takes its name from the company”s Speed models that first appeared in 1923. Company founder W.O. Bentley had driving enthusiasts in his sights even back then, offering a “Speed Model” of the standard 3-liter Bentley with a higher engine compression ratio and twin carburetors.
Bentley Continental GT Speed Gallery:
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