Review: Bentley Continental GT Speed

Bentley Continental GT Speed – Click above for high-res image gallery

When we reviewed the Bentley Continental Flying Spur a couple of years ago, we showed you just how many other forms of transportation could be bought with the car's $183,825 out-the-door asking price. For this review of Bentley's new super coupe, the Continental GT Speed, we thought we'd list just a few of the cars that produce the same or less horsepower than the fastest Flying B ever made. The complete list is rather long considering that the GT Speed is powered by a twin-turbo, twelve-cylinder engine producing 600 horsepower, but here are just a few.

Dodge Viper – 600 horsepower
Lamborghini Murcielago – 571 horsepower
Ford GT – 550 horsepower
Porsche 911 GT2 – 530 horsepower
Corvette Z06 – 505 horsepower
Ferrari F430 Scuderia – 503 horsepower
1999 Oldsmobile Alero Coupe – 150 horsepower

While it's true that cars with 600+ horsepower are becoming common in the supercar segment, the GT Speed's 48-horsepower bump over the standard Continental GT drives it into some truly rarified air. Read on to find out how it fared in the Autoblog Garage.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

There aren't many things in this world more expensive than a Bentley, and our GT Speed tester tops the automaker's Continental range with base price of $199,990 and an as-tested MSRP of $240,045. That's why we thought what better place to do a photoshoot than the back lot of my father's business, Neff Bros. RV Rentals. It's chock full of dozens of parked motorhomes, most of which cost six figures like the GT Speed. Unlike the GT Speed, they tend to rattle a bit over bumps and could be outdriven by my 150-hp Alero despite sporting engines like Ford's big 6.8L V10. But they do well as symbols of conspicuous consumption, just like the GT Speed.

Based on Bentley's standard Continental GT, the GT Speed gets a number of tweaks to its exterior, interior and, most importantly, engine to make it the ultimate car ever created by the men and women from Crewe. Though subtle, the exterior changes include a new front fascia with a wider lower air intake and a more upright grille, all of which serve to force more air into the twin-turbo W12 behind the grille.

While 19-inch alloy wheels are standard on the GT Speed, our tester was equipped with optional 20-inch multispoke wheels sporting a dark tint. These are a bargain at $1,320 and are easily the best wheels ever to grace a Bentley. The carbon ceramic disc brakes they frame, however, might require a little more consideration at $16,500 for the set. Regardless, they all let the uneducated bystander know that the 'B' on your hood doesn't stand for Buick.

Aside from the new lower air intake, grille and wheels, the exterior of the GT Speed is exactly the same as the base model except for the gunmetal gray color from the Arnage range called Anthracite that is a $4,090 option not available on other Continental models. While some would argue that's not enough differentiation, we appreciate the lack of wings, vents and skirts that keeps these classic lines intact. There is a concealed rear aerofoil that deploys automatically at the base of the rear window, but even that's discreet. Because of this restraint on the part of Bentley's designers, the GT Speed wouldn't be expected to reach a top speed of 202 at first glance. But it does. That should qualify it as a sleeper of sorts.

Indeed, those who weren't blown away by the GT Speed's styling instantly understood this car's class when the doors were opened. Most Bentleys use a herd's worth of cream-colored leather and a felled forest of wood veneer to impress the client, but the GT Speed ditches the bark entirely for dark-tinted, textured aluminum panels and two colors of leather. The top of the dash, center console and upper portions of each door are upholstered in dark gray leather with contrasting red stitching. The rest of the doors, the seats and part of the steering wheel, however, are wrapped in hide the color of cow's blood. It's a deep red that's rich, elemental and more than a bit eye catching.

Our tester's two-tone, three-spoke steering wheel was a $530 option worth every penny. Aside from just looking sportier to match this car's mission, the new wheel is also one of the most ergonomic we've ever used. It's adorned with redundant controls for the stereo and buttons for the cruise control and Bluetooth cell phone operation, but it impressed with a simple design feature we've never noticed on other cars. All the steering wheel controls are located on the main spokes within two patches of aluminum that are angled in two separate directions. The top section of each aluminum panel is angled upwards so you push down to press a button, while the bottom section is angled forward so you push up to hit the buttons. Most steering wheels have buttons that face out at the same angle as the wheel itself, which we didn't realize was more difficult for our digits to operate until we encountered a wheel designed the right way.

No Bentley has left the Autoblog Garage without drawing ire for its electronics, specifically for their nav systems, HVAC controls and infotainment systems. The GT Speed is no exception using the same components found in every other Continental model. First off, the screen dominating the center console is not touch sensitive, and at this price it should be. Rather, it's controlled via a dial placed in the middle of a long strip of buttons and two columns of dials on either side of the screen. It's a pain in the ass to use and we've found more user-friendly systems on vehicles that cost less than this car's $40,000 worth of options.

Once we found Howard 100 on Sirius, we got past the electronics and explored how the GT Speed works as a daily driver compared with the other Conti models. Not surprisingly, the GT Speed can play the part of boulevard cruiser as well as any other Continental. Its air suspension is well suited to soak up bumps that immediately bypass the low profile Pirelli P-Zeros, and sound suppression is on par with a panic room. The GT Speed is not as comfortable as a regular Continental GT thanks to its lowered ride height, uprated springs and dampers, and solid mounted front subframe, but Bentley says that it's at least on par with the ride of a 2007 Continental GT.

The GT Speed's front seats are also not excessively bolstered and can be adjusted every which way. In fact, there are so many adjustment options it was difficult to find just the right ratio of back angle, seat cushion extension and lumbar support to get comfortable. The rear seats, however, are largely uninhabitable with mere centimeters of leg room. If you want to carry four people in a Bentley and go fast, buy a Flying Spur, which also gains a Speed model for 2009.

When you want to transform the GT Speed from cruiser to bruiser, there are a few steps to follow. First, flick the shifter into S. Then locate the control panel immediately behind the shifter housing the Start/Stop button, warning lights and seat heater control wheels. Amidst those controls are buttons to manually raise the airofoil, adjust the damping rate of the air suspension between three settings of firmness and adjust the ride height. With the suspension firm, ride height low and shifter set to S, the GT Speed is ready to drop all pretense of luxury and open a can of whoop ass unlike any Bentley has ever done before.

As mentioned earlier, the GT Speed produces 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque from its 6.0L twin-turbo W12 engine. It may be a product of parent group VW/Audi's stewardship and lack the lineage of the 6.75L V8 in the Arnage, but the W12 makes up for these shortcomings by being more powerful and fuel-efficient. Of course, fuel efficiency is relative in this field considering the GT Speed could barely muster 17 mpg over 300 miles of highway driving (the EPA rates it at 10 city / 17 highway). The rest of the GT Speed's spec sheet includes a ZF 6HP26 six-speed automatic that can be shifted manually in a separate gate or via long paddles on the steering column and a continuous all-wheel drive system with a torsen limited slip center differential that defaults to a 50:50 torque split between the front and rear axles.

We ran into a dilemma when it came time to put these components through their paces. How do we test the limits of the Bentley Continental GT Speed in the middle of suburbia? This isn't a problem when reviewing a Ford Flex, but a 600-hp car demands a long strip of Smokey-free runway and corners that don't exit into a school zone. We had neither to offer the GT Speed, so it never melted off our faces on its way up to 202 mph, rearranged our internal organs in a decreasing radius turn nor bruised our brains with those carbon ceramic brakes. We pushed it wherever we felt we could, but the limits of this car are so astronomically high that finding the edge of the envelope would've risked our very freedom for ten to life.

There was this one time, though. We were taking pictures of the car until well past dusk one night and the industrial park was deserted when we left. After staring at this performance machine for four hours, our curiosity could be kept in check no longer. With the shifter set to S, suspension firm, ride low, aerofoil up and heart pounding, this blogger abandoned all common sense and mashed the pedal to the floor. What happened next was somehow familiar though unexpected.

I had read about it in reviews of other supercars like the Bugatti Veyron. That car has a lot more power than the GT Speed, but journos report of surprisingly fuss-free launches with no fish tailing or wheel spin. One second you're not moving and the next you're flying past 60 mph on your way to warp speed. Just like that the GT Speed took me to 60 mph faster than I've ever been on public roads (Bentley officially claims the time to be 4.3 seconds). All four tires hooked up like they were cogs meshed with gears below the street. It went straighter than a train on a track and never required a correction. And while I could hear the twelve cylinders and two turbos doing their work, they were well isolated from the cabin. This was first class on a cruise ship with warp drive.

I then began to brake, having reached my own limit before even coming close to exploring what this car can really do. In a game of chicken with the GT Speed, I lost miserably. But that is all right with us because we don't imagine many GT Speed owners will be flogging their car like this anyway. We've come to realize that one shouldn't buy the GT Speed for its performance alone, as there are plenty of supercars that can match it. Rather, you buy the GT Speed because it can run with the big dogs when requested and pamper like a proper Bentley the rest of the time. Put another way, the Bentley Continental GT Speed is the gentleman's supercar.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

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