This new Bentley Continental GT Speed is said to be the most performance-focused and dynamic road car the British brand has ever built. That’s quite a claim, but when you look at the work Bentley’s chassis engineers have put into upgrading the car’s hardware and software, you’ll understand why it’s not at all far-fetched.
For the first time on a production Bentley, there’s an electronically controlled limited-slip differential (eLSD ) at the rear, working with a recalibrated all-wheel-drive system to enhance cornering and, Bentley says, give some adjustability and a greater sense of fun.
Rear-axle steering is also new for the Speed. Again, it’s to boost agility, but also to make this two-tonne-plus model feel smaller and lighter than it actually is. Add the Speed’s optional carbon-ceramic brakes – enormous 440mm discs at the front and huge 10-piston calipers – and you’ll save an extra 33kg, too. The adaptive air suspension has been retuned in conjunction with the 48-volt active anti-roll set-up, while there’s also a less restrictive ESC system.
The 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine now produces 485kW alongside its 900Nme – which, with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox that shifts 50 per cent more quickly than before, plus four-wheel drive, is enough for a 3.5-second 0-100km/h time. Yet the motor actually plays second fiddle to the chassis.
Our drive was limited to the full circuit at Silverstone, and while this is by no means a track car (and nor is Bentley claiming it to be), the GT Speed acquits itself extremely well for what is designed as a luxury GT.
The rear-wheel steering helps to turn the car into a corner, the Dynamic Ride system keeps it flatter in the middle of the turn, and the eLSD and ESC work together to just bring the tail into play and fire it out towards the exit with subtle oversteer.
It feels a more neutral car in the way it handles. Of course, it understeers if you’re optimistic with your speed, but there’s more bite from the front axle (supported by the rear), plus a genuine level of adjustability on the throttle in Sport mode.
The steering is still quite light and mute, but it means you can command the car without too much effort; it’s arguably just the right level of involvement for a luxury GT with sporty aspirations.
The engine helps with the adjustability and therefore fun, because that 900Nm of torque is available from 1,500rpm to 5,000rpm – at which point peak power kicks in and is sustained until 6,000rpm.
It means there’s a huge reserve of performance to tap into. It’s never rampant, but the Speed marches on at such a rate down Silverstone’s Hangar Straight that the 335km/h top speed is entirely believable.
The refinement at high velocity highlights that it is a Bentley through and through, but despite the extra focus, it seems that Bentley hasn’t compromised comfort or serenity. The firm has pushed the Speed’s capability in Sport mode, but the Bentley and Comfort settings retain the GT’s incredibly easy-going, cosseting nature.
To differentiate it from lesser models (a relative term) in the line-up, the Speed has a dark-tint radiator grille and lower intake, a subtly enhanced bodykit, a new design of 22-inch alloy wheel, and discreet badging.
This is replicated inside on the dash, the treadplates and the embroidered headrests, while the diamond quilted leather and a new dark engine-turned aluminium finish for the centre console are standard.
Of course, owners can and will personalise their cars to the nth degree with a Speed-specific colour split and many different leather, trim and veneer options. However, the material quality, build, fit and finish are exquisite and exactly what we’ve come to expect from a modern Bentley.
Its GT touring credentials are reinforced by a 358-litre boot and two small back seats for kids or extra luggage; we wouldn’t call it efficient, but with cylinder deactivation on the W12 it’ll return an average of around 12L/100km – although fuel economy is still to be confirmed. Speed owners are clearly more concerned over the distance they can travel between fills than efficiency, though.
Bentley asked us three questions before our early first drive of the Continental GT Speed: Firstly, is this new car the pinnacle of the Continental GT? On first acquaintance, you’d have to say yes.
Secondly, is the Continental GT Speed the most dynamic Bentley road car ever? Again, from what we’ve tasted, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Finally, is the Speed the best two-door GT in the world? To answer that we’ll have to spend a few more miles behind the wheel, but the new Bentley Continental GT Speed is certainly in with a shout of that crown.
The Continental GT Speed is the most agile, alert and – importantly – fun road car from Bentley yet. It’s lost none of its ultra-luxurious appeal, offering comfort and quality in abundance, but the new additions have pushed its dynamic ability to new heights. It’s a brilliant expression of a petrol-powered Bentley as the brand enters the last chapter of its combustion-engined era.