- Max Speed
What do we have here, then?
This is the new Bentley Continental GT Speed. The name isn’t new, and there are precisely no prizes for guessing the role this suffix has alluded to since its 2007 introduction – it's the quickest Conti GT on sale, as well as the priciest, starting at £209,900.
Only this time things are different. They’ve not gone and downsized the engine and made it slower - in fact with a new 650bhp peak and 208mph top speed, it’s 24bhp and a single mile-per-hour better off than the Conti GT W12 on which it’s based. (As the model line's tech flagship, there’ll be no V8-powered Speed.) It's just that the main focus hasn't been on outright pace...
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Don’t fret that its power and velocity gains are subtle; this time the Speed has a much more impressive trick up its sleeve. Namely drifting like it’s reached the final round of auditions for the next Gymkhana drop. Or, to quote Bentley’s much more eloquent tone of voice, “the driver can choose to balance throttle and steering to deliver effortless, progressive yaw angles”.
This much we already discovered on track at Silverstone, enjoying adequate space – and no oncoming traffic – with which to explore how the addition of four-wheel steering, a new electronic limited-slip differential and a much great rear torque bias for the AWD system have altered the Conti’s usually classy behaviour.
Now it’s time to try it on road, where the Speed is likely to spend most – if not all – of its time. For all its new sideways party tricks, who’s buying a Bentley for trackdays? And how many trackday marshals won’t immediately black flag you for redecorating the asphalt at the rate this Bentley wishes you to? Pottering around on road is where it’ll still shine brightest, however much of its drifting (or top speed) potential is thus wasted.
Get in, push the starter button, watch the dashboard Toblerone whirr round to the nav screen, and pull away. There’s no immediate change over standard and you might wonder what all the fuss is about. In Bentley mode – which the car starts up in – dynamic changes have taken place in steps rather than leaps. The addition of 4WS doesn't even tangibly affect responses. This remains a car which steers lightly and rides plushly. For all its drifty boasts, you won’t be throwing in opposite lock at the mere sight of a mini roundabout. It’s as placid and pulse-lowering as Contis ever were.
Flick the drive mode dial round into Sport (or get fiddling with Individual mode in the sub-menus) and things alter more notably. Now up to 95 per cent of power goes to the back axle, with a maximum of 28 per cent able to head up front. The 4WS is more assertive, the eLSD fully active and the suspension just that bit firmer.
All told, it shrinks the GT’s 2.2-tonnes uncannily, and you’ll snap into tight corners more keenly than ever and propel out of them with bamboozingly little fuss. The car’s swagger on road hasn’t transformed at the rate it has on track – it’s just that it now does everything you ask of it significantly hastier. It’s worth noting the ride is tangibly fiddly in Sport, though only judged by Bentley’s usual standards. This isn’t some spine-shattering track special. Just a car with obvious vim and vigour when you’ve notched it into its gnarliest mode.
No skids, then.
It’d be improper on the road. But you don’t need to play the hero to feel how beneficial the Speed’s dynamic gains are. The way it steers into corners without so much of a sniff of understeer shows this is a car way more agile than before… and without Bentley even considering stripping out weight like its rivals might. The main concession to shedding mass is the option of ginormous carbon-ceramic brakes, but the Speed requires larger 22in wheels in order to accommodate them, undoing at least a few of the discarded grams.
But for all our claims this Speed is about so much more than, um, speed, perhaps its most noticeable change of all is just how much extra gusto it exhibits exiting corners. In Sport the engine will hold revs more keenly and call on downshifts more often, while that rear differential helps transfer power to the road quicker.
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What’s the result?
Big Bentleys usually usually have an ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ beat between their driver planting the throttle and the car firing itself through the space-time continuum. With the Speed, it’s gone. While its on-paper numbers are only marginally different, its on-road experience is much mightier. This is a Conti that doesn’t try to talk you down from aggressive acceleration. It actively embraces it.
Only ‘aggressive’ isn’t quite the right word. Because for all its extra poke and precision, the Speed remains a car that’ll iron out your stresses most of the time you’re in it. And for all its undoubted additional talent on tight, technical roads, I’m not sure quite how often you’ll detour from the most direct route possible to witness its new moves. But that doesn’t stop the sportiest Bentley road car yet being damn impressive. Nor the most irresistible product Crewe currently makes.