2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed
– Very, very fast
– Timeless styling inside and out
– Ride and handling
– Very, very expensive
– Rear-seat space
– Fuel economy
The Bentley Continental GT did not need to be any quicker. But someone out there felt it needed to be, and hence we have the W12 Speed, with more than 600 horses under the hood. That’s more powerful than pretend-supercars like the Audi R8 V10 and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. In a pure luxury car.
You’d never guess it from its looks. The Speed features the same facelifted appearance sported by the rest of the Continental GT range, and it’s hard to distinguish between all of them. The Speed does get slightly reshaped bumpers and unique wheels, but only a true aficionado will be able to spot them.
Inside, there’s almost no difference between the Speed and its lesser siblings, aside from door-sill plates engraved with its namesake. Any Bentley’s interior can be customised exactly to an owner’s desires, as long as it’s in the catalogue, and the Speed is no different. Our test car’s two-tone cabin was trimmed with black-beige leather from top to bottom, including the dash and door panels, with huge chunks of wood fitted here and there. We’ve even driven other versions with red leather, carbon-fibre bits and aluminium trim, so all sorts of combinations are possible, if one waits for the custom-order to be built. The intricate detailing is brilliant, but some of it may be a bit too fragile to be manhandled by, say, kids or idiot journalists, as our well-used test car showed minor signs of wear.
The GT is big on the outside for what is essentially a 2+2 seater. Sure, there’s more than enough space up front for two passengers in the cosy partially-bolstered bucket seats, but the upright rear buckets can only hold shorter people, that too in discomfort. There are several cubbies and pockets, something that its exotic rivals usually overlook in the pursuit of style. There’s even a cover for the cup-holders that pops off to become a case for your sunglasses. Even the individual centre-armrests can open up to store small stuff in. The boot, which isn’t particularly big, has a cargo net to hold down smaller bags.
A regular GT comes well-loaded with tech, so there aren’t any gains when upgrading to a Speed. Bentley’s Volkswagen-sourced touchscreen multimedia system does the job well, with integrated stereo, phone and navigation controls, as well as short-cut buttons below for each. There’s a Bluetooth phone handset hidden away in the armrest, for whatever reason. The Naim-branded stereo is excellent, while the dual-zone a/c did a decent job in May weather. Other features include ventilated power seats, powered boot lid, adaptive cruise control, HID headlights with LED running lamps, front-side airbags, smart keyless entry and start, rear camera with sensors, and other knick-knacks.
The car is powered by Bentley’s ubiquitous turbocharged 6.0-litre “W12” engine, upgraded in the Speed to make 616 hp at 6000 rpm and an insane 800 Nm of torque from only 2000 rpm, with an 8-speed automatic feeding all four wheels. The big motor moved the 2395-kg coupe in 4.9 seconds during our afternoon 0-100 kph test. The amount of kick is satisfyingly brutal, whether from standstill or flooring it while already doing 120 kph. We didn’t try it, but the Speed can apparently hit 330 kph, making it one of the fastest cars on the road. It also burns fuel faster than most cars, as we managed a burn rate of 19.8 litres/100 km during our time.
The GT Speed offers great grip around corners, largely feeling flat in terms of body roll thanks to adaptive air suspension. The suspension can be firmed up at the press of a button. The steering is soft, but offers a bit of feel, while the brakes are fairly strong. The stability served up by the all-wheel-drive is generally unflappable, and while it is easy to overcook the front tyres of this heavy beast on sharper turns, all four wheels always stay planted on the road while electronic nannies modulate the power to keep things in line, more so than in the regular GT. However, we have to mention that the Speed isn’t the most agile Continental you can buy — that would be the lighter V8 version, but that’s a story for another day.
The paddle-shifters are thin plastic sticks behind the wheel that are a bit of a reach, but get the job done. Selecting “sport” mode makes the throttle response sharper, but it can get too jumpy at low speeds, so the smoother “normal” mode is preferable in city driving.
The car rides a bit firmly, but is still smooth enough on most roads, especially if you set the suspension at the softest setting. It’s a marked improvement compared to the overly-harsh Speed we drove in 2008. For a car that rides on low-profile 275/35 tyres on massive 21-inch wheels, it’s a feat to still be comfortable. Wind and road noise is ably hushed, barely noticeable even at 120 kph unless you’re paying attention. The GT remains one of the best cars to go on a silent cross-country road-trip with.
The Speed comes with a sizeable price premium over lesser Bentleys. There is definitely a marked difference in power and handling between the regular GT and the Speed, however small it may be. On the street, it matters little, but the Speed’s extra agility is welcome if you like to hit mountain roads with your leather-lined tank while also retaining your dominant status at the local drag-strip. Not that you would, but you could.
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