2008 Bentley Continental GT Speed
– Immense presence
– Immense power
– Immense cabin quality
– Immense size
– Immense price
– Immense fuel consumption
Rich people have it tough in this part of the world. With the local media being too chicken to report on the personal lives of influential figures in this region, the elite folks have no way of reaching the heights of notoriety that their Western counterparts — Paris, Lindsay et al — have achieved. So about the only way to repair their bruised egos a bit is to cruise around town in a flashy expensive car, and praying bystanders turn their heads. We went around doing the same thing with our Bentley Continental GT Speed tester. People kept looking at us, and it really was more embarrassing than stimulating.
But the GT Speed is much more than just a gross display of wealth. An upgrade of the “base” Continental GT, the Speed adds a handful of performance enhancements, while keeping the existing elegance of the standard model intact. In fact, we really can’t tell the difference between a common one and a Speed one. We believe the front bumper and alloy rims are shaped a bit differently on the outside, but that’s about it. The only places where “Speed” is mentioned are on the shiny sill-steps when you open the door. Costing about the same as two-and-a-half Jaguar XKRs, we’d expect a few more badges.
Opening the huge doors, we were greeted by real stitched leather and actual patterned metal covering every inch of the cabin. It was a refreshing change from the usual hard-plastic crap in many of today’s cars, but then again, at this price point, upscale materials were guaranteed. Even the a/c vents were solid metal, with classical adjustment knobs sticking out of the upright dashboard. The ambience was great, even if ergonomics took a dive in the process. We still haven’t figured out how to elegantly adjust those odd vents without looking a like confused monkey. Other minor annoyances were the keyless-starter button placed on the passenger side of the shifter, as well as an electronic button-handbrake that doesn’t auto-release when in gear, unlike similar systems by BMW and Jaguar. The Volkswagen-derived LCD-displayed computer is also awful to use, with no touchscreen, too many menus, and a partially-working Bluetooth phone. Also, the driving position is too low, the front cup-holders are under the central armrests so either one or the other can be used at any one time, there is no standard sunroof, the rear seating is very cramped, and there is no easy-to-reach place to keep your mobile phone or wallet.
But what’s a Bentley if it didn’t have any quirks? On the bright side, the Bentley still has a bit more rear legroom and quicker rear access than a Jaguar XKR, which counts for something, especially since we actually carried displeased adults in the back. Headroom is good too, probably due to the low seating position, while the power-adjustable front seats are well-bolstered and great for a two-person cruise. Cool features we liked were the large rear luggage area, the electric open-close function of the rear trunk lid, and doors which suck in automatically if not closed properly. We just wish the a/c was stronger, or at least cooled faster, as the VW unit won’t cut it at the highest temperatures.
The 6.0-litre V12 twin-turbo engine leaves nothing to argument however. Raise your voice, and it will pound you down with 600 horses at 6000 rpm, while humbling overconfident street-racers with 749 Nm of constant torque, beginning at a startlingly low 1750 rpm. With this much firepower, the GT Speed’s 2355 kg of fats are a non-issue at the dragstrip. Sure, on our way to a 0-to-100 kph time of 4.8 seconds, we could actually see the fuel gauge twitch towards empty, but petrol consumption, burning furiously at 24.9 litres per 100 km on average, isn’t something that well-heeled owners worry about. Few owners will ever reach its claimed 326 kph top speed either. But this machine is now the second-quickest car we’ve ever timed, after the Corvette Z06.
The GT Speed is a sure-footed ride thanks to its all-wheel-drive system. Hard acceleration is handled with a distinct wheelspin on take-off, and the smooth 6-speed automatic handles shifts fine on its own. But an obvious frustration is the delayed response of the throttle pedal, which takes its own sweet time sending its message to the engine when asking for more revs. Also, when manual-shifting with thin paddles mounted behind the wheel, there is again a noticeable delay in responding to inputs. These delays are enough to lose a drag race if left uncompensated, assuming you do that with a car that costs as much as a villa. Thankfully, the brakes respond perfectly fine, even with the soft pedal, as the huge ABS-assisted disc brakes are seriously strong.
On our first ever trip to Jebel Hafeet — a mountain in Al Ain with an amazing twisty road going to the top — we pushed this Bentley as much as we safely could, with an unfamiliar car and an even more unfamiliar track, and that too at night, lit only by streetlamps and HID headlights. The car performed remarkably well, feeling like a smaller sports car on most of the long sweeping corners. The big Bentley handles fast corners better than the slower ones. It is easier to steer smoothly on the long corners and feel the composed Bentley do its thing. But tighter corners, like the ones that seem as small as a U-turn, require heavy braking and sharper turn-in, which is when the weight of the Bentley can be felt as it wants to understeer, but the 275/35 tyres don’t let it.
At one point, we had to pound on the brake pedal, using ABS to stay in control as we headed for a wall on an unexpected tight turn, staring at concrete damaged by previous accidents. Luckily, the massive disc brakes are excellent and hauled the car down from 100 kph to 10 kph in maybe 2 seconds. We overtook two slower cars on the way down, which is no easy task, with only one lane and largely blind corners. It was handled quickly by the 600 hp GT, as the car is capable of neck-snapping acceleration even from 140 kph and beyond, signalled by the rising window-mounted rear spoiler.
While grip is commendable from the rubber wrapping the 20-inch alloys, this Bentley is still not a pure driver’s car. The steering is firm and precise, but there is almost no feedback. It rides firmly and there is hardly any body roll, but the car is too big to take the sharpest corners with total confidence, as driving near the limit makes its weight all too obvious.
However, the GT Speed does give up some traditional comfort in the pursuit of sportiness. Ride quality toes the line between being passably comfortable and moderately harsh, sort of like a BMW 335i or a Jaguar XKR. There is some wind hush at 120 kph due to the frameless doors, and some road noise from the wide low-profile tyres, but nothing too distracting, especially since the engine is dead quiet when not under throttle. The car is long and wide, so coupled with a low driving position, we initially scraped one or two curbs while making tight turns in the city. In the open, visibility is fine, and the reverse camera helps a lot during parking. On the highway, basic cruise control makes for a casual drive, but we were surprised that “adaptive” cruise control was missing, although available in the Jaguar XKR and many lesser German cars.
The GT Speed adds a sporty flavour that a personal vehicle like the Continental deserves. Our tester came standard with all the options on a fully-loaded standard GT, missing only the optional ceramic brakes, which cost about the same as a poor man’s midsize sedan, but we feel the Speed doesn’t need them anyway. People do not buy a Bentley to take to the track. People buy the Bentley to show off their standing in the social scene, and we can attest that this car handles that part of the equation well. The Speed simply adds an extra level of agility for the owner who would like to make a game out of running from the non-existent local paparazzi.
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