For the traditional Bentley man that would be the way they'd like it, but the Continental GT is not a traditional Bentley, it's part of the new breed of new money, new looks and new attitude.
New money, new looks and new attitude
Deep in the mountains of Seville, known as Spain’s frying pan thanks to heat well in excess of 35 degrees, a fleet of air-conditioned, relaxed Bentley Continental GT Speeds carved up the side of the mountain in abject luxury at ludicrous speed.
The Continental GT turned Bentley around, bringing a niche, halo brand formerly accessible only to royalty and the seriously rich to a young, hip audience with cash to burn. It might cost the same as a decent house, but it’s still cheap by Bentley’s standards.
Ramping up production from just 1000 cars a year just four short Christmases ago, before the Continental, to 10,000 now speaks tales of unmitigated success. The price paid in terms of brand value is more than compensated by the first profits for many a year and we’ll soon see even more, because the car that revived the company has just got better.
Bentley knew they could do more and were unhappy with the number of customers heading to the tuning houses to boost the power of their creation. So they set to work honing their best seller ever to create a machine that can take the Manchester United set to training and fly up the side of a mountain with equal aplomb. The result is frankly scary and would leave the brightest minds in Physics staring at the floor in disbelief, their figures and facts reduced to dust before their eyes.
For a start this is the first ever production Bentley that officially tops 200mph thanks to some nifty tweaks to the six-litre V12 twin turbo, including lighter conrods, new pistons, better cooling and less internal friction, plus a fraction more boost, that give this monster a whopping 600bhp. And not only will it hit 202mph, it will also nail the 60mph dash in just 4.3s, which is less than it takes a Porsche Carrera and a monumental 0.3s faster than the standard Continental.
But that pace is delivered in a wholly different fashion. Plant the throttle in the Bentley and the brow lifts gently and it lopes down the road, rather than tearing holes in the horizon. The only real indicator of the Speed’s, errr, speed is the scenery flashing past the window at an obscene rate and the video game-style closing speeds on the car in front. It’s louder than the standard car, thanks to a fruitier exhaust, but it’s still every bit as refined as a Bentley should be.
Simply put it in Drive, plant the right pedal and let the car do the rest while the driver gets on with the important business, be it a phone call, playing with the perfectly engineered vent stalks, wondering why the aluminium dashboard looks so much like a 70s-style textured ceiling or finding the perfect settings for a flat out assault on the winding road ahead. And that’s when you switch to full manual mode, drop the car to its firmest and things start to get interesting.
Because Bentley went well beyond a quick power boost for this special edition. For a start the engineers at Crewe stripped 35kg from the kerbweight with lighter cooling and suspension components. And the optional ceramic brakes, at 430mm the biggest on any production car, will pull another 25kg from the final mass, but even with these additions the car still weighs in at a near incredulous 2325kg, so feeling this at the wheel would be like spotting that John Belushi had lost a few pounds after a few days on the celery – it just isn’t going to happen.
Far more important is the work on the suspension itself that lowered the self-levelling kit by 10mm at the front and 15mm at the rear on to 20 inch alloys clothed in Pirelli P Zeros – a mighty serious tyre for a luxury car. They’ve fitted a smaller steering wheel, too, which blesses this big barge with the kind of response that seems totally out of place with a machine that comes with all the trappings of a luxury motor.
Because flinging this car into the bends reveals a depth of feel, a car that responds and encourages insane driving. It’s a side of the car’s character that stays well out of sight, like the very best English butler, until you ask it to truly let rip. And then the beast within rears its head for a rip-roaring time as those mammoth wheels offer real feedback through the wheels and sports car entertainment.
The engineers at Crewe have sharpened the six-speed gearbox and unlocked more from the chassis than they had any right to. The limit on a car this big should be as hard to find as a needle in a haystack and should announce itself in violent storm of noise and tyre smoke, but within hours at the wheel we were nudging gently against the line, engaging the traction control that has been carefully doctored to cut in only when required on this four-wheel drive behemoth.
Our test roads came with a drop off the side of a mountain, and precious little barrier to catch our fall in the true Spanish tradition of Health & Safety. Yet still we piled into each and every bend with outrageous speed, feeding off the nuances fed back from the tyres. In the slower corners it eventually pulls wide as the lateral G pulled the weight to the outside, in faster bends it is simply impossible to unstick, fixing itself rigidly to the line and holding audacious speeds through nerve-jangling bends.
Only the Lamborghini-style paddles mounted on the steering column on the wheel felt wrong as they fell outside the natural grasp mid-corner, but the car itself is stunning on such roads and time and again we had to remind ourselves that this is a luxury car first and foremost as that expensive rubber squealed with delight.
Every reassuring stab on the brakes into a blind bend revealed that the ceramics, which cost more than a hatchback on their own, are well worth the investment too. When it comes to a Porsche or a Lamborghini they are vile creations, but mated to a machine that weighs the same as a small moon they make perfect sense. The added weight means feel isn’t such an issue in the heavier car and hammering a car this size around a mountain pass would cause steel discs to fade faster than an ice scultpture in Hell.
And despite this handling boon, the ride is better than the average car, too, thanks to softer roll bars and perhaps softer tyre pressures. When we blasted well into illegal figures in Spain, the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree and told us in no uncertain terms that we were travelling too fast for the tyre pressures. If you want to go flat out, therefore, you’ll need to stop at a garage for a dose of air and the softer set-up might well have helped our impressions of the ride quality on Spain’s broken roads.
This notwithstanding, with such an improvement, and the average worth of the average Bentley buyer, it’s almost inconceivable that most customers will opt for the cheaper model when confronted with the Speed’s skills on such a road. But there was just one lingering doubt, considering how brash the average Continental GT driver is, they’ll be annoyed their car doesn’t scream from the hilltops that it cost 20 per cent more than the common or garden car that has taken over Britain.
Apart from a Speed logo on the kickplates, there’s just nothing to differentiate this car from the standard model. The lesser car will get the same upright grill and chrome headlight surrounds and no external badging to boast about their rock crushing power. For the traditional Bentley man that would be the way they’d like it, but the Continental GT is not a traditional Bentley, it’s part of the new breed of new money, new looks and new attitude.
Having to explain and point to minor details is not the way of the footballer, they like to show their increased presence with the kind of subtlety that would make the Bentley Boys of the 1920s weep. So some of them might still head to tuners like Mansory and MTM for the cosmetics.
For the purists, though, the Continental GT Speed is a marvel of engineering, a sportscar wrapped up in a heavyweight frame that carried us out of Spain’s frying pan as if it were on fire – in abject luxury of course.