2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed First Drive
Readjusting the Senses in Crewe's Fastest, Most Powerful Grandiose Grand Tourer
It's been a while since my senses were completely thrown for a loop. I'd always thought that plus-sized coupes might hustle like a thoroughbred, but they most certainly would not also pivot like a linebacker. It just wasn't in their nature. Six-figure land yachts bedecked in exotic veneers had their place in life: scurrying down ze autobahn on giant chrome wheels with crisp tunes bumpin'.
Well, forget about all that, because for the last seven hours and 300-plus miles, the fastest, most powerful Bentley put on a clinic in advanced grand touring. Its name is GT Speed, the latter half of which is a no-nonsense designation reserved for models with a penchant for dashing as well as dancing. And, yes, speedy it is: With enough pavement, it will top out at 206 mph, or 203 mph in the convertible.
Today I rolled atop Scotland's most curvaceous roads. These were roads of a caliber I had never before experienced, zigzagging and undulating through lush and vividly green countryside teeming with ancient lochs, fault lines, and rock formations. The sun was out in an unusual semblance of summertime, and the excitement among the pale-skinned locals was palpable.
Speed, and everything else, should be effortless in a Bentley, said Paul Jones, director of Product Management, at the Speed's media presentation earlier in the morning. He has been the architect of the successful Continental GT line since its conceptualization in 2000. The GT Speed is the Continental's pinnacle grand tourer, he emphasized.
To that end, Jones and his team made sure the latest Continental GT never skipped leg day and consumed calories like an Olympic oarsman. They trimmed ride height by 0.4 inch, dialed up front negative camber by 15 percent to improve steering response, sharpened the ServoTronic steering system, recalibrated the air suspension and stiffened its springs (45 percent stiffer up front and 33 percent rear), and installed a 53 percent stiffer rear anti-roll bar. Stiffer bushings were also added.
Its updated 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W-12 – a surprisingly compact mill needing 12.5 hours to assemble by hand – sends 626 horses (up from 616) and 607 lb-ft of torque (up from 590) to four 275/35ZR-21 Pirelli P Zeros through a quickened ZF eight-speed automatic. It is now 13 percent more fuel efficient overall with a non-EPA mpg rating of 13/20 in city/highway.
The latest in Bentley engine management systems orchestrates the distribution of front and rear torque via the rear axle's Torsen differential, which, in normal conditions, is set at 40 percent/60 percent between front/rear wheels. If need be, a maximum 85 percent of torque can be sent rearward, or a maximum 65 percent to the nose. Full pull is accessible at just 2000 rpm, lasting linearly through 5000 rpm.
Such seemingly minute changes have a great effect, for the leviathan I fully expected the GT Speed to be in the esses never manifested. Instead, the two-ton, 16-foot-long two-door revealed a livelier inner personality that insisted its physique was smaller. In fact, the Speed navigated bends as if it were 1500 pounds lighter, exhibiting an astonishing composure, an even keel, and substantial stick. For a 5000-plus-pound ride, that's impressive in and of itself. (The lighter, less powerful GT V8 S still feels sprightlier, relatively speaking.)
And although it lacked an expected sloppiness once deep inside a bend, its outrageous thrust on exit had me repeating such phrases as "This. Is. Crazy." and "Holy s**t!" to my copilot. It was not unlike the shove given by a Lufthansa 747-8 on takeoff – smooth, consistent, deceptive, grin-inducing, immense. The Speed requires 4 seconds flat (4.1 for the convertible) to get to 60 mph from a standstill, Jones says.
Shifts clicked off hastily as corner charges and straight line sprints continued – quicker than in any previous Speed. Its crisper GT V8 S-like throttle responded instantaneously to commands, further quashing the Continental's innate hefty and drowsy feel. Bites from the eight-piston, $14,150, 16.5-inch carbon-silicon-carbide brakes withstood the demanding physics working against them, obliterating speed without fade or failure. (If you're wondering, they're also brilliant following 183-mph runs on retired RAF runways.) Their impressive efficacy allows the driver and co-driver to simultaneously, and respectively, discover new levels of bravado and perspiration.
The front wheels' reactions weren't masked in the name of grandiose comfort, which, in a Flying B, was alien. Deep, distinct burbles gently penetrated the cabin, growing more robust as I increased the RPMs. To best experience the engine's acoustic specialness, you'll want the convertible with its four-layer-thick top retracted.
Traffic slowed as we approached towns. In no other place did residents eyeball our multi-million-dollar convoy as much as in Oban, a city renowned for its namesake whisky. Stoplights along the A85 afforded me enough time to appreciate the nuances of my gorgeous workplace. The environment was crafted entirely by hand. Fingers with decades of experience transformed cowhides and English wood into a posh cocoon. The doors' quarter-inch-thick glass shut out the clamor; you need not raise your voice in a Bentley, even inside this most sonorous edition. Its ride, though firmer than normal, proved no less comfortable.
Trim-specific kick plates, headrests bearing embroidered "Speed" logos, and a dash-mounted, injection-molded stainless steel "Speed" badge distinguish the interior. The latter badge adheres to Bentley's famous "everything that looks like metal is metal" ethos. GT Speed interiors have a two-leather combination (17 colors to choose from) with contrasting stitching, all of which, of course, can be tailored to a customer's liking.
Oban's many café patrons locked their eyes onto the Burnt Orange beauty and pointed as I parallel parked. The GT Speed stood out against the white buildings and greenery. Its unique 21 x 9.5-inch wheels, red calipers, darkened matrix grilles, and sculpted splitter, skirts, and rear diffuser enhanced the effect.
At a late afternoon coffee break I needed no espresso. True big coupe grand touring, I realized, does not sap one's joie de vivre. It restores it. And the experience does not get better than when coddled by the driver's seat within a GT Speed, a beautiful Bentley whose fluency in comfort, grip, and commanding thrust is completely effortless.
For more than 150 additional photos of the 2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed coupe and convertible, head to the second page of this review.
|2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe, convertible|
|ENGINE||6.0L/626-hp/605-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve W-12|
|CURB WEIGHT||5100-5500 lb (est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||189.2 x 76.5 x 54.8-54.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0-4.1 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||12/20-21 mpg (est)|