Ettore Bugatti’s description of Bentleys as “Le camion plus vite du monde” or “The fastest truck in the world” has to be right up there as one of the greatest taunts in motorsports history alongside Enzo Ferrari’s “Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines” critique, and Mark Webber’s “My dad always said you shouldn’t hit boys” quip. The statement was said to have come about when Bugatti was annoyed that the heavier and built-for-endurance-racing Blower Bentley managed to finish second, behind his lightweight Grand Prix-racing Type 35s at the 1930 French Grand Prix.
Like any good adage that is too good to forget, Bugatti’s words does have a ring of truth to it. Despite becoming a relation to Rolls-Royce and later being acquired by the Volkswagen Group, Bentley have always maintained their reputation of a maker of big, heavy, and fast cars throughout their history. Even with the efficient-minded and serious Germans pulling the strings behind the façade of Bentley’s rich English character, they still build cars that feel denser than a Neutron Star and faster than a speeding comet. Their latest update of the Bentley Continental GT Speed might have bumped up the power output by 10PS and 20Nm to 635PS and 820Nm, but nothing was done to address its lardy 2,320kg weight for the coupé, which is very nearly the weight of your average ladder-on-frame pick-up truck, ironically. Not that it matters.
Cutting flab is great for handling and very zeitgeist, but if you haven’t already notice Bentley is not one for keeping with the times if it is to come at the expense of tradition. So the GT Speed is everything you would expect of a Bentley, it is heavy and complex. Everything you run your hand over has a prevalent feeling of substance. The weighty doors feel as secure as a vault door. Its cabin is trimmed to the roof with the finest hides and impregnated with the alluring scent of luxurious leather. These appointments aren’t the sort of luxuries that would be bestowed upon a weight conscious car. They wouldn’t be able to afford the indulgence. The Bentley in the meantime is excessive, intoxicating even, and so is the power from its uprated 6-litre W12 twin-turbo engine.
10PS and an additional 1km/h to its top speed might not sound like the garnishing for greatness, but nudging the GT Speed’s power output from 625PS to 635PS and turning up its top speed claim to 331km/h, is enough for the new GT Speed to lay claim to the title of being the fastest and most powerful two-door road-going coupe that Bentley makes, or ever has, trumping the discontinued 630PS Continental Supersports by a narrow but crucial margin. The gap between power outputs of the GT Speed and the standard W12-powered Continental GT stands at a vast 60PS and 120Nm. Even with the power bump the GT Speed’s W12 retains its effortless torque deliver with peak twist delivered at 1,700rpm and keeps on going till 5,000rpm. Couple that flat torque curve to the eight-speed ZF automatic and the GT Speed seems to ride on an unending torrent of torque that melts away any concerns of its 2,320kg being a hindrance.
Though the GT Speed is able to hit 100km/h from a standstill in 4.2 seconds and breeze past 160km/h in nine without batting an eyelid, it is perfectly content with using its vast torque reserves to waft around effortlessly at a ‘pedestrian’ pace, though effortlessly in this case is easily skimming on the English highway speed limits of 120km/h. Bentley’s engineers say they could get the W12 engine to produce 1,000Nm of torque, but in effect the resulting engine would lose that effortless nature that is characteristic with every Bentley. Good on them I’d say, more power is good, but at 820Nm from such a lazy engine speed personifies the GT Speed’s character as the ultimate grand tourer. It is amazing to think that the Continental GT was already considered a quick car when the first Continental GT appeared in 2003 with a W12 engine which only produced 560PS and 650Nm of torque. Yes, by today’s standard the GT Speed’s power output of 2014 is what might slot into the junior supercar league, but junior supercars won’t have acres of room to seat four in the lap of luxury, nor isolate you from the outside world as this does.
Nothing personifies automotive excess better than 12 cylinders and none better than the unique W12 arrangement beneath the Bentley’s stout nose. Measuring in only at 635mm in length, its compact dimensions allow for a shorter and stiffer crankshaft, thus reducing vibrations, and improving refinement. Despite its chorus of tightly packed cylinders beating away, the W12 engine hums and growls with a tone that is more heavy machinery than the raucous noise of a thoroughbred, or gunfire staccato beats of a V8 engine. Then again the GT Speed isn’t about delivering an electrifying or heart-pounding experience. You don’t so much as grit your teeth and push the engine till its shrill noise drowns out your senses, but be swept away by the rush of an invisible force as the engine serves its massive torque load through all four 275-width Pirellis. Shock isn’t on the Bentley’s menu, but there is plenty of awe to be had from the rate at which it picks up the pace, and keeps on going.
It isn’t all power and pace alone that defines the GT Speed. Bentley explains that the GT Speed is the ultimate W12 two-door grand tourer in their line-up, which is squarely aimed at those who want their already fast Bentley to go faster on the straights and quicker in the corners. As such the GT Speed has been blessed with a 10mm lower ride height, a 15 per cent increase in front camber angle, stiffer springs, a stiffer rear anti-roll bar, and suspension bushes that are 70 per cent stiffer, as compared to the standard Continental GT. These tweaks are expected to deliver a sharper response and enhance its stability in the corners, though that wasn’t what greeted me as the motorway that had led us from Bentley’s home in Crewe, disgorged us on to the Scottish B-roads. Admittedly I left its adjustable dampers in its softest setting during the drive up to Scotland, and while the ride has been soft and rather indulgent on the way up, it proved to be a pitching and rolling handful over the ruts and off-chamber that punctuate the ribbon of tarmac that snakes alongside one of Scotland’s many scenic Lochs.
Flipping through the four preset settings on the adjustable dampers is made tricky no thanks to Bentley’s odd decision to pack it into the touchscreen module. But once set in its stiffest setting, the GT Speed’s dampers cuts any trace of body roll, and the GT Speed’s sportier nature reveals itself. The flabby body roll that had blighted my earlier progress disappears, and now the GT Speed feels attentive and responsive to my steering inputs, as though it has tucked its flab into its body. Despite measuring in at nearly two metres in width, the GT Speed is surprisingly easy to pilot through sleepy rural roads.
Though accurate, the GT Speed’s helm is surprisingly relaxed. Its helm doesn’t quite boast a surgeon’s scalpel sharpness, where I can trim my entry and exit lines to millimetre perfection, nor will one find a frantic and hyperactive nose with a chassis that dances and skitters about in corners. Rather the GT Speed favours firm and measured inputs, guide the nose in the general direction you want it to go, and utilise the W12’s huge reserves of readily available torque, and stalwart grip to charge out of any corner, as though the chassis and powertrain leaves nothing to chance in mid-corner, relying on its mechanical superiority to make up for any lack of pace or angle in the entry.
With a 40/60 front-rear torque split, the GT Speed is surprisingly resistant to any hints of understeer, and lends it a rather eager character. Hauling the Bentley to a stop isn’t cause for much concern either, not when it is packing the optional cross-drilled carbon-silicon-carbide brakes which measure in at a staggering 420mm in front and 356mm behind. Modulating the braking power from those massive discs proves easy, and the brakes are capable of taking plenty of punishment without any sign of wilting during the course of the 170km drive along Scotland’s countryside. Considering all its tweaks to its suspension system, the GT Speed is still remarkably comfortable even in its stiffest setting. A few knocks and bumps do filter through the suspension when travelling over bridge divides or broken tarmac, but it doesn’t upset the overall ride. Even with stiffer suspension components, the GT Speed is still a consummate cruiser whose handling improvements are only there to suit the increase in power. When tasked with stretching its 635PS on a 2.75km stretch of empty runway, the GT Speed is unfazed even as the speedometer soars past the 280kph mark. The cabin remains remarkably calm and serene even as fire and brimstone is being poured out from that magnificent engine up front.
Excitement isn’t quite the word to describe life behind the wheel of Bentley’s new Continental GT Speed. If you want heart-pounding antics that wire your synapses up straight to the action, this isn’t the one to administer such kinds of doses. Instead you indulge in its seemingly unwavering torque delivery and grip that is at your disposal, whilst being cocooned in absolute luxury that will whisk you away from the cares of the road. Don’t mistake its steadfast nature for being boring, if anything the GT Speed is the ultimate distillation of Bentley’s creed of blending power and luxury, and that in itself is deserving of praise.
# Editor's note: This article was first published on the October 2014 issue of The Malaysian Evo