What is it? The Continental GT Speed is an even faster, even more luxurious version of Bentley’s most successful model ever.
What’s new? More power and torque, higher top speed, Black Edition specification
Type of review: First UK drive
It’s hard to believe that the Bentley Continental GT has been around for 13 years. The first Bentley model created under Volkswagen ownership, it seems like only yesterday that it was launched to massive sales success (bringing many new customers to the brand) and considerable controversy (for not being a ‘proper Bentley’).
Now that same description applies to the new Bentayga SUV, which will once again cause car buyers to reconsider what the company stands for, and suddenly the Continental GT seems to have become a proper old-school Bentley.
Of course, over those 13 years the Continental GT has been enhanced, upgraded and improved. The second-generation model introduced in 2010 was really a major upgrade to the original car, rather than an all-new model, but the big coupé has certainly stood the test of time well.
GT Speed shows the Continental range at its best
One of the most popular versions of the Continental models (GT coupé, GTC convertible and Flying Spur saloon) has always been the Speed. With even more power, styling tweaks and upgraded specification, the Speed models show off the big Conti at its best.
This year, as part of Bentley’s ongoing evolution of the GT Speed, the engineers have found a bit more performance from the mighty 6.0-litre W12 engine, which now puts out 640hp and a planet-shifting 840 Nm of torque. This brings the 0-62mph sprint down to just 4.1 seconds. Although this is exactly the same as the Bentayga, the lower ride height and growling exhaust note of the GT makes it feel significantly faster than the SUV.
In fact, the GT Speed feels quite different in every way to the Bentayga, especially noticeable if you are driving the two vehicles back-to-back, which we did thanks to Bentley and H.R. Owen Bentley in Surrey. Although they both share an enormous amount of finest leathers and controls arranged in a broadly similar fashion, the Continental is very much showing its age alongside the newest model in the Bentley family. The switchgear and dash layout is not as space-age and slick, and the satnav system is so slow it could well be running on Windows 95.
But these details seem entirely unimportant as you sink into the superbly comfortably seats and prod the throttle. Unlike the Bentayga, the exhaust has not been muted into near-silence. It’s not loud or uncouth, but it does rumble with menacing intent. Like most high-performance sporting vehicles, there is a sports mode to make it somewhat louder and more anti-social, which seems somewhat unbecoming of a Bentley grand tourer. On long trips, it could easily become tiring.
The GT is a big, heavy car and it does feel that way, although not in a negative fashion. Rather, it has a reassuring solidity and weight to the controls. The Bentayga is fingertip-light to direct, whereas the GT Speed requires more of a substantial heft in each movement. Again, it feels like an old-school grand tourer. Like you’d expect from a traditional Bentley. it is superbly comfortable to drive, although adults won’t want to spend much time in the rather cramped rear seats.
Showing its age on safety
Although much of the GT’s charm is timeless, one area where it is showing its age is the lack of state-of-the-art safety equipment. Last week, we were scathing about the Bentayga’s lack of autonomous emergency braking as standard; an omission which is inexcusable on a new car launched in 2016. Well, you can’t even get AEB and many other accident avoidance systems in the Continental range, although adaptive cruise control is available at extra cost. The only reason we are not expressing similar disapproval here is that the Continentals simply pre-date much of the latest safety tech.
The Continental GT Speed summary
At a starting price of £168,900, the Continental GT Speed is not the sort of purchase one makes with value-for-money in mind. It’s also not likely that prospective owners will bother measuring up the big Bentley against similarly-priced vehicles like an Aston Martin or Ferrari. So it’s pointless to make such judgments or compare boot sizes (not bad, for what it’s worth) and mpg (poor, obviously).
After six years in its current guise, and 13 since it was first launched, the Continental GT remains a magnificent vehicle for grand touring. The GT Speed version heightens the experience even further, although it’s probably best to steer clear of some of the more lurid colour combinations Bentley is now offering as part of the Black Edition and were on display in the H.R. Owen showroom when we visited.