Car review: The Bentley Continental GT Speed

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That looks… expensive

Oh it is. Welcome, everyone, to the Bentley Continental GT Speed, AED 1.1 million of classic British excess and exuberance.

AED 1.1 million? Aren’t you supposed to be all about money-saving tips?

Yes, we’ll admit it’s a little extravagant. But Al Habtoor Motors, the UAE Bentley dealer, is currently offering a pretty good package on this car. Buy one, and you’ll be given a five-year service package, a five-year warranty, and a year’s free car insurance. Given this is no ordinary car, those benefits add up to some serious savings (i.e. tens of thousands of dirhams). This means that, if you’re in a position to spend so much on a car, the Bentley Continental GT actually makes for a good deal.

Right, so what does my AED 1.1 million get me?

In essence, the ultimate gentleman’s cross-country cruiser. Over the years, Bentley has created quite a few versions of the Continental GT, and this, barring the stripped out SuperSports version, is the top-of-the-range model. It comes with a 6.0-litre, twin-turbo W12 engine that develops – wait for it – 640 bhp. Six-hundred and forty.

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As a result, it’ll do the 0-100 km/h dash in 4.1 seconds (amazing for a car weighing 2.3 tonnes), and go on to a top speed of 331 km/h.

But the real magic behind the GT Speed is that all of the insane performance and aggression is wrapped up in a beautifully finished and supremely comfortable luxury product. The interior’s wood veneers are cured for 72 hours and treated with five layers of clear lacquer by hand; the seats are diamond quilted with indented leather headlining; the pedals are made from single pieces of drilled alloy. There’s a greater feeling of luxury in the GT Speed than there is in most five-star hotel rooms.

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Sounds lovely. But doesn’t the ‘regular’ Bentley Continental GT come with that sort of opulence, too?

Indeed it does. Even if you move down the range to the V8 models, you won’t be wanting for interior comfort. You’ll want the GT Speed, though, if you’re more of a keen driver. Its suspension has been lowered by 10 mm, and it’s been fitted with upgraded springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and suspension bushes. The chassis has also been tuned for cornering agility, and the exhaust note has been given a sportier character, too.

What does all of that mean in practice?

A big, heavy, luxury car with breathtaking performance. Seriously, the speeds that this thing is capable of beggar belief. Put your foot down a little, and there’s a deep grumble from the exhaust as the engine lets you know that it’s ready for business. There’s an effortless pick-up in pace and, without really noticing, you’re doing the national speed limit.

Things are a little more dramatic when you really put the pedal to the metal (or rather, to the lush carpeting underneath your feet). Do this from a standstill, and there’s a millisecond’s hesitation as the four-wheel-drive system calculates which wheels to send power to, before you’re battered with a wall of G-force that slams you into the back of your perfectly sculpted seat. On public roads, you’re forced to back off almost immediately; you’ll probably be able to afford the speeding fines if you can buy a Continental GT, but you won’t want the black points on your licence.

While on the move, that power is hugely addictive. Whenever you see an overtaking opportunity, you go for it, laying waste to the paupers in their Porsche 911s and Ferrari Californias. There’s a slight sense of turbo lag if you’re in a high gear and put your foot down, but when the turbos do spool up, the car accelerates with such ferocity that it simply adds to the entertainment. You learn to time your manoeuvres so that you’ll always get that satisfying thump in the pit of your stomach when putting the hammer down.

Yeah, but lots of cars offer big speed. How is this any different?

Sure, the GT Speed’s 0-100 km/h time of 4.1 seconds isn’t that fast compared to a number of similarly priced supercars, but it doesn’t feel slow by any means. In fact, because of the way in which that engine delivers its power, the GT Speed feels faster than it is. The exhaust note is hilariously uncompromising, like a stampede of deranged elephants. And the way the huge mass you’re piloting hurtles towards the horizon provides an idea of what it might have been like to be a part of the Apollo 11 mission. Except you’re surrounded by more leather.

And that’s with the systems set to ‘normal’ mode.

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Flick the automatic gearlever a notch down to ‘S’, and everything is sharpened up. Simply think about depressing the throttle, and the exhaust emits the bark of an unhinged wolf. Putting your foot down reveals much the same excitement as before, but it’s more visceral, with orders of magnitude more noise and drama allowed to enter the otherwise serene cabin.

Want a Bentley Continental GT? Book your test drive today! 

There are paddle gear shifters prominently featured behind the steering wheel, and they’re beautifully crafted, but you don’t really need to touch them. The Continental GT Speed is about delivering speed-based thrills with minimum effort from the driver – you’re better off letting the sublime automatic 8-speed gearbox do its thing and enjoying the speed.

What about cornering? Has all of that fettling made much of a difference?

I haven’t driven the ‘regular’ Continental GT, but the GT Speed is certainly better around the bends than any 2.3-tonne car ought to be. Grip is phenomenal, even in non-sport mode – thanks in no small part to the four-wheel-drive system. The steering is actually weighted quite heavily, which is good for cross-continental motorway adventures. But when you turn in to a sharp corner, there’s a delectable feel through the steering wheel that allows you to place the car on the cusp of the apex with very little drama.

What’s more, even under hard cornering, the chassis stays flat and stable. When you’re ambling along the motorway, you’re totally unaware that the suspension has been sport-tuned in any way at all because of the unimpeachable ride quality. This gives you the impression that, at a corner, the car will wallow and lurch like a big SUV. Not so. The GT Speed is as agile as any sports saloon you care to mention, and even enjoys being thrown about a little. Sure, it’s not as delicate to handle as a mid-engined Italian supercar, but, for its weight, the Continental GT Speed is incredible through the bends.

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Any downsides?

Apart from the stratospheric price?

There’s some disappointment with the quality of the onboard tech. The infotainment system is dated, and the iPhone connector fitted to our test car was the old, 30-pin connector that was dropped when the iPhone 5 debuted. Oh, and Bluetooth audio streaming is impossible to set up. Some of the car’s settings are outsourced to a TFT display fitted between the rev counter and the speedometer, but navigating it is a chore and the user experience leaves a lot to be desired. The GT Speed could also do with a better parking assist system; sitting so low down means it’s difficult to get a handle on where all four corners are when you’re navigating a car park.

Want a Bentley Continental GT? Book your test drive today! 

What’s really annoying about this is that Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, which churns out amazing in-car tech in both its own cars and in Audis. Fitting a half-bespoke Audi or Volkswagen system to the Continental GT – like the one found in the Lamborghini Huracan – would solve the problem in an instant. But as things stand, it appears that Bentley simply hasn’t touched its infotainment systems since 2012.

Perhaps that’s intentional. Because, at the end of the day, when you’re driving the GT Speed, you don’t really care about any of the tech. It could have an old rotary telephone as an in-car phone and you wouldn’t care. The GT Speed is about experiencing the ultimate driving pleasure in the most lavish of settings. And when you are experiencing that, nothing else matters.

Go on, then. If you had a spare AED 1.1 million, would you have one?

Absolutely. The Bentley Continental GT Speed is the thinker’s supercar. It delivers all of the speed and excitement that you could possibly want or need from a sporty driving machine, but smashes the competition on interior comfort and style. If you’re in the market for a new supercar, it’s well worth taking a test drive.

Show me the specs.

Engine: 6.0-litre, twin-turbo W12
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Power: 640 bhp
0-100 km/h: 4.1 s
Top speed: 331 km/h
Price: AED 1.1 million
Dealer: Al Habtoor Motors

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