At the end of the Cold War, the world's superpowers began the process of nuclear disarmament, reducing and eliminating nuclear weapon caches across the globe. This denuclearization is not at all dissimilar to the process the automotive industry finds itself in now as global legislation has forced manufacturers into adopting electrification. But just prior to the end of the Cold War, nuclear deterrence theory was at its strongest. And similarly, so too is the era of combustion. Proof of this is the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible. Arriving in the USA at the tail-end of 2021, we got our first taste of the new range-topper recently under the Sicilian sun. But while a luxurious Bentley drop-top is hardly reminiscent of a nuclear threat, Bentley has weaponized the twin-turbo W12 engine under the hood of this Speed model to nuclear proportions.
See trim levels and configurations:
|GT Speed Convertible
6.0L Twin-Turbo W12 Gas
The headlines read 6.0 liters, two turbos, 12 cylinders, 650 horsepower, 664 lb-ft of torque, 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and a top speed of 208 mph. All-wheel drive is standard, as is an eight-speed automatic transmission. But the Speed has rear-axle steering, a torque-vectoring rear differential, and the ability to send up to 97% of its power to the rear axle alone. The purpose of these enhancements is to turn a 5,388-lb monster of a convertible GT car into the most driver-focused version of itself, the pinnacle of open-top grand touring. Does it succeed? Read on.
The subtlety of the upgrades made to Speed-badged Continentals keeps with the brand's tastefulness. Taking the most beautiful of the three generations of Continental GT, the Speed gets a few subtle differentiators: dark tinting on the front mesh grilles, chrome Speed badging on the front fenders, and signature Speed-design 22-inch alloy wheels available in three finishes. The fender vents display the number 12 as a reference to the number of cylinders, while twin oval exhaust tips indicate that this is the big daddy in the range. Not a fan of chrome? Well, a Continental Blackline Specification adds gloss-black head- and taillight surrounds, mirror surrounds, wheels, and turns those fender vents and the chrome line that stretches aft of them dark.
The plethora of paint colors transforms its appearance, and buyers will have the opportunity to choose from subtle silvers and blues to outrageous hues like Julep yellow, Verdant green, or the Orange Flame worn by our unit. There are no fewer than seven colors for the folding soft-top roof, and while most will likely choose traditional Black, Blue, Claret, or Grey, the bold can opt for Bentley's own take on traditional British tweed.
Bentley might be going all-electric by 2030, but before then, you can bet the brand won't make the change without ensuring the fabulous W12 gets the send-off it deserves. There may yet be more to come, but for now, the engine in the GT Speed is the biggest nuclear threat the brand possesses. The 650-hp, 664-lb-ft warhead under the hood is a handbuilt 12-cylinder displacing 6.0 liters that takes 6.5 hours to produce. Power is up 24 hp on the regular W12 that will no longer be around for 2022, with the peak occurring between 5,000 and 6,000 rpm. The torque figure is more important than power though, as all 664 lb-ft of twist become available at just 1,500 rpm and are in full effect until 5,000 revs.
Paired to a Speed-specific tune for the ZF eight-speed automatic and a fully variable AWD system that can apportion up to 97% of the torque to the rear axle, the GT Speed shaves off a tenth of a second from the regular W12's performance figures. Zero to 60 mph is reached in 3.6 seconds, and 100 mph is breached in eight dead. Top speed matches that of the coupe at 208 mph.
The figures are impressive enough, but the ease with which the Speed achieves them is otherworldly. Unlike supercars that feel visceral and raw, the GT Speed feels effortless. While launch control might catapult you off the line in a way that completely belies the car's weight and size, overtaking acceleration is where the Speed lives up to its name. All it takes is a thought. The mere whim of contemplating an overtake and the deftest of breaths across the throttle pedal see the Speed rack up digits on the speedometer that will quickly land you on the wrong side of the law.
There are paddles mounted to the steering column to let you manually take control of the eight-speed automatic gearbox, but they're completely unnecessary. The 'box shifts telepathically, always in the right gear and always ready to make use of the full powerband on offer. It's not until you glance at the head-up display or have to drop anchors ahead of a corner that you realize you're well into triple-digit territory.
There are few cars that manage speed in such an effortless manner, and most that do serve it with a side of thundering engine and exhaust note to make you well aware of that fact. Not the Continental GT Speed. The W12 sounds good, particularly with the optional Akrapovic exhaust, but it's a non-invasive soundtrack. The deep thrum fades into background noise under most circumstances, save for one particular instance.
The convertible might lose rigidity and add weight compared to the coupe, but drop the retractable soft-top and switch the Speed into Sport mode and the noise envelops you. It's a deep, smooth rumble, with burbles and booms on upshifts and engine overrun. With the roof down, the wind in your hair, and the sound of one of the smoothest 12-cylinders in existence filling your ears, the GT Speed Convertible is a Michelin-star feast for the senses.
Despite being the most driver-focused Bentley on the market, the Crewe-based brand ensured the Speed maintained the hallmarks of a great GT car. In any drive mode, this is still a Bentley. The three-chamber air suspension nullifies every bump in the road and while the 22-inch alloys are wrapped in low-profile Pirelli rubber, the Continental GT Speed breathes with the road surface, soaking up pockmarks, potholes, and abrasions in its stride. There's a softness to its demeanor, yet it resists body roll like a seasoned sports sedan, with a gentle bit of lean through corners that serve to communicate where the GT's limits are. Those limits are high, and well out of reach of most drivers and on most road surfaces.
Despite weighing nearly 5,400 lbs, the GT Speed Convertible feels remarkably light on its feet and eager to change direction. The steering responds with the same eagerness as a Miata, without any faux heaviness to create a sense of solidity. Of course, this is four times the size of a Miata, and placing it on narrow Sicilian streets is no easy feat, but once the Speed picks up the pace on flowing country roads, it becomes easy to position.
There's a trick to its wieldiness. The Speed has been given an ace up each sleeve in the form of rear-axle steering and an active rear differential with torque vectoring capability. The rear steering works twofold, turning the rear wheels opposite to the fronts at low speeds to reduce the turning radius, allowing the Speed to navigate tight hairpins with alarming ease, while at high speeds, changes of direction are met with a sense of stability as the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts. The rear differential enhances the Speed's dynamic ability, and around the Sicilian countryside, one could actively feel the torque being shuffled from left to right and right to left to curb understeer, aid rapid changes of direction, and even power out of tight turns with a helpful dollop of oversteer when asked for.
Keeping the Speed in check are some of the largest brakes you'll find on a roadgoing vehicle. The stock items are ventilated iron discs measuring 16.5 inches up front, but the optional carbon ceramics measure 17.3. Regardless, ten-piston calipers clamp down on those while four-piston calipers handle the rear.
These brakes do a remarkable job of shedding speed, but it's under braking where the GT Speed's weight and size become most apparent. It's easy to forget just how big and heavy this car is, but at the velocity it's capable of, the brakes work overtime in a pinch. Mistime a braking effort and come into a corner too hot and too heavy on the stoppers, and the GT will default to understeer. No matter how incredible the suspension is, no matter how intuitive the differential and rear-wheel steering is, you can't overcome physics when you're in a vehicle of this magnitude.
This may be classified as an AWD grand tourer, but in its sportiest of driving modes, it'll hang its tail out like the best rear-drive machines. Yet despite its massive breadth of ability, it'll also be a docile, plush cross-country tourer. Best of all, when left in its default Bentley driving mode, it'll be whichever one of these vehicles you need when you need it. No delays. No drive mode switching. No hesitation.
The convertible version of the Continental GT Speed retains all the cues you'll find on the coupe. That means illuminated Speed treadplates, a subtle chrome Speed badge on the dash, and leather/Alcantara combination seats with the upper leather section adorned in diamond-in-diamond quilting and Speed embroidered on the headrests. It's classy stuff, and there's not a button, switch, control, or out-of-the-way panel that isn't perfectly finished or immaculately detailed. Despite the addition of a folding soft-top roof, the convertible retains seating for four. But in reality, it's all about the two up front. With the roof closed, there's ample headroom, but let the power-operated soft-top do its thing and there's an endless supply of the stuff.
While that soft-top can be had in seven exterior colors, the inner lining has eight options to choose from and can be curated to match the two-tone upholstery or complement it.
Forget about what color you might want yours in, though. It doesn't matter. What matters is that when the roof is closed, you wouldn't be able to tell that you aren't inside a fixed-roof coupe. There's no excess wind noise, no creaks, no rattles, no nothing. Perhaps the exhaust note is a little more audible, but that's it. Drop the top, and the cabin is exceptionally well insulated. Despite a higher seating position - this is a GT and not a sports car - the wind won't ruffle your hair excessively, and the optional 2,200-watt, 18-speaker Naim sound system is still clearly audible even at highway speeds and beyond.
It's an exercise in sumptuous luxury. Taking off the roof adds joy to the experience. Not frustration and inconvenience.
There are still all the hallmarks of a modern Bentley in the cabin, too, with the available rotating central display, a digital instrument cluster, power-operated seats with heating, ventilation, and massage functionality.
Typically, taking the roof off of a high-powered sports car is a compromise. It robs a hot performer of its body rigidity and practicality and introduces wind noise, various creaks and rattles. It becomes more of a hindrance than a real benefit. But the Bentley Continental GT Speed is not a sports car. A sub-four-second 0-60 time and a top speed north of 200 mph might place it in elite company, but this is still a grand tourer at heart. The Speed distills the essence of a driver's GT into a more focused package. It's sharper, more connected, more eager to please, but without trading off any of the comfort and luxury that makes it such a complete package.
If the Continental GT Speed is the last machine in which we ever get to experience the W12 engine before the denuclearization of the automotive industry, then what better way to experience it than with the roof down and a symphony of 12 cylinders filling the air along your favorite driving routes? A Rolls-Royce Dawn may be just as luxurious, but it'll never deliver the same level of driver engagement.
US deliveries begin this fall, priced from $302,400.
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