The human brain interprets the concept of speed in different ways. Some speed can be felt in a visceral manner. Raw power, raw acceleration, cruising speeds that make you feel like you're on the verge of taking off into outer space. Supercar speed. The other type of speed is seemingly imperceptible. So refined, so easy, so effortless that it can only be quantified by looking down at a speedometer and seeing triple digits on roads where such speed shouldn't be possible and is definitely not legal. That's Bentley speed, and in this writer's recent experience, the Bentley Continental GT Speed.
The model first debuted with the second-generation Continental GT in 2012 but has now been revived for 2022 as the pinnacle of the Continental GT lineup. Replacing the W12-powered GT for 2022, the Speed gets more power than ever before, drawing 650 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbo 6.0-liter W12 engine. But it's honed to be a more lively grand tourer, endowed with sharper suspension, rear-axle steering, and a torque-vectoring rear differential that transforms its character entirely. On the winding country roads of Sicily, we were given our first experience of the 2022 Continental GT Speed.
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The third-generation Continental GT is without a doubt the finest looking yet. But when Bentley slaps the 'Speed' badge on it, there's a certain amount of modification needed to ensure the design stands out enough to the discerning eye. To match the GT Speed's stealth-bomber approach to performance, the enhancements are mostly black in nature. Dark Tint grilles up front are offset by chrome 'Speed' badging on the fenders.
The side sills are unique to the Speed and the front fender vents sport the number 12 in reference to what's under the hood. The wheels are a unique 22-inch Speed design in bright silver but can be finished in either a dark tint or gloss black. Select the latter option and the Continental Blackline Specification turns all chrome exterior detailing - except the Speed badges - black, including the headlight and taillight surrounds.
At the rear, a subtle black lip spoiler rests atop the trunk lid and signature twin-oval tailpipes are matched in size and shape by the taillights. Those tailpipes can be replaced by quad Akrapovic items in a dark finish.
But what photos won't accurately convey is the level of detail that goes into every aspect of the Speed's design. The headlights and taillights, for example, sport an infinity lattice effect of crisscrossing details that disappear into the distance. And the paint has so much depth that one could dive into it and enter an entirely different world.
With dozens of available colors curated for the Speed, it's easy to get lost in the potential configurations. Vivid hues work best though. We drove a unit in Candy Red - by Mulliner, but also saw Speeds wearing hues like Verdant (a spectacular take on British racing green), Julep (a shade of yellow that changes in different light conditions), and Orange Flame. The latter works well, but the Candy Red and Verdant green brought out the best of the Speed's curves and details, offsetting the dark-tinted grille and chrome Speed badging with a hint of tasteful aggression.
Under the hood of the Continental GT Speed rests the latest iteration of Bentley's famed 6.0-liter W12 engine, twin-turbocharged and retuned over the standard GT to produce 650 hp and 664 lb-ft of twist. Those are monumental numbers, but the GT Speed is a monumental vehicle, tipping the scales at 5,011 lbs. Peak power occurs briefly between 5,000 and 6,000 rpm. But the mass of torque is overarching, spanning more than half of the Speed's rev range from 1,500-5,000 rpm. Partnered with a ZF eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and fully variable all-wheel drive, the GT Speed delivers performance figures that belie its mass. Zero to 60 mph comes up in 3.5 seconds, 100 mph in 7.8, and it'll surge on to a top speed of 208 mph.
But the way in which it reaches these milestones is unlike anything else with comparable figures. With launch control engaged, the GT Speed rips off the line with equal parts ferocity and composure. Its weight works to its advantage here, planting the massive Pirelli tires to the asphalt as the Speed escapes toward the horizon with nary a whimper from the tires, regardless of the surface beneath them.
But after that initial burst, speed is almost imperceptible. The Speed hits triple digits without you even noticing. And there's never a hint of doubt that an overtake can't be completed. If you have time to doubt it, the gap was never there to begin with.
For all the W12's physics-bending ability and an unending well of thrust to draw from, it's a noninvasive partner in the driving experience. The soundtrack emanating from those 12 cylinders is a background thrum, a deep rumble in the distance rather than an immediate assault on the senses. Even with the optional Akrapovic exhaust, the Speed's engine and exhaust note behave like a perfectly curated cinematic score, manipulating emotion subtly, enhancing the experience without drawing the focus away from the drive.
When the GT transitioned into its third generation, the biggest of the mechanical changes was the adoption of the MSB architecture developed by Porsche for the second-generation Panamera. This made the Continental GT lighter than its forebears but crucially brought in the mechanical advantage of one of the world's best AWD systems. Unlike most fixed-split systems that can adapt but ultimately have a default torque split, front to rear, this generation GT constantly adapts. In the Speed, up to 97% of the torque can be sent to the rear axle.
Bentley demonstrated this fact by inviting us onto an open stretch of tarmac and giving us a simple instruction: drift it. Shift the Speed's rotary driver mode selector into Sport, apply lock to the steering wheel, drop a lead foot on the throttle, and watch the weather turn from clear to overcast as the 315/30 profile rear wheels light up on a whim. Unwind the lock slowly to transition and the torque adjusts from front to rear, but without unsettling the handling balance.
That's not the Speed's only party trick, though. In creating the sharpest Continental GT around, Bentley has equipped rear-axle steering and a rear differential capable of shuffling almost all of the 97% rear-bound torque to either of the rear wheels. In Comfort and Bentley driving modes, these systems are almost imperceptible, but in Sport mode, the Speed draws on every weapon in its arsenal to deploy all 650 hp in a nuclear-grade assault on whatever twisting stretch of tarmac lies ahead. Rapid left-right-left direction changes at speed through a top-secret town-turned-race-track, once occupied by US Cold War military and their families, prompt the full effect of the torque-vectoring differential. You can feel drive being buffered to the outside wheel, sharpening the responsiveness and curtailing any chance of the nose-heavy Speed drifting into understeer.
Sharper turns are where the rear-axle steering displays its prowess, and despite the Speed's size - it measures 190.9 inches long and 86.1 inches across - it rotates around its center of mass like something far smaller and nimbler. Switchbacks and hairpins in the Sicilian countryside show how these systems come together, as the Speed rapidly turns back on itself while judicious use of the throttle sees torque shunted to the outside rear wheel to rotate the car even quicker.
Under any circumstance, the three-chamber air suspension mitigates body roll, and the only time the Speed reveals its full 5,011-lb mass is under braking. Here, the optional 17.3-inch carbon ceramics equipped to our test unit in place of standard 16.5-inch iron rotors work overtime with the ten-piston front calipers and four-piston rears desperately trying to muster up the inertia required to bring the Speed to a halt.
Trailbraking is a tricky feat as the front tires struggle to contain the behemoth and change direction at the same time, yielding to understeer on imperfect surfaces if you come in too hot and can't scrub off enough speed in time. It's in this area that the Speed requires its pilot to drive with an element of finesse, slowing ahead of curves rather than through them. Adhering to this simple philosophy pays dividends as the GT Speed works with the driver to rapidly devour miles of twisting terrain.
All the while, the experience is relaxed. It never feels taxing, owing largely to the deftness of the controls and the way in which the suspension adapts to the surface at hand. On 22-inch wheels with low-profile tires, the GT Speed rides pockmarked roads with the grace of an S-Class and the sense of connection of a Miata. That's not hyperbole. The weight of the steering is almost identical to that of the second-generation Mazda Miata owned by this writer. And while the various systems may filter out many of the burdensome changes present in the surface, there's never any discord between the vehicle and its pilot. Just perfect synchronization.
The interior of a Bentley Continental GT is a personal affair for those well-heeled enough to buy one. With innumerable configurations and personalization options, one could quite easily develop an emotional bond to the cabin of your creation. In the case of the GT Speed, the cabin is an exercise of restrained subtlety; whispering performance rather than screaming it. To the brand aficionado, the subtle differences between this and a regular GT are easy to spot, with seats upholstered in a combination of double-diamond-quilted leather and Alcantara, the latter material applied to the steering wheel, and a small chrome Speed badge placed ahead of the passenger on the dash. The headrests are embroidered with the Speed logo, too, and sports pedals are standard. After all, this is a driver's grand tourer.
Strictly a four-seater, the rear seats wouldn't be of much use for the average adult. The front seats, however, cosset the driver sublimely. Multi-way adjustment and a power-adjustable steering column place you in a commanding position to pilot the behemoth, but as this is a GT and not a supercar, the driver is perched relatively high up, providing a dominant view across the massive expanse of sheet metal making up the hood. Rear visibility is severely compromised by a narrow letterbox opening visible in the rearview mirror. The seats are exceptional, blending comfortable ingress and egress with more than ample support for cross-country comfort. When things get twisty, the bolsters provide plentiful support around corners, while the grippy Alcantara steering wheel feels excellent beneath the fingertips.
The dash can be specced in various finishes including Piano Black, Crown Cut Walnut, Dark Stained Burr, and Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus, all at no cost, or several open-pore wood offerings for those who prefer a slightly more sophisticated look. The leather choices include 15 primary and 11 secondary choices, and the Alcantara can be swapped for leather if you so wish.
The centerpiece of the dash is the optional Bentley rotating display. We've waxed lyrical in the past about this feature's ability to make the driver feel like an international superspy, switching between a blank veneer, a trio of gauge faces, and a 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Time after time, we're impressed by this simple piece of tech and the delight it imparts on anyone who sees it in action.
The touchscreen works fluidly, responding well to pinch and swipe movements. It has all the expected functionality, too, from Apple CarPlay to Sirius satellite radio and built-in navigation with Google StreetView, Google Earth, and Google POI search. Curiously, there's no Android Auto. On our launch drive, we had just one problem with the system, where the GPS took us, and a few industry colleagues down a path not quite suitable for a Continental GT, but quickly rerouted us to where we needed to be after a U-turn.
Buyers will want to skip the base 650-watt 10-speaker audio system, however, opting for one of the two optional setups - either a 1,500W B&O system with 16 speakers or an 18-speaker Naim setup with 2,200W of punch. It was the latter we sampled, and we were simply blown away by the quality of the audio. It has a hidden party trick of two 'kinaesthetic shakers'. Unlike most subwoofers that simply channel certain audio frequencies into vibrations, these shakers vibrate the front seats, turning music into more than just an auditory experience but one that you feel as well.
Buyers can spec all the traditional assistance systems available, but the Speed comes with many of them already bundled in. The standard City Specification encompasses a top-view camera (one of the best we've ever experienced), traffic sign recognition, pedestrian warning, automatic city braking, auto-dimming mirrors, and hands-free trunk operation. The optional Touring Specification augments this with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, and a night-vision camera.
It's easy to dismiss the Bentley Continental GT Speed as simply a device with which Bentley can lift more cash from devout followers of the brand. But there's a tangible difference to the way it feels on the road. It's less of an improvement over a standard Continental GT and more of a distillation of the GT's essence. Bentley touts its creations as gentlemen's GT cars, luxury cross-country tourers for the well-heeled who derive pleasure from being behind the wheel on a great mountain road. This isn't a hot lap hunter, although it would likely set blistering times around a circuit if given half the chance. Instead, it's a pure embodiment of all that a GT car is supposed to be. Comfortable. Spacious. Luxurious. Fast. Good lord is it fast. And most importantly, entertaining. Not in a hooligan-like manner, but in such a way that a driver is rewarded for the mere act of driving.
It's the essence of classic grand touring on wheels. And with the internal combustion going the way of the dodo in years to come, it might be the last opportunity we have to experience Bentley's mighty W12 engine in all its glory.
Deliveries start this fall with the Continental GT Speed priced from $274,900 before destination and options.
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