Driving the new 205mph Bentley Continental GT Speed around Thruxton, Britain’s fastest racetrack: now that’s a day out you look forward to.
After all, this fastest-ever (roadgoing) twin turbocharged, W12 Bentley has 616bhp, up from 567bhp the standard W12. It does the 0-62mph sprint in four seconds, and the lap record around the gentle rolling straights of Thruxton was set by Damon Hill, in a Williams in 1993 at an average speed of 147mph.
I, however, maxed out in this particular prodigiously fast British flyer around Britain’s fastest circuit at 37mph, and even that was a bit hairy. Bloody, sodding, naffing snow.
So every time somebody walks in your office and moans about struggling to get their Mondeo off their snowy drive and crashing through their neighbour’s porch, or how icy the work car park is and how they fell over and broke both ankles, send them this link and say: ‘Yeah, but you didn’t have a Conti GT Speed, a race track to yourself, and six inches of evil slush to ruin it, did you?’ Some people just don’t know they’re born.
On the track
Having said that, with winter tyres and its four wheel drive system, the GT Speed coped pretty well with the conditions, despite its 2.5-tonne weight. Interestingly, the Bentley boys were saying that when it was even icier and snowier, there was more traction, but the increasing slush seemed to fill the tyre’s sipes and turned them into slicks that meant very steady progress was the only way to travel.
But that’s one of the great things about the Continental: it’s a car that can be used everyday, whether you’re maxed out on the autobahn, or edging through ice to get emergency shopping supplies for the winter apocalypse. There aren’t many supercars that can perform roles at both ends of the performance scale.
And what the snow did show was the balance of the Bentley. It’s a vast machine, and if you’re not careful with that weight, it will drag the car off line in bends, and the four-wheel drive will accentuate that. So you need to be aggressive with it, get the thing turned in and then get hard on the power. Get that right, and even on dry surfaces you can get it into some entertaining four-wheel drifts, and as the Bentley test driver commented: ‘Anyone who thinks these just understeer, or reckons you can’t get the back end out, just doesn’t know how to drive them.’
So what did I learn then?
This is an epic car. Bentley’s engineers are very proud of its capabilities, and so they should be, because behind all that useful Volkswagen Group stuff such as sat nav and radio that always works, and the four seats and big boot, is a machine that does some truly remarkable things, much of it learned during development of the Veyron, especially high speed management of airflow, and cooling. As Bentley likes to point out, ahem, there’s a difference between manufacturers claiming cars that do 200mph-ish but are limited to 155mph, and those that actually will do ‘Vmax’ over and over again.
That’s because the strain on the car increase exponentially at above the limited speeds carmakers handily impose. There’s a 70% increase in aerodynamic drag between the limited speed and 205mph, for start.
The stresses are incredible. The side windows at more than 205mph are sucked out with huge force due to the vortex created around the A pillars, and Bentley had to design special seals to ensure refinement was still acceptably high.
At 205mph the car is ingesting in 4000 litres of air a second, and that has to be channeled to avoid huge turbulence: a flatter underfloor with channels uses that air to flow over the brakes and drivetrain to keep it cool and also create more downforce than in other GTs.
The chassis of the GT Speed has uprated springs, anti-roll bars and bushes, a lowered ride height (by 10mm front and rear) together with retuning of the electronically controlled damping and steering systems. It drops 15mm as speed increases to 150mph to counteract lift, and then another 6mm at about 180mph when things start to get even more critical, and ensures much greater stability.
And a full-on brake from 205mph creates 10 megajoules of heat – enough energy to power six households for four hours. Unfortunately, my gentle prod of the brakes at the end of the Club Straight wouldn’t have powered my daughter’s dolls house.
On the road
Following the disappointment of our £150,000 sledging experiment, we headed onto the roads, which were clearer, and it was immediately obvious as I accidentally broke the sound barrier on the slip road to the A303 that the GT Speed is ludicrously fast.
It’s also all a bit incomprehensible too because it does it with such ease. The vast motor makes a distant baritone warble, like an opera singer clearing his throat, the steering is sharper than on other GTs and the new eight speed gearbox (the ubiquitous ZF transmission) skips up and down with a barely noticeable jolt.
And what I love about Bentleys is the downshift, a single clipped, blipped retort, while other supercar makers are trashily blowing fuel up in the exhausts to sound all racecar-ish. No need for all that Johnny foreigner shouting and arm waving in a Bentley, what?
Staggeringly fast, beautifully refined, oddly practical and blooming expensive, the Continental GT Speed is a superb car. Just tootling about Hampshire in it for a day made up for the disappointment of not getting a chance to beat Damon Hill’s Thruxton lap record. Because such is the easily handled pace and remarkable, luxurious poise and of this car, you feel like you might have chance.