GT Speed? I guess the clue is in the title...
Right. Think of the Speed as a big GT GTi. It’s still offers the same luxury appeal as the original Conti GT launched in 2003, but looks meaner and goes harder. The highlights are an extra 50bhp for the big W12, lowered suspension, tasty new and wider alloys plus some subtle visual tweaks.
So the Speed replaces the original Conti GT?
No, it’s an addition to the range. The existing cars - GT coupé, Flying Spur saloon and GTC convertible - are all still available, but only the two-door coupé can be had as a Speed. It’s 35kg lighter than the old GT thanks to lighter suspeniosn and cooling system components, but still weighs a scale-buckling 2350kg. You can shave a further 25kg if you order the optional ceramic brakes, though. As well as reducing the unsprung weight, they even chop a tenth from the 0-60mph time because there’s less mass to rotate. But the big changes are under the bonnet. The W12 engine retains its 6.0-litre capacity and 552bhp/479lb ft outputs of the the regular GT (despite some minor mechanical tweaks) but the Speed's new pistons and revised engine management system endow it with 600bhp and 553lb ft. Both cars emit a rain forest-raping 396g/km but at least that's better than the 410g/km the old car produced.
And how does it go?
Like the clappers. Like BMW’s new blown 3.0-litre straight six, the Speed’s W12 barely betrays its forced induction secret, instead feeling like a huge naturally aspirated engine. The 0-60mph sprint now takes 4.3sec instead of the 4.6sec needed in the regular GT - and top speed climbs fractionally to 202mph. The long steering column-mounted paddles make it easy to manage the six-speed auto (uprated to deal with the Speed’s greater output) but for most situations, Drive is more than enough. The W12’s mid-range grunt is massive and makes this Conti feel faster than even its figures suggest. There’s not much of a soundtrack – just a subdued roar from the other side of the bulkhead. You won't be dropping the windows to sample it in tunnels but it sounds suitably stately. You're unlikely to unstick the fast 20-inch Pirelli P Zeros, either, but that hasn't stopped Bentley introducing a revised ESP system designed to intervene more delicately should the laws of physics overtake their grasp on the tarmac.
So what else has changed?
You’d probably have to see old and new side by side to notice but the Speed (and all Conti coupés from now on) get a reshaped front end including a more upright grille which is claimed to improve engine cooling. You can tell Speed from GT by the quicker car's dark-tinted chrome grille and lower air intake, its wider exhaust tailpipes and a special interior pack (available optionally on the regular GT) whcih includes drilled alloy pedals and quilted hide for the door panels and seat facings.
And what’s going on with that steering wheel?
Forget that it seems to have been pinched from the Saab parts bin - what matters is that the diameter is much smaller and the servotronic steering has been fiddled with making the car feel more manoeuvrable. Other tweaks include a rather smart dark engine-turned finish for the dash. It’s a fantastic cabin - providing you buy into the olde-worlde wood, chrome and leather look that even Jaguar is now moving away from. You sit upright in the front as you imagine the Bentley boys did at Le Mans in the 1930s, but the rear isn’t quite so accommodating. Passengers of average height will be fine for most journeys but it feels less spacious than a 3-series coupé back there.
And what about Speed versions of the Flying Spur saloon and convertible?
In pure engineering terms there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen, but Bentley insists it has no plans. Our guess is that both will get the Speed treatment within the next couple of years.
The Speed is a great car made better. Everything we love about the standard car – its sense of occasion, pace and ease of use – is simply magnified. Don’t mistake this for some Porsche RS-style hardcore Bentley because it’s nothing of the sort. But it is both quicker and slightly sharper to drive. And the tougher look of those new wheels and bigger exhausts is enough to make the Conti appeal to potential buyers put off by the standard car’s faintly old-duffer image.