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DRIVEN: Bentley Continental GT Speed is the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove

Published May 17, 2022

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Speed. It’s a term that’s all too often associated with reckless hooliganism, which almost lends a tinge of irony to the badge on the back of this Bentley.

Speed should never be this civilised, this serene, yet the new Bentley Continental Speed somehow manages to gobble up miles at lightning pace without even the slightest hint of breaking a sweat.

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Bentley first used the Speed nomenclature way back in the 1920s, and it was revived once again in 2007 with the first-generation Continental GT Speed.

I recently had the privilege of spending a few days with the latest Continental GT Speed, which is regarded as the most dynamic Bentley created, and perhaps the last that will feature the famed W12 engine without any form of electrification.

The 5950cc twin-turbo, twelve-cylinder motor delivers 485kW between 5 000 and 6 000 revolutions per minute, and 900Nm from as low as 1 500rpm.

Flatten the accelerator pedal in Sport mode and there’s no pushing or shoving involved despite the mammoth outputs. The Conti GT Speed gently but assertively pushes you back in your seat as it deceptively picks up speed at an almost ludicrous rate. Bentley claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 3.6 seconds and if my subjective experience is anything to go by, that is probably on the conservative side.

Even in the most dynamic driving mode, the W12 engine makes itself heard but in a subtle way that’s never even close to being loud or intrusive

Power goes to all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch mode that’s said to shift twice as fast in Sport mode, versus in the standard W12 model, and it’s so swift and seamless that you barely notice it changing gears. It also holds gears for longer when in the most dynamic mode, but not in an overbearing fashion.

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Given that this is a relatively large luxury car with a 12-cylinder engine, the Conti GT Speed weighs more than 2.2 tonnes, but thanks to its advanced chassis tech, the car does feel more agile than you might expect. The fact that it rolls on bespoke 22-inch ‘Speed’ wheels must certainly help.

For starters, there’s an electronic rear differential that was specifically tuned in tandem with the active chassis systems to improve longitudinal stability and provide improved traction in poor conditions.

Suspending the GT Speed is a three-chamber active air suspension system with adaptive damping and a 48-volt anti-roll control system that features powerful electric motors that can deliver up to 1300Nm in just 0.3 seconds, in order to counteract the cornering forces and keep the body level.

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Regardless of the mode, the Conti GT Speed moves comfortably over all road surfaces and does a very good job of filtering out road noise and shock. Granted, it doesn’t quite have that ‘floating on a cloud’ ride quality that the more comfort-oriented Bentleys are known for, but keep in mind that this is the most dynamic Bentley of them all. With that in mind, it strikes an impressive balance between comfort and agility.

You would expect to find copious amounts of wood and leather in a Bentley, but the largely hand-crafted cabin of this GT Speed has a somewhat racier twist with partial Alcantara trim on the steering wheel and in other strategic locations throughout the cockpit.

Bentley’s ‘Diamond in Diamond’ quilting is standard for the door innards and seats, featuring an incredible 712 stitches per diamond. Customers can choose from 15 main and 11 secondary leather colours for the interior. While Piano Black cockpit veneer is standard given the sporty nature of this car, there is a whole range of optional veneers on offer including Dark Stained Burr Walnut, Crown Cut Walnut or Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus, if you fancy the idea of having a tree in your car.

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As for the electronics, the level of digital really depends on your mood.

Instrumental to this is the rotating central infotainment display. At start-up, this flips from a plain veneer panel to a 12.3” touchscreen infotainment system. If you’re in the mood for a digital detox, you can flip it again to reveal a more traditional-looking panel with three analogue gauges in the form of a clock, compass and outside air temperature display.

The instrumentation is digital, but traditional looking and housed in a good old-fashioned binnacle that’s focussed on the driver. You won’t find large screens stretching across the dashboard here, the Conti GT is too classy for that.

There are lots of spec highlights, at this level of luxury motoring, but one that stands out is the ‘Naim For Bentley’ audio system that provides an immersive sound experience. Thanks to 18 speakers, two shakers, a 20 channel amplifier and eight DSP sound modes, the sound delights you from all angles. Bentley’s promise of a “concert hall experience” is no exaggeration.

Finally, let’s not dwell on practicality for too long but but despite having back seats, this is really a car for two occupants as the rear compartment is somewhat tight.

VERDICT

This is really how the lucky few get to live and receiving a taste of it for a few days was a huge privilege. But with its price tag of R5 045 000, there was also a wee bit of relief in handing the keys back, if I have to be honest. It was an experience I’ll certainly never forget.

FACTS: Bentley Continental GT Speed

Price: R5 045 000 (May 2022)

Engine: 6.0-litre, 12-cylinder, turbopetrol

Transmission: 8-speed automated dual-clutch

Drive: All-wheel drive

Power: 485kW @ 5000-6000rpm

Torque: 900Nm @ 1500-5000rpm

0-100km/h: 3.6 seconds (claimed)

Top speed: 335km/h (claimed)

Fuel use: 13.7 litres per 100km (claimed, mixed use)

Boot capacity: 358 litres

Kerb weight: 2244kg

Fuel tank capacity: 90 litres

Warranty: 3-year/unlimited km

Maintenance plan: 3-year/100 000km (5-yr optional)

IOL Motoring

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