Improving on an excellent recipe is never easy. In Bentley’s case, they already make one of the world’s great grand tourers in the Continental GT. How would they set about creating a better, more rapid version that commands a significantly higher price tag?
The answer would be the Continental GT Speed – a faster, more focused derivative that goes on sale in the UAE in late October. Pricing will start at Dh1.3 million ($353,982) for the GT Speed coupe, and Dh1.4m for the convertible. For the sake of perspective, the "regular" Continental GT starts at Dh800,000 in V8 form and Dh900,000 for the W12 model.
As with almost every go-faster special, the Speed gets an uprated 6.0-litre motor that ekes out 659 horsepower – versus 635hp for the standard W12 GT. However, this is the least remarkable element of the Speed’s upgrades, as the real story lies in the chassis development.
The Continental GT is a hefty beast at 2.3 tonnes (on par with a Porsche Cayenne Turbo SUV), so transforming it into a more agile device couldn’t be achieved without some clever engineering. The Speed gets plenty of that, starting with rear-wheel steering that endows it with tighter turning capability at low speeds, along with greater stability at high speeds.
Another technology highlight is an electronic limited-slip rear differential that enhances traction out of tight turns and allows the driver greater throttle adjustability when cornering. The Speed also gets a more rear-biased all-wheel-drive system and a loosened stability control programme that allows plenty of scope for drifting hooliganism.
The other key component of the Speed’s dynamic package is its titanic carbon-ceramic braking system that not only provides strong, consistent stopping power, but also reduces unsprung weight by 33 kilograms, further benefiting the Speed’s agility.
Throwing tech at a car is all well and good, but there’s not much point unless it actually works out in the real world. We test its prowess on winding roads through southern Sicily, putting both ride and dynamics under the microscope.
Immediately evident is that the Speed hasn’t sacrificed the silken ride quality of the standard Continental GT. In Comfort mode, even the worst bumps and potholes are ironed out without jarring your spine. Yet, twist the knurled drive mode selector to Sport and the Speed seemingly forgets how big and heavy it is. This becomes apparent across a mountainous stretch of tarmac strewn with hairpins and tight bends. The four-wheel-steer greatly boosts the car’s ability to rotate on roads such as this, which means you can fling it around more like a sportster than a grand tourer.
We head to the Comiso Air Base, a former Second World War aerodrome that, later on, during the Cold War, became a Nato site that housed 112 nuclear cruise missiles. This has been transformed into a “rally stage”, so we can manhandle the GT Speed around the expansive but dilapidated compound. The Speed scoots around the course with great vigour – much more so than one might have expected of an opulent 2.3-tonne grand tourer.
Although the Speed is a much pricier offering than the standard Continental GT, it doesn’t scream its identity as the only external differentiators are a darkened radiator grille, new side skirts, Speed badging on the front fenders and bespoke 22-inch rims. The cabin is impeccably and opulently crafted, with diamond-quilted leather seats, piano black wood veneer and lovely aluminium-ringed dials and rotary heating/AC vents. It needn’t end there, as there’s ample scope for personalisation.
There’s no doubt the newbie lives up to its "Speed" suffix as it’s faster and more desirable than its lesser Continental GT siblings. The only catch is that it’ll leave a much bigger dent in your bank balance.
Engine: 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12
Power: 659hp at 5,000-6,000rpm
Torque: 900Nm from 1,500-5,000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100kph: 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 335kph
Price: From Dh1.3m (coupe); Dh1.4m (convertible)
On sale: End of October