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BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT SPEED

On the cusp of a significant increase in sales, Bentley has upped the ante with a blistering version of its Continental GT. Anthony ffrench-Constant reports on the fastest production Bentley of all time

It’s all very well the more stoutly brogue’d of Britons coming over a tad sniffy about the fact that Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW and the Bentley boys now answer to the Volkswagen group, but, truth is, both marques – consistently the apple of entirely recessionproof eyes – are positively flourishing under their new owners.

Whilst most of us struggle on these days by furtively smashing the children’s piggy banks and stealing bread from old ladies at the duck pond, Bentley sales have risen from 4759 cars in 2011 to nearly 6000 in 2012.

There is, however, one increasingly perceptible shift in proceedings which may elicit further cause for concern amongst the side-by-side set. It’s not that long ago that, through the attentions of personalised number plates and pisspoor comedians (COMIC, MAGIC; you know who you are…), a Rolls-Royce came to be considered a trifle vulgar, and it was left to Bentley to safeguard standards of dignity and decorum amongst luxuriously appointed and extremely rapid bungalows the land over.

Today, however, it seems the worm has turned. Whilst both marques still bend over backwards to accommodate every bespoke whim, Rolls customers rarely see fit to over-embellish the fine work wrought by the Goodwood arm of BMW, and it’s Bentley owners who are now far more prone to step up to the plate of unpardonable personalisation…

Tales of paint finishes chosen to exactly match an evening dress are not uncommon (though the paintwork layer would surely become somewhat stout if each new outfit demanded a respray), and we’ve all seen images of the horrors visited upon Crewe’s finest by those earning over £100,000 a week for chasing a little ball around in public, all in the name of squeeze appeasement.

Ironically, then, Bentley would appear to be quietly falling foul of its own sporting pedigree; footballers don’t buy Rollers because the company doesn’t preach power and performance. Bentley, once maker of the world’s fastest lorry and now producer of the world’s fastest full leather living room, does.

So the company makes no bones about the fact that it is customer demand that has spawned the Continental GT Speed, billed as the fastest production Bentley ever. With that remarkable, 6.0 litre, twinturbo W12 powerplant shoehorned under the bonnet (image a pair of V6 engines superimposed atop one another by a man with a bad squint and eight pints the worse for wear) the standard GT is, frankly, fast enough. In this uprated guise, however, the words ‘rat’ and ‘stabbed’ are never far from the forefront of the mind…

Power is up 49 bhp to 616 bhp, maximum torque climbs by 78 lb ft to 590 lb ft, and the engine is mated to a new ZF 8- speed automatic transmission with paddle shift override. The upshot is a 2.4 tonne, four-wheel drive behemoth capable of hitting 60 mph in exactly 4.0 seconds, 100 mph in exactly 9.0, with a top speed of 205 mph.

The signature design cues that distinguish the GT Speed from its stable-mates are mercifully subtle, and include bespoke, 21” alloys, a dark-tint radiator shell treatment, rifled exhaust barrels (for reasons that may never become clear) and W12 wing badging (which absolutely incensed a brogue-biased colleague). The eye does not discern a ride height lowered by 10mm in conjunction with beefed up, air-sprung, adaptive double wishbone front and multilink rear undercarriage.

On board, appropriate, quilted leather opulence surrounds an elegant dashboard so vast one feels like a toddler in the passenger seat all over again. The wooden centre console and engine-turned aluminium side panels I experienced is a marriage of ocular inconvenience, so it’s a relief to learn that an all aluminium alternative is available from an options list of prodigious scope and pricing.

In truth, though it seems that almost any paintwork you choose (including evening dress emerald green) will set you back little short of an extra £7000, a £151,000 base price seems something of a bargain for so much machine.

And a rummage through the options list suggests that the only must-have addition takes the form of an outstanding Naim audio system of such power and clarity you can actually see individual notes forming in thin air en route to ear wax excavation duties. Then again, I’d expect no less for £5,365.

Bavarian rain of biblical proportions and roads more slippery than a seal in a fish lorry dominated my time with the Speed. But I can report that all too brief stretches of dry(ish) and uncluttered Autobahn demonstrated that it is, indeed, astonishingly, hilariously and instantly rapid; what felt like little more than a gentle lean on the throttle conjured 160mph on the speedometer in remarkably short order before I chickened out...

Quite why it was deemed necessary to mate an engine with this much torque to a new, 8-speed transmission is beyond me. Especially since, with so many to choose from, the gearbox hunts relentlessly between cogs at all times – smoothly, I grant you, but nonetheless perceptibly – which is a little unseemly for a car such as this.

‘Sport’ mode – again a gently unnecessary contrivance for a car billed as Bentley’s fastest ever – makes everything happen more rapidly but, ultimately, less pleasurably. Though baffles opening in the exhaust system give the engine note an amusingly vocal, offbeat throb, throttle response becomes almost too sharp for comfort, and downchanges in lower gears are perceptibly jerky on occasion.

The controls are appropriately meaty, with accurate steering sufficiently weighted to serve as a constant reminder of the considerable mass of this machine. All-wheel drive with a 60:40 rear bias means there’s plenty of grip, even in the wet, and the Speed will change direction with surprising alacrity.

Though, for true comfort this remains a leviathan better suited to sweeping A roads than tighter, twistier track.

This is, undeniably, an outrageous, and rather marvellous car. But then, so is a standard W12. What price the Stamford Bridge players’ car park pecking order?

BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT SPEED TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Price: from £151,000
Engine: 6.0 litre, twin-turbo W12, 616 bhp at 6,000 rpm, 590 lb ft from 2000 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Acceleration: 0–60 mph: 4.0 seconds, 0-100 mph: 9.0 seconds
Top speed: 205 mph
Average fuel consumption (combined cycle): 19.5 mpg
CO2 emissions: 338 g/km

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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