One centimetre. Doesn’t sound like a lot; takes less than a second to draw a line that short. Yet, this minuscule span is wide enough to divide continents, separate life and death, and disassociate the haves from the have-mores. Too theatrical? Not really. This level of exactness strummed in by precisionistas actually exists all around us. Which we, as humans, take for granted. And we’re really quite good at it.
Take for instance a simple cup of Americano looks as black as it tastes. The amount of ground beans needed isn’t poured into the mix by accident. Oh no. The barista carefully measures it into a portafilter before forcing hot water through it into a cup. Then more hot water is added in exact amounts to turn the brew into ambrosia. Delicious. Unless you are not a coffee-lover then you won’t even think about the process after the first sip; coffee is just that – a black drink that needs more sugar.
If you follow that same line of thought, then the Bentley is just a car; albeit with an astronomical price tag. For someone that doesn’t appreciate the craft into making such a fine automotive example, then said person would not understand the significance of dropping the Bentley Continental GT Speed ten millimetres closer to the ground. 10mm, even the width of your thumb is bigger. And this begins the radical progress needed to turn a regular Continental GT into a GT Speed.
Unless you’ve already logged plenty of time behind the wheel, you’ll be hard-pressed to find the difference in height, even when you park the GT Speed door-to-door with another Continental GT. Other visual cues are more apparent, if you have a trained eye that knows just which cranny to look.
Conveniently, I have the cheat sheet. There are a few changes to the front, one more apparent than the other. It starts with the bold matrix grille made sinister with a dark-tint chrome finish. The same dark finishing is also found in the front intakes, which itself has been redesigned by increasing the width of the middle intake. This gives the Speed appearance of a car that’s wider and lower, the appropriate face for such a car.
Walk past the 21-inch Speed alloys and halt at the rear end to take a peek into one of two large elliptical tailpipes. See that rifling in the barrel? That’s one more signature that pins the Speed on the Continental GT.
Now stand back and take in the car in its entirety. Breathtaking, this supercar, but not in the same sense as how a Ferrari sears the senses. If Italian supercars can be compared to flamboyant swashbucklers, then Bentleys could be equated to a gentlemen knight. But that’s how it is with British supercars, isn’t it? Always the subtle one compared to their counterparts from other countries.
For the Bentley, it is the large surfaces that do the trick. Especially the front fenders, made from aerospace-grade 5083 aluminium alloy and super formed by high temperatures and pressurised air. The long bonnet mated to the power bulge of the rear subtly, yet unmistakably, announces the car’s hidden intentions and the dominance it so easily projects. In any case, the GT Speed looks seriously good.
Open the door, it feels heavy with substance, as if you have just pried open a vault. It might as well been because the interior is exclusively appointed. Not only you can see but also absorb the notion that no expense was spared in the GT Speed’s making.
The Mulliner Driving Specification lines the interior. You’ll come to rest on a diamond-quilted, perforated leather-hide seat, each needing approximately 37 hours to cross-stitch. Door trims and rear quarter panels are adorned with the same skin whereas the headlining is finished in indented leather.
The dashboard also wears leather, although what is not covered in skin is armoured with satin-finished carbon-fibre trimmings. But if you don’t care much for carbon-fibre, then you can have your console embellished with overlapping circles; also known as ‘engine spin’. In fact, there are two engine spin options. Of the two, Dark Tint Aluminium is exclusive to the GT Speed.
Eventually, your hands will wrap around the fat steering wheel – 15 hours were needed to hand stitch one to completion. Finger on the start button; engage. The engine barks to life. It is a W12 unit that needed 16 man-hours to put together, but it is not the same W12 you’ll find in the Continental GT coupe and the GTC.
This engine, the 48-valve, 6.0-litre W12 twin turbo is paired with the latest ME17 engine management system, capable of 180 million individual calculations per second. All of these amounts to 616hp at 6,000rpm and 800Nm of torque from 1,700rpm.
This furnace is mated to a ZF eight-speed transmission, tinkered to handle the monstrous torque coming from the engine. Which results in big shouty numbers like 0-100kph in 4.2 seconds, 0-161kph in 9.0 seconds.
There’s no reason to doubt the numbers. As soon as you row the classic knurled finished gear lever into Drive and step on the pedal, the world pretty much becomes a blur. The rumble of the W12 is low and guttural, never howling. It is enough to fire up your internal neurons and dilate the pupils.
But you won’t feel the GT Speed snacking on the lower gear ratios, it’s that smooth. It is a fact that is true even in the higher gears. However, it is gear number four where significant speed is mustered. The GT Speed has a top speed of 330kph, no doubt, although getting up there will be a monumental task.
Not so much about the car’s ability – it gains speed with alarming effortlessness – but the lack of a road long and straight enough to let the car reach that kind of speed is. Still, speed is in its name and that is what this Bentley Continental GT Speed does best.
Drive it on the highway and it is all quiet in the cabin. Naim speakers piping music into this lounge-on-wheels, the engine turning at a low speed, just a notch under 1,600rpm; barely above idle. It feels as if I am taking a slow cruise. Except that the speedometer is telling me that I’m moving at speeds of more than 160kph. That’s not the end of it, there’s more gumption in the tank.
Step hard on the accelerator and the car drops the gears too quickly; block-shifting technology allows the car to shift from, say, eighth to fourth in an instant. A bombing run ensues, and cars on the road seemingly come to a halt. Knuckles get whiter. And I’m regretting that I have to return the car soon. Clearly, this one is made for the long highways.
But before that last statement is cemented, let’s remind ourselves of that 10mm drop in height. For Bentley, it is significant. The GT Speed now has revised air suspension springs and dampers, which lowers the car by that much. Translation: a more agile Bentley. It is just too bad that I have to turn the car back to KL, else I would have gone north and then some. The Continental GT Speed begs longer roads so it can stretch out its legs further. Alas.
Still, the drawn-out left-hander that connects the toll plaza to the highway is taken with respectful gusto. The car holds its line, of course. Having four wheels driven do add to the stability but it runs the course good and flat. Roll, pitch, yaw and heave are all kept on a very tight noose it seems.
Yet, I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of what this car can truly do. Pootling with it around the city is not the ideal place to test this Bentley; the supple ride and bang-on power lets the car cruise on the streets easily, the only thing to worry is the girth and if it will fit into those tight back-lane short cuts. Best keep it on the main road then.
The Bentley needs to be driven long, the further the better. The Grand Tourer moniker is no marketing gimmick that some car companies use to make their product look hotter than it really is.
In the end, the limited number of hours I had didn’t allow the GT Speed to tell its full tale. But seeing that it has the power, the presence, the luxury and the shockingly agile driving dynamics, that story would have been very good indeed.