First Drive
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Flying At The Sound Of Speed
Anyone who's ever climbed out of a Bentley Continental GT is unlikely to say: "Nice car, but it could do with more oomph." An official top speed of 198 mph is usually enough for most drivers. But that hasn't stopped Bentley from squeezing out more performance. The new Continental GT Speed is the result.

I say 'official' top speed because it's common knowledge that every production Continental GT and Flying Spur is capable of over 200 mph. It's just that, with typical British reserve, Bentley plays things down a bit. One UK journalist recently took a completely stock Flying Spur to a verified 208 mph, with four adults inside and the air conditioning on full blast. No drama, just speed. Lots and lots of lovely, glorious speed.

So it's fitting that this new model, with an 'official' velocity of 202 mph is called the GT Speed. It's inspired by the legendary 'Speed' models of the 1920s, which were more performance-oriented versions of existing cars. And the new GT Speed is faster than the Continental GT, not through any weight reduction or aerodynamic advances, but because of extensive engineering.

One of Bentley's reasons for beefing up the Continental GT was that customers were returning their cars to the factory after they'd been 'tuned' (by various so-called specialists) to liberate more power. It turns out that increasing boost and remapping the engine management systems results in the world's most expensive pile of swarf. So the company decided to give customers what they wanted: a faster Continental GT, but one that can take the stresses of more power.

The engine remains a 6.0-liter, quad-cam, twin-turbo W12 masterpiece, now overhauled with new, stronger internals and a revised engine management system. There's a reworked crankcase, a lighter camshaft drive, lighter connecting rods and stronger pistons. Power is up by nine percent to 600 hp and torque up by 15 percent to 553 lb-ft. The zero-to-60 mph time is 4.3 seconds and 100 mph comes up in just 10.3 seconds. Let's not forget, this car weighs two and a half tons, which equates to a couple of early Porsche 911s. Just imagine what this engine could do in a smaller, lighter vehicle.

Bentleys have always been about more than plain facts and figures. An effortless grand tourer, the Continental GT redefines how one thinks a car should be built. Swing the heavy door, hear the solid thunk and you're insulated from the world in double-glazed, leather- and wood-lined luxury. There's nowhere else you'd rather be. Press the correct button and you'll even get a back massage at 200 mph.

The GT Speed has not lost any of the Conti's refinements. It's still a benchmark for luxury and comes with the Mulliner package as standard, whereas the standard GT offers it as a cost option. Externally, the car differs by having a more upright (to help with the cooling) dark-tinted chrome grille and new meshing covering both the main and lower air intakes. At the rear, there's a black lower bumper valance and new exhaust pipes. But the biggest difference is the fitting of new, multi-spoke, 20-inch wheels, which suit the lines of the car by adding a sense of menace, particularly as the ride height has also been lowered.

Both the Continental GT and GT Speed have benefited from tweaks to the nose section, with a more clearly defined lower valance that sharpens up the whole face. The GT Speed doesn't replace the Continental GT, but complements it as a more focused, harder-edged driving machine.

The extra punch is immediately apparent. Which is impressive, as the standard model is certainly no slouch. It sounds gruffer and there's a distinct whoom at idle, which always turns heads. Where the original GT tends to succumb too easily to understeer when cornering hard, the GT Speed comes alive. Although it still feels heavy, it's more sprightly, more responsive to inputs and definitely more fun to drive. No longer does it feel nose-heavy. Instead, it's poised, well balanced and impeccably behaved.

Acceleration is never anything other than a slingshot and, with the windows down, you get a real audio hit. Using the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles to override the automatic gearbox is the best method to provide the feeling of being totally in charge.

The Continental GT has always cosseted its occupants, which is nice up to a point. That point being when you realize you're doing 140 mph when you thought you were behaving yourself at 70. Never has such performance been achievable with so little effort. In the GT Speed, you're always aware that you're travelling very, very quickly. And this does nothing whatsoever to detract from the Continental's raison d'etre. It's just that with 600 hp and sharpened dynamics, you know exactly what the GT Speed is up to.

Another big improvement is the optional ceramic-disc braking system. It costs more to order than most small cars are to buy-an eye-watering $20,000. But colossal levels of speed are wiped off without a hint of bother. Internal organs will shift forward, but it's nice to know this beast can be brought to a standstill with such devastating effectiveness.

As is the way with Bentley, the GT Speed isn't blighted by badges or decals. That would be vulgar. But the educated eye will notice the details: the new wheels, the new exhaust pipes, the revised grille, the lower ride height and the biggest brake rotors one is ever likely to see. These all combine to tell the discerning observer that is the greatest driver's car Bentley has ever built.

2008 Bentley Continental GT Speed

*DrivetrainLongitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive

*Engine6.0-liter W12, dohc, 48-valve

*TransmissionSix-speed automatic

*SuspensionProgressive air springs, adjustable continuous damping with ride height control, front and rear

*BrakesEight-piston calipers, ventilated and perforated rotors, ABS, electronic park brake; optional carbon-ceramic rotors

*DimensionsLength/Width/Height (in.): 189/75.4/54.3
Wheelbase: 108 in.
Curb Weight: 5180 lb

*PerformancePeak Power: 600 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-62 mph: 4.3 sec.
Top Speed: 202 mph

The Price Tag: $206,000

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