At the touch of a button, the three-sided display on the dashboard rotates from a veneer panel to a modern 12.3-inch touchscreen to a traditional panel with three analogue dials showing outside air temperature, a stopwatch, and a compass. Very James Bond.
There are no machine guns or ejector seats, but the Bentley Continental GT Speed does have a debonair charm — and enough technology to impress a certain fictional secret agent. Not to mention that it lives up to its Speed moniker: the big grand tourer romps to 335km/h courtesy of its W12 twin-turbo 6l engine.
The most powerful incarnation of Bentley’s 12-cylinder engine delivers 485kW of power and a staggering 900Nm of torque through a quick and responsive eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, allowing the large coupé to cover the 0-100km/h sprint in less time than it takes to close the double-glazed electric windows — or 3.6 seconds, to be precise.
Apart from its ability to cover any distance swiftly, it is the most sports-focused car to emerge from the Bentley factory, with features such as all-wheel steering and active roll bars. A fuel-saving cylinder deactivation system shuts down half of the 12 cylinders if the car senses they are not needed. The result is that this potent British bomber sipped a remarkably frugal 10l/100km on the open road.
When whisking along in a red-hot fury more in keeping with its raison d’être, the Bentley averaged over 16l. And red-hot fury is a relative term, for even with the throttle thrust in anger this British car retains a genteel persona. The pace quickens, and there’s a more vocal rumble from the exhaust in the Sports mode, but it never becomes an angry brute.
Even as the G-forces press away at you in no uncertain terms, it remains a luxurious grand tourer, not a brash sportscar that intensifies every sensation or jangles your nerves. It casually romps to supercar-like velocities, without noise or histrionics, cocooning the occupants from the external drama behind doubleglazed windows.
With its air suspension this grand tourer smoothly whisks over bumpy tar without jitters or nervousness. It feels planted to the road, as if pressed down by a gigantic invisible hand. All wheel steering contributes to missile-like straight-line stability at high speeds, while making the heavy behemoth feel more manoeuvrable at low speeds by effectively shortening the wheelbase. Active anti-roll bars reduce body roll in the corners and the all-wheel drive keeps the power harnessed without any unbecoming wheelspin.
An electronically controlled torque vectoring rear differential improves traction when powering out of tight corners. In Sport mode, the all-wheel drive becomes more rear biased, but the actively managed torque distribution constantly shifts drive between the front and rear as needed.
The Continental GT Speed is a bodybuilder in a tuxedo
Optional carbon-ceramic brakes reduce weight by around 33kg in the nearly 2.3 tonne car and they’re more resistant to fade than standard steel discs in hard usage. The onboard computer graphics are recognisable from the Volkswagen family (shock horror), but the rest is exclusive Bentley opulence with diamond-quilted leather seats and copious chrome, offset by sporty alcantara and carbon-fibre trimmings.
Celebrities, magnates, and assorted heavyweights will not be unimpressed by the level of interior pomp and ceremony, and the sumptuous cabin can be personalised with a choice of colours. For two people, trips whisk by in milk-and-honey comfort with massaging seats that are heated and ventilated.
Rear seating in the two-door coupé is decidedly tight, however, and more suited to bassets than humans. Bentley is a favoured brand of rap stars, and the test car was appropriately fitted with an optional 2 200W Naim audio system with 18 speakers, including seat-mounted shakers. Very impressive. It’s one of the few systems I’ve heard that handle TiMO ODV’s deep bass without distortion.
The Continental GT Speed is a bodybuilder in a tuxedo. The big coupé radiates suave aggression with prominent rear haunches that give the impression of a predator ready to leap. The rangetopping Speed is distinguished by a black grille, dark tint finishes, and unique 22-inch wheels.
As part of Bentley’s personalisation programme, the test car’s noir ambience was heightened with black trim on the headlamps and tail-lamp bezels, dark-tint wheels, and a boot-lid spoiler and side sills made of carbon fibre. Many of these features, including the rotating display, are extra-cost options over and above the R5-million starting price, but one doesn’t quibble over such things when speccing a car wearing the wings.
This article was originally published in the June 2022 print edition of Wanted.