BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
Bentley Continental GT Speed review (2012 onwards)
What - Bentley Continental GT Speed
Date - October 2012
Where - Munich, Germany
Price - £151,000
Available - Now
Summary - The fastest ever Bentley is a more rounded car than the standard W12 and, in the 200mph club, could almost be considered a bargain...
We like - Sheer speed, more engaging drive than standard W12, competitive price by supercar standards
We don't like - Visually very similar to the standard W12, interior feeling aged in places, sporting appeal could be too subtle for some
The Bentley Continental GT Speed does exactly what it says on the, um, door sill kickplate: speed. It's the fastest Bentley ever, a fully fledged member of the 200mph club with a top speed of a remarkable 205mph.
The old Speed model arrived late in the MkI W12's life, but still quickly became the stronger-selling car of the two. Bentley's therefore brought this one to market as soon as possible, boosting the standard 575hp 6.0-litre W12 engine to a full 625hp.
The Speed restores the balance
Its arrival is not before time. The highly appealing Conti GT V8 has been winning friends in these parts which coupled, with the slightly lukewarm response to the too-little-changed W12 model, has left Bentley's best-selling car range looking a little out of sorts. The Speed restores the balance.
Spotting the visual differences over the standard W12 are a job for automotive anoraks, mind. It's a bit lower, has inch-larger wheels and the mesh in the grille is now dark-tinted. There are 'rifled' oval exhausts and, inside, a dark-tinted engine spin dashboard trim and a knurled gearlever knob. Luckily, the differences on the road are more stark...
The 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 has a new engine management system and other detail changes taken from the 640hp Supersports to deliver 625bhp. Bentley's proud of both the power and the way in which it has delivered: 'two cars in one' was the launch mantra, hyperbole that actually has some ground here.
In the auto's regular 'D' mode, it's quiet, plush and torquey, blending gentility with extreme pace. A great cruiser with masses in reserve. Fast twisty-road progress is slightly staccato though: the gearbox changes up early so response only comes after a downchange delay. Such is the torque-laden force, the rush is immense, but a bit jerky due to this transition from luxo-saloon cruise mode.
More responsive and rapid-fire
However, choose 'S' and the car seems to prime itself. The throttle becomes faster, the gearbox holds onto revs and, brilliantly, flaps open in the exhaust to make it immediately louder. In this mode, it's appreciably more responsive and rapid-fire, feeling like a more alert car. It's by far our favoured mode - and, due to fewer gearchanges, less jerky for passengers too (once you've mastered the more aggressive throttle pedal, that is).
Another significant change is the arrival of an eight-speed gearbox. The ZF automatic is as superb here as it is in other cars that use it, and it makes the W12 feel more responsive and dynamic in all situations. The 'block shift' function, which drops from eighth right down to third gear in one go when you boot it, is fantastically thrilling.
Ride and handling
The extra sporting focus is hard to detect at first. The seats still don't go low enough, the steering wheel remains over-large and, at times, the steering itself is suspiciously over-light. But don't be fooled. As with the old Speed, spend time with this car and its extra focus shines through.
It's like the V8, in being just how you'd want a Bentley to feel: sharper, more confident, more focused, without being hypercar extreme or spoiling its continent-crossing GT strengths. It isn't as lithe as the V8 - still it feels very much a 'large' and weighty car - but the extra connection that's been engineered into the chassis is welcome.
It feels more communicative, more confident and easier to place with accuracy at speed - good job, given the rush with which it arrives. In wet weather, rear-biased four-wheel drive gives ample traction and reassurance too, far more than you'd expect of a 625hp car.
Switching suspension settings doesn't have a significant effect
Oddly, switching between the air suspension's four settings doesn't have as significant an effect as moving between 'D' and 'S'. The sporting nature of the Sport comes from greater alacrity of engine response - the chassis is well sorted and has huge reserves in all modes.
Sport mode does add welcome meat to the steering too, giving more reassurance during fast motoring. You sense the very high limits through it: once reached, it gently nudges into understeer, but the rear-based four-wheel drive does mean just a hint of tail-leaning fun if you set it up right...
Fear not about the ride. It has monster 21-inch wheels but you'd never know. It's as pillowy as the regular car, just with more control and less body float, while reduced roll and heave into corners when you're really on it pleases passenger. Altering the air suspension has more of a positive effect on reducing body movement and roll than it does in negative ride-spoiling effects: impressive stuff.
Speed models come with the Mulliner Driving Specification pack as standard. This brings diamond quilted leather trim and 'engine spin' metal dashboard finish that, uniquely for the Speed, can be had in dark-tint finish to match the grille. The Speed also has drilled pedals and a different gearknob.
It's a rich treat, of course, with lots of hand-crafted panels, but just too similar to the standard car. Again, a few more Speed-specific treats wouldn't have gone amiss: a smaller steering wheel and different set of seats - the sort of details that make an Audi S line model feel more special than an SE.
In places it feels a bit dated
In places, it's feeling a bit dated. The basic dashboard architecture hasn't changed in a decade and some of the controls feel a generation behind rivals. The gearshift paddles are cumbersome and, for such a big and heavy car, there really should be more space in the back and in the boot.
But let's not be churlish. It is also a very refined and easy to live with place to be. In normal drive mode, it burbles richly but discreetly, imitating an executive car even well into three figure speeds: we'd imagine few cars are this peaceful at 205mph. That's why it weighs 2.3 tonnes, of course.
You don't buy a W12 Continental GT for its economy. If you want a green Bentley, you'll buy the V8. It's still better than it was, though, with a 12% improvement taking combined economy up to 19.6mpg. CO2 emissions are correspondingly down, to 335g/km.
Bentley admits half of these improvements are a result of the eight-speed gearbox, but it still ensures the W12 can live on. It's both Euro 5 and US LEV II regulations-compliant too, so is as clean as all future laws demand it to be.
The MSN Cars verdict
Speed by name, speed by nature. All-encompassing, easily accessible, never-ending speed, too. Bentley has honed the W12 into the Speed and given it a more focused character present in the V8, meaning there are now two distinct driver-pleasing options in the range.
Is there a cheaper, more competent, more wide-ranging 200mph four-seat GT all-rounder than this for the money? At £151k, we think not. The Speed doesn't shout about it, but it's a well sorted car that enthusiasts will draw satisfaction from.
Need to know
Engine 6.0-litre W12
Power, hp 625
Torque, lb ft 591
0-62 mph, secs 4.0
Top speed, mph 205
Mpg, combined 19.5
CO2, g/km 338
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
MSN Cars' Steve Walker takes the UK's cheapest new car for a test drive to see if it's worth parting only £5,995 for.
Date 23/05/13, Duration 4:17, Views 755