Bentley has a long and distinguished history in motor racing. The Bentley Boys, Le Mans, Brooklands, the Bentley Blower, Indianapolis.
However, when you look at the current range – Continental GT, Bentayga, Flying Spur – you’d be pushed to consider them as the sort of cars you’d take to a racing circuit. They instantly fit into the bracket of grand tourer, long distance, luxury.
Consequently it was with some surprise that we received an invitation to drive the latest Bentley at a venue which we wouldn’t have expected. Silverstone.
And we would be using the full Formula One circuit, following in the tyre tracks of Lewis Hamilton et al.
We were to drive the new Bentley Continental GT Speed.
There were two reasons for choosing a racing circuit. First, Bentley wanted to show off some new engineering tweaks they were rather proud of and, secondly, the car isn’t currently allowed to be driven on UK roads.
Covid-19 has caused a backlog at the homologation centres which means the latest Bentley isn’t actually going to be available until September at the earliest. The initial batch of cars have been built so Bentley wanted to display their latest engineering wizardry rather than let them gather dust.
We did our homework and compared the GT Speed Conti with the Continental GT you can buy from your local dealer. It’s very easy to wonder what the fuss is all about because there’s the same 5950cc W12 petrol engine although bhp has been boosted by a modest 24bhp. Humph. The 0-60 sprint sees a measly 0.1 second shaved off, dropping from 3.6 seconds to 3.5. Top speed rises by 1mph from 207 to 208mph.
From the outside the GT Speed looks very similar to the W12 GT. Apart from the badging, unique alloy wheels, subtle changes to the body styling and a dark tinted radiator grille you’d struggle to spot the difference.
The interior, as you would expect, is still the pinnacle of British craftsmanship. Wonderful styling, outstanding build quality and the ultimate in terms of materials used, but that’s what you get in every Bentley.
So, what’s the point of the Bentley Continental GT Speed?
The big difference between the W12 Continental GT and the GT Speed, is that the four-wheel drive system has now been joined by four-wheel steering. An electronically controlled limited slip differential can also be found on the rear axle. The suspension has been breathed upon and so has the anti-roll control.
All you need is to take a few of the Silverstone corners at the sort of speed where you expect to disappear into the gravel to then realise why Bentley is so proud of what the engineers have achieved. Bentley says this is the most performance-focussed road car they’ve ever produced. After a few laps of Silverstone, NOW we understand why we’re here.
Cornering is incredibly precise. Even when pushing the Continental to its limits, the GT Speed turns in whereas the ‘standard’ GT drifts into understeer and scrubs the front tyres. If you’re feeling really confident you can encourage the rear end of the GT Speed to step out of line and give you the chance to try some drifting. Very uncouth but very tempting. The car’s adaptive suspension has been re-tuned so that the GT Speed retains an uncannily flat stance when cornering hard.
Oh and if you go for the optional carbon-ceramic brakes, which at 440mm are the biggest on any production car, they shave off speed at a prodigious rate. It all adds to giving you extra confidence to go for it big style.
Which brings us back to asking what the GT Speed is all about.
Simple. It takes the Bentley Continental from being a brilliant car to an utterly fantastic car. It is still the most fabulous long distance tourer available anywhere, but it now offers the chance to have some extra fun when the conditions allow.
The GT Speed encourages you to push on a little when you arrive at some twisty stuff rather than just being content to sit back and enjoy the ride as a high speed cruiser. Bentley calls it ‘adrenaline, accelerated.’
Cost? Tricky because Bentley hasn’t said anything, but when the W12 GT costs £160,000 we reckon you can add another £20k. Worth it? You bet. The GT Speed is the one to have.
And I never thought I’d say this about a Bentley, but there’s a word which sums up the Continental GT Speed. Fun.
For more information, see bentleymotors.com