2021 Bentley Continental GT Speed road review: is it the ultimate Grand Tourer?
Taking Bentley's sharpest handling Conti ever for a tour of Sicily
The Bentley Continental GT has always impressed us with its ability to mask its weight and provide a driving experience that you just don't expect from such an accomplished Grand Tourer. It's a car that can hack down a country road with far more grip and go than you'd expect – but it's never been an out-and-out entertainer.
Bentley realises this, and so it's given the world the new Continental GT Speed. Available in coupe and convertible forms, it's had the kitchen sink thrown at its chassis with the aim of liberating a few smiles from its drivers. Has Bentley succeeded? Or have they just ruined the GT's credentials by adding too many tablespoons of Sportiness?
Read on to find out, or watch the video below in which I wear an Iraqi oil baron's sunglasses.
What is it?
It's a £230,000 Continental GT with a few new badges on the wings and "Speed" stitched into the opulently soft headrests.
Speed models get a darker tint to the front grilles and 22" forged alloy wheels
Oh, and it has a 6.0-litre W12 engine turned up to 650hp with 900N of torque, and it's also the first Continental GT to get four-wheel steering. You also get three-chamber air suspension, 48-volt active anti-roll bars, and an electrically controlled limited-slip diff on the back axle. The four-wheel-drive system can now send 95% of torque to the rear end (it's 80% on the standard car), and the stability control has been tuned differently for each driving mode. And you can do skids and donuts in it (which we did, on a cool abandoned US military base).
How does it drive?
From the moment the W12 fires into its complicated-yet-somehow-ordinary burble and you pull away onto the road, the GT Speed feels as compliant and cosseting as the regular Continental GT. Which means that it tackles crap Tarmac with the smashing efficiency and deftness of Emma Raducanu destroying an opponent at tennis. It pretty much glides when you're in Comfort mode, although you do get a pleasing amount of handling boatiness in that mode.
Stiffen things up a bit in the 'default' Bentley mode (dictated by a B on the rotary driving mode knob) and you start to sense that yes – this GT Speed is indeed a sharper, more playful thing than the regular car. You don't even have to drive it particularly quickly to feel the quick-turning benefits of the four-wheel steering system, and every remotely enthusiastic corner exit gives you the sense that 900Nm of torque is being put more efficiently to the floor through that differential.
You can get an optional Akrapovic exhaust – but this regular one still has a few pops and bangs up its girthy sleeves
Ramp things up to sport mode and the ride is still more comfy than firm, but you're greeted by pops and crackles on gearshifts, and a back axle that really does like to step out a tiny bit before you're fired at the horizon on your way to a potential top speed of 208mph.
While the gearbox melts into the background in Comfort and Bentley modes, it has a new sense of urgency in Sport mode, where shifts are twice as fast as the regular car. You'll get a gentle thump in the back on upshifts, and quite violent ones when you engage launch control to elicit that 3.5-second 0-60mph time amid a blare of exhaust noise that makes us wish they'd put the better-sounding and almost-as-quick V8 in it.
Bentley is the master of gorgeous paintwork – this colour is called Peacock
The combination of the new chassis components means you can drive the GT Speed with almost hot-hatch levels of aggression, without the car wilting under the pressure. Sure, hit a mid-corner bump and you sense the 2.3-tonne mass, but you'll be amazed at how hard you can drive this thing. You could keep a 911 Turbo in sight on the road without breaking much of a sweat.
440mm carbon ceramics are an expensive but worthwhile option
Buyers have – for the first time on a Bentley – the option of carbon-ceramic brakes and we'd suggest you stump up the £12,000 extra to add them to your GT Speed, simply because on a good road you will be carrying so much speed you do need the extra stopping power. After a good half-hour of slightly dubious driving in Sicily we had the carbon ceramics smelling very, very hot – a suggestion that the standard steel discs aren't the perfect match for the new level of enthusiastic driving the GT Speed encourages.
What about the rest of it?
Bentley's designers aren't stupid and as such the GT Speed still looks like a classic, classy thing. The front grille has a darker tint than the regular car, and the side skirts are subtly different, bracketed at each end by 22-inch forged wheels with a design that's unique to the Speed. The interior gets a few Speed badges and a new colour split for the immaculate Italian/Scandinavian leather. The steering wheel's outer rim is now clad in Alcantara, but the rest of the cabin remains as in the normal Conti GT – so it's sublime.
The cabin's as exquisite as usual, with the perfect amount of physical controls so you're never faffing through menus
The £6,700 Naim stereo still fires bass at your buttocks with the whipcrack authority of a German headmistress and the £5,000 three-way rotating infotainment/clock/veneer screen is such a meticulous piece of art you'd be mad not to spec it.
Rear seaters need to be short for maximum comfort…
Rear seat kneeroom is tight for six-foot-tall adults, but the back seats are usable for short journeys and are just as nicely finished as those up front, with proper bolsters to hold your passengers in place. Boot space is a bit tight at 235 litres on the convertible and 358 on the coupe, but for two people with squishy bags it's probably fine.
Should I buy one?
If you're in the market for a super-luxurious GT car and don't mind spending a serious amount of money on one, then there's absolutely no chance the Continental GT Speed will leave you feeling short-changed. The only problem is that the regular car is very good too – however if you are a keen driver then the Speed's upgrades will give you exactly the experience you're looking for.
And yes, you can turn the stability control fully off and do donuts in a car park. It seems you don't have to grow up just because you can afford a Bentley.
Buy one. Now.