What is it?
The updated-for-2016 version of the Continental GT Speed, driven in the UK for the first time.
Its modifications – for the most part – show Crewe tinkering with a light touch; inside, we’re talking revised seat quilting on the standard Mulliner spec interior, larger paddle shifters and some new dials. Outside, to go with the new Bentley family front bumper, the Speed incorporates a bespoke diffuser and rear spoiler, the latter popping up from above the bootlid when things get sufficiently blurry.
This the Speed remains inordinately good at doing thanks to the repeat deployment of the mammoth 6.0-litre W12 engine, which continues to make the GT’s expansive engine bay look like Saddam’s spider hole. It retains the same 626bhp introduced at its last refresh, a bewildering output marshalled by the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox and responsible for making the model a confirmed 200mph-plus Bentley.
Its status as the quickest GT means its maker has opted not to include the latest cylinder deactivation tech which makes the ‘standard’ W12 run as a slightly leaner six-pot in less demanding moments. Consequently, the fuel consumption is still rated at a heady 19.5mpg (think of that as a target to aim at), while its 338g/km CO2 emissions rank it above a Rolls-Royce Ghost. Prices start at £168,300.
What’s it like?
Mostly superb to look at and sit in. The new grille mesh and B-styled wing adornment may be trifling but they confirm the GT’s hunkered good looks – widely accepted to have improved with age.
The cabin, particularly the ‘small-diamond’ trim pattern intended to be reminiscent of a tailored jacket, is a joy to both the fingertips and nasal passages and only slightly offset by the fact that the infotainment system is almost antiquated enough to be familiar to WO himself.
To drive, of course, it is no different. The W12’s 605lb ft from 1700rpm sounds monumental, but the Speed is fantastically well mannered at most speeds, and, like a child filling a cup from a reservoir, you hardly test its resources in everyday driving (often making the lack of variable displacement that little bit more galling).
Which isn’t to suggest that it generates no satisfaction; immersed in the GT’s heavy-duty attitude to everything – not least its brooding, caddish image – it’s possible to enjoy it thoroughly.
Alternatively, the Speed can be made to go offensively fast. Credit where it’s due, Bentley manages to make 626bhp – more than you’d find in a Ferrari 458 Scuderia – seem like an utterly usable commodity. Swift progress is as easy as embezzlement and very nearly as detached.
Kept in its Sport mode (accessed via the gearbox in the same way as any other Volkswagen) the Speed tools up high streets and thunders down carriageway as though it were warming up for an invasion; and, like a war reporter embedded with a cavalry brigade, it’s hard not to get swept up in the throbbing energy of it all.
Nevertheless, the handling limits are obvious enough if you start trying too hard. Canter forcefully into bends or a roundabout with the kind of abandon you’d apply to a middling hot hatch and the GT loses its mind, its amenable suspension being no match for the concrete church organ of cylinders and pistons located up front.
Such is the weight penalty that tweaking the adaptive dampers to their firmest setting won’t do much other than introduce a secondary niggle to a ride quality already forced to manage well beyond two tonnes while wearing 21in alloys.
Should I buy one?
It’s quite possible that your average Speed buyer would no more fiddle with the suspension button than drink Tesco’s own-brand Cava – or expect any more handling finesse than is required to sweep you blithely around motorway bends.
But the fact that Bentley builds a manifestly superior version of the GT is hard to ignore from an enthusiast point of view. The much-praised V8 S may have 118lb ft less on paper, but it too is extravagantly fast and is better wired for fun when the mood takes you.
The notion of the more agile, cheaper, less thirsty and substantially more efficient GT being the finer example of the breed may be counter-intuitive to those buying on the steadfast belief that size matters, but the latest iteration of the W12 does nothing to countermand the idea that the Bentley is best with four fewer cylinders.
Crewe’s continued investment in the engine suggests it feels the current Speed has a decent amount of life left in it yet, although it will be a naïve UK buyer who signs up for the experience without a pronounced affinity for its increasingly anachronistic appeal.
2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed
Location Surrey, UK; On sale Now; Price £168,300; Engine 1V2, 5998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 626bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 605lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2320kg; 0-62mph 4.2sec; Top speed 206mph; Economy 19.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 338g/km, 37%
What is it?