Bentley taps into the need for speed

It’s pouring with rain as we speed along the autobahn towards the Bavarian Alps. I don’t have the cojones to get anywhere close to the 205mph top speed that this new Bentley Continental GT Speed is capable of, which is a shame because this is the fastest road-going Bentley ever made and we’re on an unrestricted road.

This makes me a wuss, because the car’s all-wheel-drive system – with its 60:40 torque split that favours the rear – isn’t bothered by anything I subject it to over the two days of near constant rain. Yet there’s no doubt the inclement weather has rather deflated our excitement. My desire to push quickly through the corners is countered by plain old common sense. There is standing water on the road and I’m grumpy as a result. Dammit.

Bentley’s new flagship “Conti” has been on something of an improvement programme. It has an enhanced chassis, including uprated springs and anti-roll bars, and its self-levelling air suspension system constantly monitors ride height and damping. The car now rides 10mm lower than the standard. But it’s the twin-turbo, 6.0-litre W12 engine and exhaust that demands all of the attention. Upgraded now to an awe-inspiring 616bhp, it has a new engine management system and new, eight-speed automatic transmission, which makes shifting gears almost effortless.

This GT Speed is brutally fast and sounds like it too. Zero to 62mph can be reached in just four seconds and 100mph from a standing start in only nine seconds – something we didn’t get the chance to confirm. The harder you drive, the louder and more sonorous the GT Speed gets. It will scream at you and take off with a roar or simply grumble at you with a tessitura of lovely bass notes deep from the rear. At times, the W12 engine boils away with such resonant character that you can feel it through your seat. Amazingly, after two days of driving and trying varying amounts of throttle, I was entirely unable to find a note I don’t like. This engine and its new free-breathing exhaust system – which was first used on the Continental Supersports Ice Speed Record car – is truly a lovely thing.

Bentley says it has built this Continental to be two cars in one. So is it a GT and an extreme sportscar? Almost. It weighs 2,320kg so no amount of marketing spin will negate the fact that this is a big, heavy beast. Despite this, it does feel sportier through the bends, but you can’t throw it around with total abandon. I became more confident with it over time but I would have liked to have really got to know the car over a longer period or, even better, drive it on track because it’s clear, its capabilities outstrip mine.

In a straight line, it is awesome and makes short work of overtaking. The transmission system allows you to shift down in blocks, from 8th to 4th say, before speeding off. So, push down on the accelerator pedal and you’re away and tucked back in front of whatever it was that was delaying you; the engine having thundered you past the slower traffic before returning to an irritated growl when you ease back off the throttle, like a curmudgeonly old greyhound.

And it looks great. My test car was painted bright yellow and was finished with a dark tint radiator and front bumper grille, carbon fibre side sill “blades” and 21-inch, ten twin-spoke dark-tint alloys, with a new rifled exhaust tailpipe at the rear. The effect is a car that looks cooler and more menacing.

We pull up to the airport for our flight home. Lifting off the throttle sounds like a distant machine gun fire. I shake my head. I can’t help but glare at the sky. And then I get it. There were 20 Bentley Continental GT Speeds thundering through the Bavarian Alps. Collectively we made such a din we were cloud busting.

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