Monday 20 September 2021 2:41 pm

Going nuclear: Bentley Continental GT Speed vs top-secret missile base

Hard left into the housing estate, the car slews sideways but its engine doesn’t pause for breath. I touch 120mph along tree-lined suburban streets, followed by a hooligan, figure-of-eight drift outside the swimming pool. Then it’s beneath the barbed wire, flat-out past a military checkpoint, through the weapons workshop and into a nuclear missile silo. Wow. What began as real-life Grand Theft Auto has suddenly gone full Call of Duty.

Rewind two years and the last Bentley event I attended was in Monaco. We stayed in the decadent Hotel de Paris on Casino Square and wafted along the Côte d’Azur in a then-new Flying Spur.

This time is rather different. I’m at Comiso Air Base, a former NATO nuclear launch site in southern Italy. And with a new Continental GT Speed on closed roads, wafting is definitely off the menu.

Need for Speed

Bentley Continental GT Speed
(Bentley)

As per its name, this is the fastest, most powerful version of the third-generation Continental GT. Available as a coupe (£209,900) or convertible (£230,900), it musters 659hp from a 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 – enough to propel 2.3 tonnes of British beef to 60mph in 3.5 seconds and reach 208mph. Ideal when you have a disused Cold War runway to hand.

In truth, those stats are only 0.1 seconds and 1mph quicker than the outgoing Continental GT W12, which this car replaces. But the Speed isn’t simply about, um, speed.

Billed as ‘the most dynamic road car in Bentley’s 101-year history’ it also boasts rear-axle steering, sportier stability control and an electronic differential. For an extra £11,890, you can add the world’s largest brakes: mammoth 440mm carbon-ceramic discs with 10-piston calipers. 

Ghost town 

Bentley Continental GT Speed
(Bentley)

Comiso was once home to 2,000 military personnel and 112 BGM-109G cruise missiles, but it closed after the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty in 1991. Today, it’s a ghost town, the silent streets covered in dust and debris.

A brand new Bentley resembles a UFO here, especially in near-radioactive Julep yellow. Yet inside, it also feels like a calm, hermetically-sealed haven from this rather unwelcoming world.

Indeed, this is no wannabe road racer like the old Supersports. It has the same pillowy leather, knurled aluminium switches and hand-crafted veneers as any Continental GT. And driving the three hours from our hotel, on Sicilian roads dotted with kamikaze Fiat Pandas, it manifests the same long-distance comfort. The three-chamber air suspension is scarcely stiffer than the standard car, ironing out potholes with imperious disdain. 

A civilised supercar

(Bentley)

With 664lb ft of torque from just 1,500rpm – a round 900Nm in new money – progress is utterly effortless, too. The 12-cylinder engine feels like a tight-coiled spring, always ready to respond.

I do wish it sounded more special, though. Its full-throttle snarl is slightly synthetic, never raising goosebumps like an Italian V12. Bentley’s smaller V8 does better here. 

Despite the efforts of four-wheel steering and a 48-volt anti-roll system, the blue-blooded Bentley can’t match the agility of a red-blooded supercar either. But then, how many wedge-shaped exotics seat four people, or make a schlep around the M25 seem as inviting as a warm bath? Plus, when you do find a quiet roundabout or (preferably) a racetrack, the Speed’s talent for riotous, tyre-smoking oversteer will always make you smile.

Premium Bond

(Bentley)

A final thought as the hype around No Time To Die goes into overdrive. In several of Ian Fleming’s books, James Bond actually drives a 1930 Bentley Blower, this car’s spiritual ancestor of sorts. If 007 needed to escape a top-secret nuclear base in 2021, I suspect Fleming would have chosen a Continental GT Speed.

Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research

PRICE: £209,900

POWER: 659hp

0-60MPH: 3.5sec 

TOP SPEED: 208mph

FUEL ECONOMY: 20.6mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS: 311g/km

WEIGHT: 2,273kg

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