Sovereign’s carriage, silent assassin, voyager, wingman, spirit of an age. Bentley’s 12-cylinder coupe is nothing so much as a mass of contradictions, as Peter Frost explains.
The Magnetic grey GT Speed crouches diffidently in the corner of Toby Venter’s bespoke showroom in Century City. Outwardly the latest GT Speed offers very little evidence that there are twelve cylinders of lawlessness lurking under the bonnet. Dirk van Braeckel’s muscular design, all haunches and Rubenesque titillation, suggests a grand tourer of the old school, ideal for bespoke, trans-continental explorations rather than lairy black striping outside the Viper Lounge on a Saturday night. But venom there is, hinted at in the (optional) 440 mm diameter front discs and red callipers peeking through the 22-inch dark tint wheels. There are other clues; look carefully and the GT Speed sits lower than the conventional Conti. Black rimmed lights, grille and carbon-fibre rumble strips suggest an undertow of disquiet, that perhaps this paragon of Establishment virtue isn’t quite the Churchill it pretends to be.
Inside there’s little evidence of counter culture either. Bentley would have you choose piano black or high gloss carbon fibre over the traditional oak or ash veneers for your racier GT Speed, but it’s still Viscount Astor at the Atheneum rather than Sergio Ramos at Del Diegos in Madrid. Organ pulls for the vents. Bejewelled analogue clock. Bespoke needlecraft. Eleven or so of England’s finest heifers. It’s a beautiful, cultivated, overstuffed place that manages to be both cosy and spacious at the same time.
Fire up the 12 and there’s a distant throb rather than a roar, the first clue of an understated ethos and the coming experience. In the centre console there’s a Bond moment as the carbon-fibre cover rotates to reveal the infotainment screen. Press the ‘screen’ button on the console and the unit rotates again, this time presenting the assembled with a trio of antique-inspired dials, one for outside temperature, one a compass and the last a stopwatch.
Select a drive mode (Sport, Comfort or Bentley), snick the slightly awkward gear lever into D and squeeze the throttle. The muscularity of the four-bank W12 is immediately evident, the 900Nm of torque available at just 1500rpm. There’s a classic push in the small of your back, hinting at a Polaris missile amount of shove, just under your right foot.
Push on and the 2,2 tonne Bentley miraculously sheds kilograms, an act of alchemy that is more impressive the faster the car goes. Agility only improves; and here’s what’s new for 2022 – bulleting out of the last of three fast corners I’m reminded of Bahrain, the sudden switch-switch change of direction that is absolutely no problem for the leviathan. Thank the suit of new technologies for that as much as the decent chassis setup; a very competent torque vectoring system through the electronic limited slip differential sends power where it’s most useful and the electric active roll control system limits lean well. It’s especially good in tightening corners where tapping off would be, if not a bad idea, then at least disappointing.
In Sport mode the AWD system sends most of the power to the rear – some 70 precent – which, the PR folk suggest, means you now get to play rear wheel hero in your Conti, drift like a champion and frighten the children. In truth that’s unlikely, except on a track, the car’s limits way beyond the skill or bravery of most regulation Bentley buyers. What is does mean is that the Conti GT Speed is now even easier to drive quickly, that tweaked active suspension a real boon, especially in the twisties. Easy and satisfying. Which, after all, is what a Grand Tourer should be all about. Splendid toy, Bentley.
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Price:` R5 045 000
Engine: front mounted, twin turbo, 6 000cc, four-bank W12
Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch
Power: 485 kW @ 5 000 – 6 000 rpm
Torque: 900 N.m @ 1 500 rpm
Driven wheels: AWD
0-100 km/h: 3,6 seconds
Top speed: 335 km/h
Fuel consumption: 13,5 l/100km (combined)
CO2 emissions: 311 g/km
Rivals: Aston Martin DBS, Ferrari Roma, McLaren GT, Porsche 911 Turbo S, Lexus LC 500 coupe