Bentley Continental GT Speed : First Drive
The fiddly bits to make the Speed better than the standard W12 aren’t just restricted to under the hood. The air suspension springs and dampers connected to the aluminium double wishbone front suspension and trapezoidal multi-link rear setup have been revised to help better control body pitch during hard braking and acceleration, and roll when chucking it about some corners.
The Speed is also 10mm lower than before, and while 10mm is really an indiscernible difference to the human eye, it’s enough to move the centre of gravity closer to the road and improve handling. That being said, it’s completely unreasonable to expect a car that weights over 2.3-tonnes to tackle tight twisty roads with the poise of a Lotus Elise. But for what it’s worth, there should be very few situations where you might even feel remotely let down by the Speed’s handling, especially thanks to the plethora of electronic aids and that 40:60 split four-wheel drive system keeping things in check.
But the most unforgettable experience about driving the Speed has to be the new 8-speed ZF-sourced gearbox. Now when I say ‘new’, I mean new to the W12 engine as this has been doing duty in the V8 Continental for quite a while now. No double clutch malarkey here, because I highly doubt a twin-clutch setup would be able to handle the earth shattering torque this mad W12 engine makes. A conventional torque converter handles the transfer of power from the engine to the wheels, but don’t let that fool you.
The way it swaps cogs absolutely beggars belief. Stick it into Drive, and the upshifts are absolutely imperceptible, and with the ‘box able to ‘block shift’, that is, downshift through a large number of gears at once (say, straight from 8th to 3rd), engine response after a kickdown is absolutely instant. Move the wonderfully knurled gear selector into S or M however and it’s a whole different ball game. Not only do some valves inside the exhaust system open up to play a sonorous baritone from the tailpipes, the upshifts and downshifts become lightning quick. Using the paddles behind the steering wheel is insanely addictive in these modes and to be honest, I can’t think of a single torque converter gearbox that can shift quicker than this.