There’s something inseparable about Bentley’s and the Middle-East. Comfort, luxury and speed - lots of speed. It’s pretty much the Arabian dream, isn’t it? So when I find myself behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GT, blasting down an arrow straight strip of buttery smooth tarmac, surrounded by rolling sand dunes on either side, my right foot welded to the firewall, I’m not really surprised. Very much amused with a really stupid grin plastered across my face, and maybe even a little in love, but definitely not surprised. The source of my amusement isn’t your regular Continental, which is already a very special car. But the one I’m driving is, er, specialer!
The name says it all. Speed! Wow, I’m sold right there. It’s so much better than the usual fare of suffixes like ‘sport’ or ‘S’ or whathaveyounot. Speed; that one word conjures up images of Bentley Boys of old, in their old Speed Sixes, tearing it up at Le Mans. So the name has a lot to live up to and rest assured that Bentley doesn’t stick it on just any of its models. This Continental GT Speed that I’m driving is the fastest road car that Bentley has ever produced – capable of a mind-numbing top speed of 330km/h. But it’s not just the speed, it’s how it gets there that more impressive than anything else.
Under the hood, there’s the familiar 6.0-litre twin turbo W12 engine, but thanks to a brand new, and rather cutting edge, engine management system, which better runs the two massive turbochargers among other things, the motor now makes a humungous 625PS of power and an absolutely ridiculous 800Nm of torque.
Now these figures are 50PS and 100Nm more than before, so even though there hasn’t been any diet plan in the Continental’s agenda, it is able to accelerate from zero to 100km/h in just 4.2 seconds! We’re talking supercar levels of acceleration here, and that too from a Grand Tourer packed to the hilt with all the luxuries you can imagine, tipping the scales at a rather beefy 2,320kg kerb weight.
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.
So now that we’ve established that the Speed is one very impressive car, looking at it from the outside you’d actually be hard pressed to tell it apart from the standard version. The radiator and front bumper grilles now get a dark tint to pay homage to the Le Mans winning Bentleys of the 1920s, while the twin exhausts at the back have rifled tailpipes for a little added aggression.
The massive 21-inch alloy wheels are new too, which covered the optional and outrageously sized 420mm (front)/356mm (rear) cross-drilled Carbon Silicon-Carbide brake rotors on the Speed I drove. Open the door and the word ‘Speed’ sprawled across the sill gives you the first clear indication that this is indeed a different breed of Continental. Step in and you’re treated to pretty much whatever you’d like to have inside your car. The Mulliner Driving Specification provides all sorts of opulent detailing along with lots of perforated leather hide all around, Dark Stained Burr Walnut or Piano Black veneers, a couple of unique ‘engine spin’ aluminium fascia options harking back to the days of the ‘Old Number One’ and even a carbon-fibre interior option if one feels particular modern.
Before I drove this Speed in this magical land called Dubai, I really wouldn’t have considered myself a Bentley man. I somehow always preferred the way the folk from the Old Continent tackle performance and luxury. But after this experience, these British Brutes have really found a soft spot in my heart, a place where even the Astons I’ve got my hands on haven’t been able to get to.
What I’ve come to utterly adore about Bentleys in general is the way they package all that performance and extravagance into a very special package with just the right amount of a nod to cars from the days of yore. And what I especially love about the Speed is the way it does all that and yet totally feels like a modern day supercar when you put your foot down. I’m going to unashamedly admit that I now desperately yearn to be a true blue ‘Bentley Boy’. Now if I could only find a few crore of rupees somewhere...