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January 16, 2008 > Auto Review

Auto Review

Bentley Continental GT Speed

I recently had the chance to drive a Bentley Continental GT Speed Coupe at and around Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. The GT Speed is the most powerful production Bentley ever made and it is the first one to top 200 MPH. Before you ask, no, I did not get going that fast.

GT Speed is an updated version of Bentley's Continental GT Coupe. The 6-liter, twin-turbocharged, W-12 produces 552 HP and 479 foot pounds of torque; GT Speed uses the same basic engine (with stronger internal bits) but puts out 600 HP and 553 foot pounds to give it a 203 MPH top speed. Both models have all-wheel drive systems and a six-speed ZF automatic transmission that can be paddle shifted. The GT Speed's suspension system is tuned to deliver tauter handling and better cornering performance. As a $16,500 option, you can get fade-resistant carbon ceramic brakes to better handle an aggressive driver's deceleration requirements.

Many people do not know what a W-12 engine is. It has four banks of three cylinders. You can think of it as two V-6 engines mated together driving a single crankshaft. The 48 valves are timed by a sophisticated variable valve timing system. Bentley's electronic engine management systems allow the W-12 to reduce CO2 emissions by 3.5 percent.

Opening the GT Speed's door is like walking into a luxurious English estate. As you would expect, there is fine leather everywhere. You have many choices of Walnut trim to experience that English art form. The front seats have the famous Bentley emblem embroidered on them and back seats are large enough for adults to ride in comfort.

In early 2007, Bentley set out on an unusual mission. They wanted to break the world's speed record on ice. The four-wheel drive Continental GT was the perfect tool. A mostly stock GT (with a roll cage and some aerodynamic changes) was taken to Finland. World Rally champion Juha Kankkunen drove the GT to a new, two way record of 199.86 mph. The highest speed in one direction was 207 mph.

Both Continental models share the same 10 MPG city and 17 MPG highway EPA estimates. Bentley's warranty extends for three years and has no mileage limitation. The base price for the Continental GT coupe is $175,990. The Continental GT Speed coupe debuted in August 2007 and its pricing starts at $199,990.

Driving the Continental GT Speed on the road was a dream. It had all the grace and elegance you would expect from a Bentley. It felt much more like a sports sedan than a luxury car. The controls are well laid out and easy to use. The huge power plant was ready to make the car jump when you wanted to do that. On the racetrack, the GT Speed is fun to drive. However, you need to keep in mind its 5,180 pound curb weight. It probably would not keep up with a 3,000 pound sports sedan, but then again, it was never designed to do that.

I must admit, this was the first time I have ever drove (or rode in) a Bentley. It was very impressive. Others must agree because Bentley has had a tremendous resurgence in the last few years. In 2003, the factory in Crewe, England, only produced 1,000 cars. In 2007 the production will exceed 10,000 cars. It's nice to see that this historic motor car is going full bore.

By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists

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