First Drive: 2008 Bentley Continental GT Speed
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2010.
By Ian Adcock of Road & Track
Jerez, Spain — Bentley has joined the ranks of the elite 200-plus-mph club with the Speed, its latest and most powerful version of the Continental GT. Developed partly as a response to those owners who had experienced engine failures after having their W-12 engines chipped in the pursuit of even more power, the Speed's engine now produces a mighty 600 bhp at 6000 rpm and 553 lb.-ft. of torque from 1750 to 5500 rpm.
Although aluminum front suspension and other weight-saving solutions have shaved off a few pounds, the coupe still tips the scales at a hefty 5180 lb. Nevertheless, the improvements made to the engine, which include lighter connecting rods and a reduction in internal pumping losses above 2000 rpm, mean the big coupe tops out at 202 mph, accomplishing zero to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds along the way, according to Bentley.
It is, however, the midrange performance that has the driver giggling and leaves other traffic trembling in its backwash: 30-50 mph is a doddle at 1.7 sec., while 50 to 70 mph takes just 2.3 sec. In fact, Bentley's Dr. Ulrich Eichorn maintains that midrange performance has improved by anything from 15 to 100 percent.
I have to admit that the Continental didn't push all the buttons for me when it was launched back in 2002: The sloping Bentley mesh grille didn't seem dynamic enough, while the driving position was compromised by the raked angle of the windshield. Most important, I felt the steering was inert and the dynamics too prone to understeer, thanks to that heavy W-12 hung out at the front.
Driving the GTC in California a year ago started to change my opinion, and the updates to that model have spread to the GT Speed. By solidly mounting the front subframe and retuning the Servotronic system, steering feel has been greatly enhanced and damper rates have been altered. There's still a slight tendency for the steering to not weight up with true linearity when charging hard, but it generally feels more responsive. Understeer will always be present, but it feels much more contained than before.
The Speed looks more dynamic as well, thanks to the new front end that will also appear on the standard Continental. More upright, it actually helps aerodynamic efficiency and, on the Speed only, sucks 14 percent more cooling air into the engine and onto the front brakes.
Speaking of which, for $16,500 on top of the $199,990 asking price for the Speed, owners can specify huge 16.6-in. carbon/silicon-carbide cross-drilled brakes. Manufactured by SGL, the world's leading producer of this technology, they are fade-free and massively inspiring, encouraging keen drivers to leave braking to the very last, sure in the knowledge that come the next bend they won't have faded. However, they bite very quickly so it takes some practice to develop the art of progressive braking if you're to avoid the passenger's head nodding back and forth like a bobble head.
The GT Speed's cabin is based on the Mulliner Driving Specification with quilted upholstery and the winged "B" stitched into the seats. There are a chunkier 3-spoke steering wheel with fingertip controls, a knurled top to the shifter, drilled alloy pedals and, of course, acres of veneer. Few cars can match the quality and aura of a Bentley's interior, and those that do come from other British manufacturers.
Driving across the flowing roads of southern Spain, I could quickly dial into the Speed's dual nature; one can spend all day cruising in Drive at the car's natural gait of 100 mph. No matter how hard you try to resist, the Speed just wafts up to three figures and stays there.
Or, you can select Sport, use the gearchange paddles and explore the outer reaches of the car's performance — and revel in the engine's burbling overrun that sounds like distant thunder.
By the end of two days, the GT Speed had worked its magic and won this skeptic over.