Bentley’s Continental GT Speed Is A Final Ode To 12-Cylinder Engineering
— 24 October 2022

Bentley’s Continental GT Speed Is A Final Ode To 12-Cylinder Engineering

— 24 October 2022
John McMahon
John McMahon

As I put pen to paper for this commentary on the Bentley Continental GT Speed, I caught a glimpse of a recent Autocar headline that all but confirms the demise of the marque’s holy W12 internal combustion engine.

Matthias Rabe, Bentley’s head of engineering, hinted the performance of its eventual successor will remain the same – or be even more powerful still – but it’ll likely come in the form of a V8 supported by electrification.

Nothing good lasts forever, nor was this news unexpected. But looking back just two weeks prior to my time at The Bend Motorsport Park with Bentley, in hindsight, this direction for the brand was as clear as day.

There was an unspoken reverence hanging in pit lane as we admired the seven brand-new Bentleys lined up before us. I’ve never seen a Bentley fleet in such numbers this side of the equator in all my time here at Boss Hunting. The Flying Spur V8 that greeted us at the entrance was so fresh it still had protective stickers on parts of its interior. The collective total of the fleet would be an insurer’s nightmare, with a likely sum of $5 million or more between them.

It was obvious that Bentley were throwing everything at this track day. First and foremost, we were there to dabble in the tarmac-eating potential of the new GT Speed and its glorious W12. A final reminder of its unhinged capabilities, perhaps, before the company brings its first hybrid to market in 2026 and strives to go fully electric in 2030.

Then I was told that its beefy SUV sibling, the Bentayga Speed, was already discontinued from European markets because of emissions laws. I couldn’t shake the thought as a sobering omen; this could be the last time we get to experience the W12 at its full potential on a racetrack in Australia.

Bentley Continental GT Speed

The Bentley Continental GT Speed starts at $551,600, even though we’ve never seen a Bentley arrive down under anywhere close to its starting price. The GT Speed at our disposal for the day was a spicy $690,932 with an options list too lengthy to elaborate on here.

Similarly, there’s nothing standard about the GT Speed, even in respect to all other Bentleys. The raw power from its W12 – 659PS and 900Nm – is unmatched amongst the marque’s catalogue of full-production models. Few automakers have honed their 12-cylinder tradecraft better than Bentley Motors and its 100 years of experience. Compared to its V8 baby brother, the Speed also features the absolute pinnacle of the brand’s ride technology, including Bentley dynamic ride, enhanced sports mode, all-wheel steering, drive mode dependent ESC and an electronic rear differential.

It’s poised, powerful, and forgiving. Not to mention it shaves 0.4 seconds off the regular V8’s 0-100km/h dash, which is impressive when you consider the GT Speed is both heavier and more tech-laden than the V8 in the same physical package.

And within the cockpit, the real estate is as generous as it is luxurious. You could argue that no automaker pays attention to its interiors quite like Bentley do, and for a GT, this is absolutely essential to leading the grand tourer segment. Quality comes down to the millimetre, customisation is championed in the sales process (rather than being an afterthought or a headache), and Bentley’s coach-building history is quite obviously just as important to the brand as its developments under the bonnet.

So on the one hand you have a daily driver you’d happily spend considerable time in, yet on the other, we were being invited to push it to its raw potential on a racetrack. And for a solid grand tourer that should be a fish out of water at a technical track like The Bend, boy did it howl down the main straight with an unexpected ferocity.

The voluptuous, panther-like rear haunches mounted the apex of the final turn as the 900Nm of torque threw the rev counter up to the redline. The speedometer scraped an elusive 235km/h (the GT Speed’s claimed limit is 335km/h) hammering down past the pits before I ran out of road.

Rear wheel steering made the tricky right-left of turns 1 and 2 sharper and easier to get on the throttle early for. The consensus among everyone who was behind the wheel that day was the remarkable amount of confidence we all had in the GT Speed for a four-seater, $700k coupé. At no point did I feel it was going to let me make a mistake I couldn’t come back from.

There was a stark difference in character when shifting from Bentley mode (for your Sunday morning stroll to the local golf club) to its sportier settings – you could really feel the ‘candy red’ GT Speed sink its teeth into the tarmac and double down for all the fun that comes with its most batshit crazy mode.

Bentley Continental GT Speed

I could argue that the V8, with rear-wheel drive, none of the fancy driving aids and a slightly more mid-engined configuration than the Speed was more nimble and playful, but just as ferocious.

But that would take the spotlight away from one of the most sophisticated and expertly engineered 12-cylinder cars on the market. And to be honest, I thought the difference between the two would be infinitely more obvious, but that wasn’t the case at all.

The prowess and sheer power of the GT Speed was a welcome surprise that afternoon. It’s near-perfect, which you would expect for a car that’s essentially an accumulation of the many years of Bentley’s internal combustion engineering.

Bentley is toying with the idea of commissioning a higher-performance derivative of the W12 to commemorate its retirement. Whether that takes the form of a full-production model (and is not limited to mere double-digit examples like the Balacar or the Batur) remains to be seen, but it’s unlikely.

They do say a star shines brightest just before it dies. Fortunately, I can take solace in the fact that I’ve experienced the absolute best from Bentley, and you’ve probably come to the same conclusion as I have already – the GT Speed is otherworldly in respect to both luxury and performance.

It’s a swan song to the 12-cylinder era, and one we could listen to until the cows come home, or the axes fall on it altogether. Whichever comes first.

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John McMahon
John McMahon is a founding member of the Boss Hunting team who honed his craft by managing content across website and social. Now, he's the publication's General Manager and specialises in bringing brands to life on the platform.


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