It’s nearly 95 degrees as I find myself in the desert just outside Las Vegas. I look at my navigation screen and notice I’ve just crossed my fourth hour on the road. As The Strip comes into view over the horizon, I can’t help but wish I’d chosen to stay a day or two. No matter, it’s time to ditch the highway in search of back roads. Up until this point, I’ve driven on nothing but highways since I left Los Angeles, and I’m eager to see what the “Speed” can truly do.
The “Speed” I’m referring to is actually the latest Bentley Continental GT Speed, a six-figure, W12-powered grand tourer finished in the best specification I’ve ever seen. While it is a mile-muncher, there’s far more to the Speed than its role as a comfy GT. It exists as a last hoorah for Bentley’s legendary W12 as the carmaker has revealed plans to phase it out in the coming years so that room can be made for electrified powertrains. To be honest, an electric Bentley makes all the sense in the world. It’ll be quiet, comfortable, and quicker than ever. But before we close the brand’s big displacement chapter, let’s embark on one final road trip to see if the Speed is Bentley at its best.
The route was a relatively simple one. I set off from my Los Angeles home and headed for Las Vegas. It would take me a little over four hours to reach sin city. However, instead of staying the night at some swanky hotel, my masochist self opted to drive home the same day, totaling nearly nine hours on the road and over 600 miles covered. If the point was to figure out whether the Continental GT Speed was every bit a great grand tourer it claims to be, this trip would definitively give me an answer.
Since I didn’t want to cross the desert in the middle of the night, I opted to get an early start. I also chose to do it in the middle of the week where traffic from tourists would be significantly lower. Since one major highway connects the two cities, fewer people on the road would mean extensive clear stretches of road on which the Speed could flex its muscles.
Speaking of muscles, we should talk about the GT Speed itself because it’s more than just the latest special Bentley. Yes, it houses the same 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12 we’ve known and loved. However, it now develops 650 horsepower and 664 foot-pounds of torque. That allows this 5,000-plus pound coupe to reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds before continuing to a top speed of 208 mph. Despite its impressive stats, these don’t even tell half the story.
The latest GT Speed is all about its chassis as it employs more clever trickery than ever to deliver a driving experience it really shouldn’t be able to. It all starts with the new four-wheel steering system, which allows the Speed’s rear wheels to turn in tandem with the front at speed and in opposite directions at lower speeds. The result is improved maneuverability while moving slow and greater stability at higher speeds. Supplementing that is a new electronic limited-slip differential for even greater traction. The star of the show is the new active anti-roll bar system that hooks up to small electric motors and aims to eliminate the GT’s body roll.
To keep that hefty body in check, Bentley gave the new GT Speed the largest brakes ever fitted to a production car. The carbon-ceramic disks are 440 millimeters in the front and feature 10-piston calipers. Despite their massive size, these composite disks are 72 lb lighter than their steel equivalents, reducing unsprung weight.
Inside, the GT is business as usual for Bentley. There are endless high-quality materials with various finishes ranging from bright silver to piano black trim panels. However, the main attraction in my specific tester was its green leather and Alcantara interior color scheme. With just a few hints of beige littered in the details for a bit of contrast, the inside of this GT speed was easily one of the best-optioned interiors I’ve ever seen.
As Los Angeles began to fade into the background and the desert lay ahead, the GT Speed wasted no time in trying to win me over. It started with its multiple driving modes. On the highway, comfort mode was king. This sets the Speeds three-chamber active air suspension system to its most forgiving mode. The GT glides over imperfections on the road at speed, but it doesn’t float. There’s no sense of disconnection from the road like you get in a Rolls-Royce. This works to the Speed’s advantage as it still feels tight and planted, just not bothered by bumps.
The second and perhaps most intoxicating aspect of the GT Speed was its power. 650 hp is a lot in any vehicle, but Bentley’s dual-clutch transmission made it feel underrated. This heavy grand tourer picks up speed effortlessly, cruising into triple-digit speeds in mere seconds. Put your foot down for a simple overtake, and you’ll immediately watch traffic move in reverse through your rear-view mirror. While the W12 doesn’t rev all that high, it delivers boatloads of torque in the low end. As a result, the GT doesn’t feel sluggish in the slightest. Even in its laziest modes, the Speed feels eager to pounce, egging you on to open up the taps.
As I crossed Barstow, CA, the road cleared up. It also helped that there was nothing but an open desert between it and the next small city. This presented the perfect opportunity to stretch the Speed’s legs and test those high-speed stability claims. As soon as I picked up the pace, I learned that the GT’s capabilities are a bit of a double-edged sword. This coupe was like an unstoppable force at very high speed, aided by its hefty weight and clever handling elements. Saying it was stable would be an understatement. However, the flip side of that is that you don’t feel much of the speed. Triple-digit speeds feel about as stressful as doing 50 mph on the freeway. The GT does such a great job of masking wind and road noise that you don’t get the full excitement of opening it up.
After getting those wide-open throttle runs out of my system, I slowed things down and settled in for the rest of my long drive. This presented the perfect time to poke around the GT’s interior. The first thing that’ll strike you about this coupe’s interior is how many buttons there are. The entire center console is covered in physical controls, and I loved it. I’ve repeatedly said it, but I’ll always prefer this type of switchgear over the latest touch-sensitive panels found in a growing number of new vehicles.
In the center of the GT’s dash lives a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. While Bentley’s native infotainment system is stunning to look at, I found it a bit cumbersome to use and opted to stick with the smartphone-based systems. One thing I found a bit unusual was that CarPlay didn’t use the entire width of the screen. Instead, you’re stuck with a small rectangle to the left of the panel.
After over four hours on the highway, I opted to leave it behind with the Las Vegas strip peering over the horizon. I pulled into a stretch of the desert next to a massive gun range to snap some photos. This was the first time I had gotten a good look at the GT Speed, and even in its bug-covered state, it was stunning. While this is Bentley’s highest-performing model, they didn’t go all out in the styling department. They could’ve easily plastered it with over-the-top aero elements and carbon fiber to make it look performance-oriented. Instead, they opted to show a bit of restraint.
While the GT Speed features more aggressive front and rear bumpers, they remain classy. Additionally, the Speed seems to favor muscular bulges rather than overly sharp lines, meaning its design will likely age quite well. My tester also featured gloss black trim throughout and a darkened version of the Speed’s standard 22-inch wheels, which look sinister. However, the best part about this GT Speed was, without a doubt, its paint. It’s called Cumbrian Green, and while it may look black in most lighting scenarios, it offers plenty of sparkle in the desert sun.
Once I had finished drooling over this car’s good looks, I headed into Las Vegas for a quick bite to eat. Despite being on the road for many hours, I didn’t feel tired. Thanks to the GT’s excellent suspension and sound isolation, I felt refreshed as I drove through the strip. Despite its significant footprint, the GT Speed shrinks around you as it cuts through traffic, and with enough low-end torque to move mountains, it’s easily the fastest car on the road wherever you go.
After a bit of sightseeing, I was eager to get back on the road. I didn’t want to stop driving the GT. Sure, staying in Vegas would’ve been nice. But, racking up more miles in one of my favorite cars of the year was even better.
On my way back across the desert and getting close to seven hours on the road, I noticed some of the GT’s flaws. The honeymoon stage had worn off, and I thought more critically about this car. One of the strangest flaws was its driving position. I felt like I was sitting way too high in the cabin, but after messing around with the controls, I found my seat wouldn’t go any lower. Secondly, there was a strange creak coming from the transmission shift lever, every time I grabbed it, it made a very un-Bentley sound, reminding me of its plastic construction.
Nitpicking aside, the GT Speed made for a phenomenal companion on this desert run. With a base price of nearly $275,000 and an as-tested price of $350,000, the GT Speed has a lot of impressing to do to justify its price tag. However, it offers a bit of value when you consider it in context. If you want to continue going upmarket, you’ll be looking at a Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost like the one I drove to San Francisco earlier this year. That’ll cost you around $500,000 for a sporty luxury experience. While they are very different cars, they’re aimed at many of the same buyers, and the GT certainly didn’t leave me wanting more.
Thankfully, the GT more than lived up to what it claimed to be. It delivered a driving experience befitting a comfortable GT and a proper sports car. I was glad it was my partner for my two desert runs. Making a luxury car and a sports car is difficult enough, but the Bentley is in a league of its own because it seamlessly blends those two personalities. You can feel the high levels of engineering crafting your driving experience behind the scenes when you’re behind the wheel. And while Bentley’s electrified future will undoubtedly be great, it’s also currently making some of the best cars it ever has.