Oh dear Bentley doesn’t seem to be interested in grasping the modern concept of political correctness. Here we have a near two-and-a-half tonne car with a 320kph maximum velocity and they've gone and called it 'Speed'. This is the new, uber version of the already fairly uber Continental GT and there's a genuine British-style honesty in the way it's talked about, combined with a delivery so laid back it's almost horizontal. "How can you call the car 'Speed' in this day and age?" someone asks. "Very easily," comes the deadpan reply. "Bentleys have had the word 'Speed' in their name since 1923." That was when company founder WO tacked it on. So why not?
CO2 emissions? More brutal honesty. Bentley says it just doesn't build enough cars in a year to make a real impact on the environment. And as for predictions of the sales split between the Speed and the ordinary Conti, that geris a devil-may-care shrug of the shoulders. Apparently, that could be anywhere between 15 and 50 per cent for the Speed. Bentley is very happy to be selling cars, and it doesn't matter whether they're Speeds or ordinary Continentals. And no one over at the company has any image issues over the fact that footballers and hip-hop stars have been buying Bentleys by the bucket load.
Going on the strength of our first drive of this car, the actual Speed to standard Conti sales ratio should be nearer 50 per cent. None of the improvements put light and day between it and the non-Speed, bur there's enough of a difference to question why it's taken Bentley four years to make the changes.
The big differences are in the engine bay: power is up by 48bhp to 600bhp and torque is now a whopping 750Nm. Top speed has been increased to a quite fantastic 323kph, which makes the Speed the fastest production Bentley ever. That's 6kph faster than before, and the 0-100kph time has been shaved by 0.3 seconds to 4.3 seconds. Quick for a big bus.
Altered airflow through the crank case (the hole for this is noticeably a lot bigger) combines with a different piston shape and new, lightened con rods. There are also some different piston rings to cope with the higher cylinder pressures the Speed operates at, as well as a re-designed catalyst which gets a metal reactive surface instead of the normal ceramic. This lowers the back pressure, thereby making the engine more efficient. What Bentley hasn't done is a Max Power job and simply turn up the boost on the twin turbochargers - it's only been raised by 100 millibars. You can cough harder than that.
At the same time, fuel efficiency is raised by 3.5 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions drop by a similar amount, so the Continental GT and Speed models both manage to sneak below 400g/km. At just 5.7kpl for the Speed, it's unlikely that you'll find Greenpeace issuing these as company cars, but at least Bentley is tipping its tweed cap in the direction of climate change.
These impressive little mods are all very well, but the Continental GT was already a massively quick car. That extra 6kph at the top end doesn't translate into any tangible difference out on the road. I drove an ordinary Continental a couple of weeks before this one and it felt almost identical. Suffice to say, I didn't hit 317kph, either.
Driving the Speed, there's a vivid impression of building up the pace, but because the Bentley is so very refined and the turbos come in so smoothly, 160kph almost comes as a bit of a shock. Needless to say, it's still pulling like a train at that speed. I won't confess to the top speed we hit, but I will say that 323kph doesn't feel too far away.
There are still three different gearbox modes, and I hardly ever left it in Dive. It's ok for the motorway, but Sport is far better over back roads, and the tiptronic mode suits twistier sections. I reckon this makes Sport the shift mode of choice because there’s more instantaneous power for overtaking, and, more importantly, it opens up some baffles in the exhaust so the Speed sounds better on the overrun. That was always a criticism of the Conti GT - that it just sounded too refined from the inside, but it's much better now.
As is the handling. Let's not get too excited about this - the Speed is still a Conti GT, so it's still a heavy brute (2,350kg to be precise) which is over 100kg more than a Mercedes R-Class. But the chassis alterations, which include new aluminium uprights, a smaller diameter front anti-roll bar and stiffer spring rates, have certainly sharpened this car up. The front sub-frame has been pinched off the Conti GTC drophead so the whole set-up is much stiffer. Don't confuse this with a lack of comfort though - the chassis has an exceptional balance between ride and handling. And it washes the speed off with complete authority: Bentley also offers the Speed with ceramic brakes which, at 420mm for the front disc, makes this the largest production brake disc in the world. The previous record holder? The standard steel brakes on the Conti GT, of course.
But I'm digressing. The key point here is how much unsprung weight these save: 23kg to be precise. Bentley reckons the reduced weight of the brakes on their own shaves a tenth off the car's 0-100kph time, but the unsprung weight is more important because this permits the Speed to be a whole lot more comfortable than it should be.
The Speed comes with unique 20-inch wheels, with 275/35 low profile tyres, but ride comfort is a good bit better on this car than on the Continental GT, even though the latter has wheels of 19-inch diameter. It absorbs little bumps far more effectively and rolls over them with less reaction through the suspension. There's now less weight transfer for the suspension to absorb, so it's much smoother. The standard Conti gets fazed by lumps and bumps, dare I say even crashes through some of them, but the Speed is far superior and manages to isolate them from the cabin very well.
The flipside of all these changes is that you can leave the Speed in the Sport suspension setting over rougher tarmac. Previously you just never bothered with this mode because the car became virtually undriveable, but now things are different. Of course, the Spanish roads we drove on were felt like bowling alleys, but I reckon Sport might even work in India as well. It's certainly beneficial if you want to get to your mansion in quick time. Body roll is reduced, so you can pitch it into the corners harder.
What this setting also gives you is more of an idea of what the Speed is doing underneath you, which is more often than not getting a slight bout of understeer. The Conti driving experience has always been a bit removed from your arse, but the Speed improves upon this. It's still no Ferrari, because the Bentley will never be as lithe as that, but there's more feel here. In the spirit of this, the ESP system has also been altered so there is now a new mode - Dynamic (the ordinary car gets a Sport Traction set-up).
Apparently, this moderates the ESP intetVentiOl1af both low and high speeds, I so you get a bit more feel and it allows a certain degree of slip. This is basically for the keener driver. But the Speed still runs on four-wheel drive, so any sort of sideways drift in. this thing would be a terrifying experience to most because you'd have to be going so, so fast to get it to step out of line.
That wouldn't exactly be helped by the steering feel, which Bentley claims has been sharpened up too, burl challenge anyone to really tell. It might be a teeny weenie bit crisper than before, but it's still devoid of the levels of feel that a truly sporty GT car should have.
Equally, you tell me what's been altered on the exterior of this car. Apparently, the grille is now more upright and there’s some extra chrome around the headlights as part of the facelift to the whole Conti range. Oh, and the grille is dark chromed On the Speed as opposed to bright chromed on the standard car. To apply a bit of Bentley-style bluntness of my own; they're all hut identical. The interior changes for the Speed are a touch more noticeable, because it gets a hew three-spoke steering wheel, a Speed logo along the doorsill and diamond-quilted leather Seats. The steering wheel is a definite improvement, as the old design (which still appears on the standard Conti) now looks more than a bit dated. And the knurled metal roller button that lets you scroll through the various menus certainly feels much nicer than the old plastic ones.
All of which leaves one minor conundrum, as to whether you should choose the Speed over the standard Continental- cost. It's Rs 14lakh more expensive than the 'normal' car, but when you'd be spending something close to Rs 96 lakh anyway, I suppose that doesn't seem too steep. It's more a matter of the ceramic brakes. At over Rs 8 lakh' they make Porsche's system look cheap, but I reckon they're vital to the feel and ride you get in the Speed, which is the pick of the Conti range. So that's nearly Rs 1.2 crore for a Continental Bentley, the supposed 'cheap' way to join the uber-car club. Politically correct? Doesn't matter, does it?