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2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed First Drive: A Luxury Cruise Missile

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2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed
2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed
Marauding around an abandoned NATO base at speeds that would be illegal elsewhere is exactly the sort of thing one does in a Bentley Continental GT Speed. Bentley

The Bentley Continental GT Speed can do donuts. We know of this unexpected (and, perhaps, gauche) talent because, during our recent test drive of this sportier, $275,000, up-powered (650 horsepower!) iteration of the flying-B brand’s best-known and longest-lived model, we did a series of smokey donuts in a searing chartreuse Speed Coupe.  

This joyous display of automotive infantilism took place in an equally unlikely location for a recherché, six-figure two-door: a closed NATO base in Sicily. Comiso Air Base was once home to 2000 people and a discrete cache of nuclear missiles. Both the staff and warheads were housed in concrete bunkers, though the ones with the weapons in them had significantly thicker walls, and 50-ton solid steel garage doors.  

Since Comiso closed in 1991 the north side of the base has become a civilian airport, but to test out the GT Speed on a closed course Bentley reserved use of the largely abandoned south side. 

We found ourselves wondering, as we spun 360s in the shadow of these bomb bays, whether a two-and-a-half ton Conti at full velocity—wrung out to a purported 208 mph, one mph more than the “regular” Continental GT—stood a chance at making a ding in this protective mass. Fortunately, we didn’t find out. 

2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed
The Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible adds almost 400 pounds to the GT Speed’s already considerable heft, but you’d never know from a performance standpoint. The blur of the scenery is even more intense when sampled al fresco. Bentley

Defying Physics In A 5,000-pound Car 

We did, however, have the chance to test out the giant cruiser’s massive carbon fiber brakes, which, in addition to adding nearly five-figures to the price tag, are said (by Bentley) to be the largest on any production vehicle, at a manhole-sized 17.3 inches. Still dwarfed by the 22-inch wheels found standard on this model, they tug the tug down from extra-legal speeds with alacrity, predictably and repeatedly.  

While the Continental GT Speed may not be as hefty as the bomb bay doors, its mass must, regardless of the dunes of pixie magic dusted upon it by Bentley’s engineers, still overcome the laws of physics. The GT Speed Coupe weighs in at a tick over 5,000 pounds, and the $300,000 Convertible just shy of 5,400, battleship numbers for 2+2 luxury two-doors. 

We once overshot a loose gravel corner on the closed course that passed near, and sometimes through, the base’s pool, recreation center, residences, clinic, and chapel. We were at once surprised, and unsurprised, as we power slid toward some unwelcoming rubbly bits, at just now much momentum a lead sled like this can develop at speed. 

Helping out in keeping the whole thing yar is an active, electric anti-roll bar suspension system first seen on the Bentayga SUV, which responds to roadway changes in milliseconds, firming or loosening to limit lean, as well as the need for the Dramamine that was once requisite in land yachts. 

2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed
The Continental GT is the best-selling model in Bentley’s history, though that includes the first two generations from 2004 and 2012. Bentley’s chief exterior designer John Paul Gregory oversaw the current design, which debuted an evolutionary shape for 2018. Bentley

Assisting even more considerably is the trick rear-wheel steering system that Bentley engineered to help its even larger Flying Spur sedan behave in a less Suez-clogging fashion. At low speeds, like in a parking lot, the back wheels turn in the opposite direction as the fronts, reducing the turning radius. At high speeds, like in the parking lot of an abandoned military base, they turn in the same direction, increasing stability.  

A computer-conditioned limited slip differential helps increase the flow of power to the wheel that has the most traction. Same for the all-wheel-drive system that has long been standard on Continental GTs, herein tuned to provide a bit more rearward bias. We cannot say, with any heuristic definitiveness, whether or not all of this allows for tighter donuts than in a “regular” GT. 

We can attest that it helps make the cabin quite a serene place to be, on pavement that is. Venturing beyond Comiso, we also had the opportunity to sample both the Speed Coupe and Convertible in the real world on twisty Sicilian back roads through the mountains and down to the coast, blasting through rural villages along the way. We opened it up on the Autostrada as well.  

Its comportment, especially in Comfort mode, is exemplary. In classic Gran Turismo fashion, this is one of those cars one can literally drive all day and come away refreshed. Though prospective owners are unlikely to be concerned with miles per gallon, Bentley claims a cruising range of 408 miles between fill-ups, a distance this car translates into an easy commute. Masses of sound deadening help, as do massaging seats, and a nearly five-figure Naim sound system.  

2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed
Under those covers lurks a long-evolving brute. The W12 used in the Continental GT Speed was first introduced by Volkswagen Group in 2001, but has grown in power over the years. Also sometimes seen in Audi and VW products, the W12 has also powered the Dutch Spyker supercars. Bentley

Swan Song Of The Bentley W12 

Speaking of sound, though Bentley has promised that the 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12 engine that powers this car is not long for this world—it is being phased out in the next few years, as the brand shifts to electric power—we feel certain that we will hear its bellows in our dreams for eternity. 

This glorious motor, mated to a dual-clutch eight-speed automatic gearbox, rockets the car from zero to 60 in just 3.5 seconds (a tenth quicker than the regular GT). The exhaust cracks-off on shifts, burbling with the kind of profligate delight that makes us wish internal combustion engines weren’t responsible for so much of our world’s ruination. (Here’s to our electric future.)  

The big twelve is not a screamer like a twelve-cylinder Ferrari or Lamborghini, but that isn’t the personality of a Bentley anyway.  

The mill is muffled by its W-shaped cylinder array, and the stifling effect of twin-turbocharged forced induction, but it’s a basso profundo to a Ferrari’s high-pitched wail. It has a purposeful vehemence to its clamor, the kind of stentorian depth ordinarily accorded to a science fiction villain.  

2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed
Forbes Wheels got to sample a variety of Continental GT Speed interiors in both Coupe and Convertible form, some more traditional than others. A vast array of personalization options await lucky buyers. Bentley

Bentley’s Velvet Glove 

This stridence exists in stark contrast to the rich, insulating creaminess of the cabin. 15 different leathers can be specified in a vast array of color and split combinations.  

The Speed designation generally signifies the elimination of some of the high-gloss hide-and-teak for which Bentley interiors—like English drawing rooms in general—are known. Typically, those materials are replaced with “sportier” Alcantara and matte carbon fiber. (Better known as plastic.) A few of the examples we drove, however, forewent this casual dressing and allowed the richness to shine, quite literally. 

As in the regular Continental there’s a 12.3-inch infotainment screen but, if you want to lock out the world and enjoy a more classic style (and want to pay a little extra), the rotating display flips away to reveal either a blank veneered panel or three petite dials: a clock (er, Chronometer), an air temperature indicator and a compass.  

2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed
As on the regular Continental, the touchscreen can rotate away to reveal a trio of gauges or a blank panel, but the Bentley puts lots of hard controls easily at hand. Bentley

For those who want to be connected there’s a 60GB hard drive, a 4G phone system, Apple CarPlay, two SD card slots navigation and Wi-Fi. Buyers can spec a host of advanced driver assistance systems, but only by selecting the optional Touring specification, which seems odd at this price. 

There are no “bad” cars in this rarified corner of the automotive universe. In fact, there aren’t really very many cars at all, anymore. Rolls-Royce’s Dawn and the Wraith will be available in the U.S. only though this fall, though they’ll continue on sale abroad. Mercedes-Benz killed the S-Class Maybach Coupe and Ferrari axed the shooting brake GTC4Lusso in 2020. The charmingly sinister Aston Martin DB11 remains, but it’s also a smaller and lither machine. 

That leaves the Continental GT Speed as the biggest, newest and fastest luxo-barge in the armory. If you’re dapper enough for the Royal Ascot or rich enough to have your own hollowed-out volcano headquarters and in the market for the perfect bunker-buster, the GT Speed is an ideal choice.  

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