AS A MOTORING journalist you spend an eternity behind a wheel in search of the perfect car and road combination. It’s not always the fastest car or the snakiest road that sets the fizz gushing through your veins – an 100kW hatchback on the right road can be enough – but on this occasion, the fastest production car Bentley has ever made combined with one of Germany’s uncapped freeways comes up trumps as an ultimate drive.
This Continental GT Speed pierces the hallowed 200mph barrier (320kph) and pushes a touch further to top out at 330kph. The engineers accompanying us on the international launch were goading us to see who can hit the highest speed – a completely legal exercise on the autobahn from Munich to the scenic Alpine countryside of Berchtesgaden. Carrying this brazen Bentley to that top speed is a reworked version of the legendary 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 powerplant bestowed with 460kW combined with a tar-ripping 800Nm of torque. The GT Speed also has a new transmission courtesy of specialists ZF, the eight-speed auto being specially designed to deal with the insane torque output. The new transmission has been fitted with Block Shifting, which allows for instantaneous shifting of multiple gears, eg from eighth to fourth in a single shift.
Laying all that power and torque onto the asphalt is an all-wheel drive system that Bentley has equipped with a 40:60 front/rear torque split, a setting that they believe minimises understeer in corners while providing the car with optimum grip in all conditions. Such attention to handling and cornering prowess is where Bentley aims to be different from the other luxury saloon makers. Racing is in the brand’s heritage and that’s why it showed the Continental GT3 Concept at Geneva – the company plans to have that car ready to race mid way through 2013.
So as the three-laned freeway before us opened up like a guiding light, the horizon clearly visible in the distance, a glance down at the lavishly simple speedo reveals we’re doing a mere 210kph – the VW Passat diesel in the rear-view mirror isn’t far off that either. Clobber the throttle pedal and the ZF wakes up with a shock-shift from eighth to fifth, the engine taking a deep breath as if preparing for an expulsion of energy. This is what this car was born to do – the needle starts to accelerate through the digitry, passing by numbers faster than you can call them out. “Two-forty … two-fifty … two-sixty …” the Bentley feels steadfast in its tracks the sensation marked with a slight detection of wind noise through the rear windows. The exhaust note picks up in the higher rev range, producing a more intense baritone not entirely dissimilar to the sound made by Beast Mtawarira as he clears a ruck full of forwards. The GT Speed continues relentlessly in pursuit of the 300kph barrier, whipping past kilometre markers in a blur of noise.
The steering makes the task of holding the car steady a simple one as the weight and feedback combine perfectly for that relaxed feel at high speeds. “Two-eighty … two-ninety …” – and that’ll do just fine, thank you. The road has reached that horizon line and a bend to the right causes me to bottle-out of the quest for 300. Still, I’m impressed with the ease this colossus penetrates speed barriers.
As I turn the corner the view ahead takes a drastic change. The horizon is no longer flat, I have to crane my neck under the windscreen to see the top of the peaks that lay ahead. I turn off the autobahn and the guidance lady tells me to make a beeline for the mountains. To say the GT Speed is a big car is an understatement; it’s 4.8 metres long and nearly two metres wide, sits on 21-inch wheels and weighs-in at 2.3 tonnes. I’m a little apprehensive of how such a big car is going to handle narrow Alpine roads consisting of endless switchbacks and petrifying drops.
Nevertheless this isn’t the time to back out. I grip the hand-crafted leather steering wheel a little tighter, shuffle a bit in the diamond-quilted perforated leather seats, tap the Bentley ‘B’ embossed gear selector into manual mode and begin shifting with the paddle stalks located on the steering column. Just to make things a little tougher, Mother Nature has organised some rain and mist. After the speech earlier about Bentley’s being born on the race track, I’m really hoping it wasn’t some public relations mumbo jumbo. It doesn’t take long for me to be impressed…
The GT Speed has stiffer suspension bushes and a self-levelling ride height that work together to optimize the handling balance. The GT Speed corners flat even in the tightest of hairpins, the turn-in is immediate and without understeer. It’s amazing to see how adept this giant of the road is able to deal with this slalom of corners. You do feel the size of the car on roads like this – every vehicle that comes the other way terrifies the life out of you – but the open stretches more than make up for it. The ride the whole time is as smooth as silk no matter which of the three ride settings (Sport, Normal and Comfort) you choose. With the GT Speed, Bentley has found the right balance of speed, comfort and agility. It has the capability of turning every road into an exciting trip with the theatric exhaust note providing the perfect accompaniment.
The search for the greatest car and road combination continues but this duo has just become my benchmark.
NEED TO KNOW
PRICE Not yet
ENGINE 6000cc, twin-turbocharged W12 petrol, 460kW @ 6000rpm, 800Nm @ 2000rpm
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic, permanent all-wheel drive
SUSPENSION Double wishbones front, trapezoidal multi-link rear, self-levelling all round
PERFORMANCE 4.2secs 0-100kph, 330kph top speed, 14.5ℓ/100km, 338g/km
ON SALE 2013