Life has been one continuous champagne toast since Volkswagen took over the Bentley brand and P. Diddy featured one of these British/German bolides in a rap video. Busta Rhymes bought in. Paris Hilton and Mike Tyson have both come and gone from the owner roster. Jay Leno has a fine vintage specimen in his collection. The swarm of flying B badges around Hollywood is getting thicker than a pack of plastic surgeons.
In this day of foreclosure and four-dollar regular fuel, the good news is that there's a ballsier Bentley to tempt the wealthy. The 2009 Speed edition of the Continental Flying Spur may look like a recycled Volkswagen Phaeton, but all of this supersedan's dynamic character traits take after the Lamborghini side of the family.
To make a 2.7-ton object accelerate with Chevy Corvette vigor and trump a Porsche 911 Turbo's terminal velocity, ample power is required. The aptly named Speed is blessed with 600 horses, 48 more than the ordinary Flying Spur. Most of the added impetus came from reducing the pumping losses inside the densely packed W-12's crankcase.
Leg the throttle, and the force of 6.0 liters boosted by twin turbos feels like a bump-drafting avalanche. Each click of the upshift paddle summons another surge of energy. Long after lesser machines have tapped out, the Speed's determination holds steady. Abruptly lifting off the gas cues a charming exhaust-burble riff.
Bolting the front subframe rigidly to the body structure is not how you impress owners expecting their $200,000-plus Bentley to ride like whipped cream over sponge cake, but it is an excellent way to tighten up the road dialogue. The Speed's steering feel and responsiveness rival that of any Porsche or BMW. The price for keeping the driver so well informed is an occasional bump and grind disturbance over tattered pavement.
Every seat in the house is firmly bolstered to hold overfed occupants in place when the twenty-inch Pirelli PZero radials, fortified suspension components, and four-position dampers swing into action. For an extra $16,500, you get the largest-diameter carbon-ceramic brake rotors fitted to any automobile. Their stopping power and fade resistance are prodigious, but the machined-aluminum pedal in charge suffers from a slippery surface and mushy feel. There's insufficient pressure buildup before the ABS engages with a disruptive shudder.
Instead of decorating the exterior with vulgar Speed badges, Bentley provides only subtle hints that this car is something special: a lower ride height, black-chrome grilles, twenty-six-spoke wheels providing a good look at the monster brakes, and subtly rippled exhaust tips. Those lucky enough to enter are greeted with Speed-labeled doorsills, diamond-quilted leather seats and door panels, and a knurled-chrome shift lever. A $6900 Naim Audio sound system pumps 1100 watts of cultured entertainment through fifteen speakers.
Assuming your driving record and your wallet can handle the strain of owning this 200-mph limousine, it would be wise to not dither about expressing your need for the Speed. Approximately 450 copies are destined for America, and every last sports superstar and Hollywood swell will want one.