The speedo is sweeping past 175 mph as the end of the runway looms out the windshield. No need to panic: At each corner lies a carbon-ceramic brake the size of a roulette wheel, so I'm feeling lucky. Besides, the engine is playing way too happily to call it home now. Another tick or two of the Breitling clock in the dash, another 150 yards, and now the dash digits read 183 mph. But at this point my British passenger has seen quite enough. The mannered accent is there, but so is the insistence: "Brakes, please! We'll want to brake now!" A firm squeeze of the left pedal, a crush of g-force, and mere heartbeats later we're turning around for the cool-down return with 50 yards of tarmac to spare.
Dramatic? Nope. Any grandmother could do it. Such is the suavity and competence with which this newest Bentley Continental GT Speed consumes asphalt. Care to transform Scotland's ubiquitous speed cameras into frenzied paparazzi by traversing the countryside in the high triple digits? Simply press down hard on the throttle. A rarefied bellow builds from up front, the eight-speed ZF automatic deftly pares out the torque, a mere wisp of wind noise arises, and, quicker than you can say "no haggis for me, thanks," you're piloting a ground-locked aircraft. Find a road long enough, and this fastest-ever chariot from Crewe won't stop climbing until it reaches 206 mph.
Please resist the temptation to yawn at the consummate ease of it all.
All The Pretty HorsesJust 14 years ago, Bentley's famous twin-turbo W-12 (the company builds more 12-cylinder engines than anyone else) delivered 414 hp. The 2015 edition, thanks to steady refinements and a recent increase in boost pressure, bumps output to 626 hp. Torque is similarly monumental -- and a company record: 605 pound-feet, the peak reached at a casual 1700 rpm. Even shouldered as it is with just over 5100 pounds (5500 pounds in the convertible), the W-12 -- aided by standard all-wheel drive -- can crack off sprints to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds (add a tenth for the droptop). It's almost silly when you think about it: a bull elephant that sprints like a cheetah. Plenty of unwary sports cars are going to be trampled.
Picture two VR6 engines mated together around a common crank; that's the W-12. Each one is handcrafted in a carefully timed 12.5 hours. Once a month, technicians randomly select a unit off the line and tear it down completely, checking for even the slightest discrepancy from spec (like Humpty Dumpty, they are not put back together again). Other random W-12 victims endure brutal, red-hot endurance tests on the dyno, the resulting hurricane so ferocious, Bentley diverts the output to the local power grid.
Sweet & LowNaturally, to accompany the horse-pressure boost Bentley has tweaked the Speed's underpinnings appropriately. Ride height drops almost half an inch, springs are stiffened 45 percent, bushings are 70 percent tauter, the rear anti-roll bar is 53 percent thicker. A cool rifling pattern is inscribed into wider rear exhausts. The Speed rides on unique 21-inch wheels wearing special-compound Pirelli P Zero tires. Red brake calipers peek through the wheels, with carbon-ceramics optional for a trifling $14,100 (Bentley says about 10 percent-15 percent of buyers opt for them). And, as previously mentioned, those brakes are massive: Bentley claims the 16.5-inch front disc is the largest production-car binder in the world.
Inside MovesNo high-powered exotic could hope to compete with the 2015 Bentley Continenetal GT Speed on opulence and contentment. Each interior is dressed in roughly 108 square feet of lusciously polished, carefully "mirror-matched" wood veneer. An entire corral of cows (from 8 to 14), seemingly fed a steady diet of Camay beauty bars, provides the hides for each cabin. The steering wheel alone requires four hours of hand-stitching and leather-wrapping. You half expect to find brandy snifters and a stash of Montecristos.
Compared with the "regular" W-12 car, the Speed receives a unique duo-tone interior color treatment, with a dark overall scheme accented by splashes of bright, contrasting leather (it looks fabulous). Carbon-fiber trim is available, too. Of course, unlike pure exotics, the Speed has rear seats -- and usable ones at that. It's only serious ergonomic shortcoming is a meager trunk, barely large enough for two medium-sized carry-on bags (you'll have to send the bigger pieces ahead on the Sikorsky). Bentley needs to upgrade the nav/audio/control system to cutting-edge, too.
One particularly deft cockpit detail worth mentioning: The "Speed" emblem on the dash is crafted from injection-molded stainless steel (no, I'd never heard of the process, either). Does such a trifle really matter? Who cares? The badge looks the business -- and makes the perfect nugget for dazzling your cocktail-party guests as you mill around your new 2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed in the evening twilight.
Sizzle RealThe rich really are different from you and me (unless you're rich, in which case right now you're chuckling): They get to own and drive machines as brilliant as the 2015 Speed. Starting at $227,500 for the coupe (plus destination and guzzler tax), this new Bentley offers a motoring experience almost without flaw. For sedate cruising, the cabin is conspicuously quiet and elegant, while the powertrain serves as silently and efficiently as a well-schooled valet. Even the convertible is uncannily hushed, better than most ordinary sedans. The ride is creamy, too; as before, the Speed floats on an adjustable air suspension. But slip into Sport mode, grab a paddle shift, mash the right pedal, and the Speed instantly becomes massively entertaining. It holds on better than anything this heavy has a right to, brakes with endless confidence, flashes past mortal cars with an electrifying rush of horses and a wicked scream. It's not a razor-reflexes halfback; it's an unusually gifted fullback. Its moves have the capacity to astound.
The V-8 Conti GT has always seemed the true driver's car in the line -- a bit lighter, a bit crisper than the 12. But this uprated 2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed argues a compelling case as the new enthusiast's choice. It delivers fully on the promise of its name, a machine so fast and heroic, it simply dares you not to be wowed.
2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed Specifications
|On sale||Fall 2014|
|Base price||$231,925 (coupe), $254,525 (convertible)|
|Engine||6.0L twin-turbo W-12, 626 hp, 605 lb-ft|
|Fuel economy||13/20 mpg|