Bentley makes some of the most elegant and refined sedans in the world.
But the English car company is no slouch at the track, either. Bentley race cars hold multiple records, including many wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and another at last week’s Blancpain GT Sprint Series in the Netherlands.
So it’s not surprising to experience the 2016 Continental GT Speed as a sleek, sophisticated, speedy thoroughbred — a hot rod with haute couture appointments. Like its siblings the GT3 and GT3R, this car was born on the race track.
On the road, it’s a $300,000 slab of rolling art, whispering performance and luxury from the flying Bs on the bonnet and boot to the Bentley insignias on the wheels and valve stem caps.
The interior is penthouse plush. The waffle-stitched, glove-leather seats — maybe the most comfortable seats in the entire automotive world — are heated and ventilated, have a massage function, and are clad in Beluga and Porpoise. (Relax, PETA. Those are just the names of the leather color choices.) An optional neck warmer turns a nighttime top-down excursion into a fireside cuddle.
The GT Speed even comes with its own cellphone and a Bentley-branded sunglasses case. A trunk-mounted gas oven produces up to 18 fresh scones per hour.
Of course one expects a certain amount of luxury from a vehicle that costs $30,000 more than the average American currently pays for a house. The details do not disappoint. Bentley says it takes 104 worker hours to build a single Continental GT, including 25 hours for stitching the upholstery.
At the Crewe factory, the line turns out an average of 25 Continentals — the company’s bestselling model, which is produced in 10 different engine and body combinations.
As befits an automobile with the Bentley legacy and sticker price, everything is bank-vault silent. The convertible top goes up and comes down in quiet, balletic moves, signaling its completion with a subtle, dulcet chime, like the sound the bell captain at Claridge’s might make. The trunk opens and closes at the push of a button, in hushed, butler tones.
It’s also plush under the hood. The GT Speed features a gently purring twin turbo 12-cylinder engine that makes 626 horsepower and 607 pound-feet of torque and is capable of 203 mph and zero to sixty in only 4.1 seconds — remarkable for a vehicle that weighs almost 6,000 pounds and drives like it’s floating on a cloud.
Rolling down the road, enjoying a little Beethoven or Bach, is like gliding through a symphony hall — stately and smooth. Then slide onto the freeway, nudge the accelerator and discover how quickly and quietly the Speed gains speed. Hello, ninety!
The luxuriant combination of speed and comfort is not exactly efficient. The GT Speed is said to get 12 miles per gallon around town. Despite an engine system that turns the W-12 powerplant into a more efficient W-8 when full power is not needed, fuel consumption maxes out at an advertised 20 mpg on the highway. Even with a 24-gallon tank, you’ll be topping off frequently, and yes, that MSRP does include a $2,600 “gas guzzler” fee.
Bentley says the Continental GT Speed is available in 17 standard colors, and more than 90 custom colors. The company’s name for the one I borrowed is Apple Green.
I can think of other words for it, and none of them is very nice. What happened here? Did a pigment-impaired customer order this car and refuse to take delivery? This is a Bentley! Putting this color on this car is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Driving it is like wearing the loudest pair of pants on a golf course. You get a lot of attention, but perhaps not the sort of attention you want.
England has been handcrafting Bentleys since 1919, first under the direction of founder W.O. Bentley, more recently under the stewardship of Volkswagen, which also owns lesser-known French counterpart Bugatti. (Its better-known sibling, Rolls-Royce, is owned by BMW.)
Under its German owners, Bentley’s profile is rising. The company sells about 10,000 vehicles a year globally, about one-third of them in the U.S. But soon Crewe’s first SUV, the Bentayga, will begin arriving in dealers. Bentley boasts it is “the most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world.”
That vehicle, promised to start at $229,000, may unseat the Continental as Bentley’s bestseller. It’s hard to imagine it could beat its sublime combination of performance and luxury.