Mountain Wheels: The Bentley Continental GT Speed: Inconceivable power and beauty
December 28, 2013
Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
MSRP: $238,700; as tested, $277,220
Powertrain: 616-HP 6.0-liter W12 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 15 mpg combined: 12 city, 20 highway
I cannot say if the personal choices you've made in life will put you on a path to vehicular destiny. I do know that after a brief, beautiful weekend wrapped in the most colossal of ostentatious automobiles, the Bentley Continental GT Speed convertible, you should definitely stay in school.
This car is pretty much the top of the automotive food chain, so aim high, my friends.
It's also devilishly set on defying all of its seemingly incompatible attributes: a boaty monster of a two-door grand tourer, with a quick-dropping, weather- and sound-proof top, converting it into the kind of machine best spent on parade day in Monaco — George Hamilton and a supermodel, doing the royal wave as they whootle down the avenue.
"Whootle" is correct: The top-of-the-line Continental GT Speed is powered by a 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 engine, essentially two full-blown V-6s welded together, producing a curious engine note that's akin to a gurgling Cigarette boat at idle speed under the Rickenbacker Causeway. Good, in the Speed edition badging, for 616 horsepower.
Bentley says that helps make the Continental GT Speed the fastest convertible ever produced, topping out at 205 mph yet still allowing top-down adventures at speeds just south of 200.
Does this all seem like a clash of cultures? And slightly ridiculous, given that the car weighs in at an unsvelte 5,501 pounds?
Here's the crazy part. One can really harness more than just the pure, straight-ahead rocket power of this beautiful beast — though it's still good for a stomp to 60 in 4.1 seconds, by the way. With permanent all-wheel-drive, a standard set of 21-inch wheels and high-performance tires, the most wonderful experience is to cavort a bit with the broad machine and start laying into a set of mountain switchbacks like you're driving a Miata. Heck, the AWD setup and the neck-heater vents in the seats (but of course) qualify it as a full-blown winter car, too.
Suddenly, all of the grandiose glamor and Breitling timepiece-bedecked gloss becomes frosting on top of what is actually an accomplished and balanced touring machine — even if you do have to man-handle the rigid, beautiful wheel like you're driving a truck, and mentally rebalance the occasional lurches of turbo lag and the sheer physics of slowing down a very massive supercar.
I learned this as I did my road-testing duty for humanity in, of all places, West Virginia — where the well-equipped car's $272,220 sticker price may have been roughly equivalent to entire counties' gross domestic product for the year — though I had a grand time.
Wheel-mounted shift paddles the size of toddler's arms, shaped a bit like boomerangs, allow you to flick through the transmission's eight speeds if you'd really like to micromanage the experience. I was very impressed by the tenacity of the oversized brakes, keeping the whole experience safely controlled.
Purely efficient, the Continental GT Speed is not; its in-city mpg rating is just 12. I got about 20 when driving in a relatively civilized fashion; the car's trip computer suggested 15.6 mpg as its lifetime average, but that's the cost of doing business with a 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine.
The most important things to consider with the Bentley: the way the leather smells when you settle into the car's hand-tooled, quilt-stitched seats; the refined grace of the church organ-styled controls to regulate the vents; and an (optional) $5,000-plus upgrade to a literal wall of carbon fiber on the fascia panels and center console, so much carbon fiber you could probably make another car out it in a pinch.
Slide into that most wonderful of cockpits and an electronic arm helps spit your shoulder belt into position; anyone who needs to be ferried about in the beautiful but floor-space-challenged pair of rear seats will need to ask you to skootch up quite a bit. Even the beautiful contrast stitching, really tying the whole unbelievably beautiful deal together, is a $1,900 add-on.
The Speed's other unique attributes include its beautiful black mesh grille and air intakes, those dark-tinted 21-inch wheels and a lowered stance for more of that madman motoring.