The 2017 Bentley Continental GT Speed Is a Coupe de Thrill
A final encore for the Bentley that revolutionized the ultra-luxury market.
Gordon Gekko, that slicked-back, suspendered embodiment of Wall Street greed, would surely cheer the Bentley Continental GT Speed. Sorry, make that “Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition.”
Like the acquisitive Michael Douglas character, the Bentley Black plays by its own penthouse rules. Get what you want, and then want some more: In this case, the fastest Bentley in history, with a 206-mph top speed thanks to a bump to 633 horsepower for its twin-turbo W-12, the Volkswagen engine that keeps on giving. Some sleight-of-hand is also fine, if it means closing the deal. With the closing bell about to ring on the 2017 Continental lineup, prospects are already performing due diligence on the upcoming 2018 version—the first all-new Continental since the car’s game-changing debut in 2003, followed by an extensive refresh in 2011. The Black Edition, in coupe or convertible, suggests you ignore the 2018 model behind the curtain and check out its ballsy bodywork instead, including bravura two-tone paint. Gekko, with his contrasting-collar shirts that became the rage of real-life Eighties Wall Street, would again approve.
Just a few weeks ago, Bentley’s own high roller, Wolfgang Dürheimer, dropped by The Drive’s Brooklyn showroom for dinner and a side of Facebook live. The chairman and chief executive of Bentley and Bugatti whetted our appetites by discussing the dramatically redesigned 2018 Continental, including the Volkswagen MSB platform that it shares with the 2017 Porsche Panamera. Yet over plates of pasta from local stalwart Frankie’s Spuntino, we also drooled over a rich pair of desserts: A 2017 Black Edition coupe and convertible that we’d rolled off the hydraulic loading dock and ensconced indoors, right beside our couches.
They included our test coupe, its exterior mirrors, front splitter, side skirts, and rear diffuser gleaming in St. James Red. Throw in contrasting blue paint, and this Bentley was harder to ignore than Kanye at the Grammys. ( I’m also partial to the combo of silver-gray paint with Cyan Yellow accents, one of four Black Edition color treatments.) Red brake calipers gripped huge, 21-inch directional wheels, their five spokes scything like dark windmill blades. Glowering black chrome replaces brightwork on the grille, lamp bezels, and window openings.
The crimson accents were repeated on buttery leather seat inserts and door panels, their familiar diamond pattern reminding owners to stop by Harry Winston for a few karats on their way home. Slabs of interior carbon fiber drive home the speedy message—literally so, in the case of the “Speed” stitched onto the headrests. In my own bespoke dreams, I’d demand one of Bentley’s spectacular wood veneers instead, with their crazy backstories of ancient rootstocks or the Hobbits who rack up union double-time while they magically handcraft them. Count me among The Drive staffers (and there are more than a few) who disapprove of carbon fiber in a high-class Bentley, no matter how fast it goes.
And, Lord, does this car go. An extra squirt of turbo sauce adds seven horsepower and 13 pound-feet of torque, for a respective 633 horses and 620 pound-feet. The coupe’s 0-60 sprint drops to 3.9 seconds, or four seconds flat for the convertible. That’s one-tenth quicker than the standard twelve-cylinder Continentals and, yes, faster than any Bentley before.
I point this billboard of a Bentley toward Greenwich Country Club in Connecticut, where I know the car, at least, will be appropriately dressed. I latch onto the Conti’s familiar automatic console shifter—still the best in the biz, a crested royal scepter of knurled metal and leather. Drop a gear, conk a peasant on the head, though peak torque, available at will between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm, lets you do that in just about any of eight forward speeds. The paddle shifters, resembling pricey putters, are still set a bit far from grasping fingers, especially for short-fingered vulgarians. Let’s hope the new Continental does them better.
In recent years, whenever I drive the Continental, the opening 10 minutes goes like this: I’m the spoiled birthday boy who’s a bit bored with the Bentley’s magic tricks: The Houdini-vault isolation of driver and passengers; the uncanny levitation over the road surface; the way the car’s 2.5-ton mass seems to shrink before your boggled eyes. It’s an interesting sensation, especially when you’re hurtling at effortless triple-digit speeds. But it’s not my idea, or ideal, of a performance car. I like to feel more sensation, and the Continental is a $250,000 prophylactic, albeit in more natural, pleasing materials.
But once again, my objections quickly go “poof” in great clouds of luxury, loveliness, and sheer force. As I snap a phone shot of the Bentley at Greenwich Country Club, the club manager strolls over to praise the car. I tell him I write for The Drive, and the manager invites me to come back and play a round at the oh-so-exclusive club. Score one for the Bentley; I wish my tee shots were half as powerful and impressive.
And the magic is back on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, America’s oldest scenic roadway. Its rollicking two lanes, bisected by 68 handsome masonry bridges, run from the New York state line at Greenwich to the Housatonic River in Stratford. In the words of Congressman Schuyler Merritt at the parkway’s groundbreaking in 1934: "This great highway is not being constructed primarily for rapid transit but for pleasant transit.”
Speak for yourself, Congressman. The GT Speed has other plans, leaving me to worry about infamous Merritt speeding tickets that David Letterman used to joke about in his Late Night monologues. From one Top Ten list: Little known Provisions in President Clinton’s Crime Bill—No speed limit on Merritt Parkway for late night talk show hosts.
Urged by its monstrous, hand-built W-12, the Bentley attacks downhill sweepers like Bode Miller on a medal mission. Compared with a standard Continental, the Speed feels even more buttoned-down, with slightly tauter tuning for its adaptive dampers and air suspension. On this benign pavement, I can finally dial that suspension to full Sport mode. Steering is through thickened cream, body roll nearly imperceptible. The closer I get to Manhattan, the more I’m compelled to dial that suspension to “comfort.” Cracks and crevices begin booming through the structure and threatening those gorgeous, wildly expensive wheels. The brakes’ pedal still needs firming, but there’s no arguing with their might, especially with optional, $14,435 carbon-ceramic stoppers.
The bigger argument happens when you stop caressing the Alcantara headliner and start eyeballing the creaky interfaces, or notice missing features that are fast becoming standard on even mainstream automobiles. Stellar performance speaks to the enduring goodness of the shared Volkswagen Phaeton platform, but those underpinnings are going on 15 years old. Nothing carbon-dates the Bentley like its dinky center screen and dreary displays that seemingly date to the Mesozoic era—or maybe that’s “Audizoic era”—including a clunky navigation system that’s a few generations behind the Ingolstadt curve. An Audi A4 buyer can spend $35,000 and get the superfast 3D Virtual Cockpit display, but you can’t have it in this nearly $300,000 Bentley. Semi-autonomous features are likewise AWOL, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The sparkling, $7,595 Naim for Bentley audio system at least befits the car’s stature, as an old-school, windows-down Public Enemy workout confirmed.
The shortfalls, and then some, will be addressed with the 2018 Continental GT set to debut next year, perhaps at the Geneva Auto Show in March. We’re hoping for a more-spacious back seat, as will anyone who’s been forced to sardine their way into the Bentley’s back. Aside from the new, lighter VW/Porsche platform, expect the new GT to advance design and technology across the board, including the all-new W-12 TSI engine from the Bentayga SUV; styling cues from the knockout EXP 10 Speed 6 concept; and niceties from “whiskey glass” headlamps to ever-more-breathtaking interiors, perhaps extending to bespoke trim in glass, 3D-printed metals, granite, or other thin-sliced stone.
For those who can’t wait for all that, this GT Speed Black Edition starts from $244,725. Our tester rang the register at $293,060 after options. For some buyers, a special-edition Bentley, the last of its breed, will be a worthy buy. Hell, a frivolous sort might buy one for the two-tone paint alone, like a vintage Chevy Bel-Air by way of Crewe, England. Only, you know, Speedier.