Bentley Motors stands bestride the old world and the modern era. For over a century, the automaker has been at the forefront of automotive luxury and performance, and while it has constantly adapted to change during the years, classic, tactile coachbuilding has always remained as its ethos.
This romantic view of automotive manufacturing seems almost at odds with our current level of technological advancement and the demands of the modern luxury consumer.
If Bentley has mastered anything, it's rolling with the times while sticking to the classic hits. The best example of this is the 2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed, a powerful two-door grand tourer that's simply unlike any other car on the road today.
Nuts and bolts
Image Credits: Alex Kalogianni
The Bentley Continental GT is the two-door sibling to the four-door Bentley Continental Flying Spur sedan. Though they share many elements, the GT is much more than a halved version of the larger car, and distinguishes itself in design and performance, among other factors.
The centerpiece of the GT is a 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 engine, a massive power unit that is a unique outlier in this era of shrinking (or indeed vanishing) engines. This signature system produces 650 horsepower for the Speed, a 24 hp bump from the standard Conti GT W12. It doles out an impressive 664 pound-feet of torque and is sent through a dual-clutch eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Power is sent through all four wheels while an enhanced chassis system puts it all to use.
"Our chassis engineers have an incredible array of technology at their disposal, to give the car genuine duality in ride and handling, and controlled by the driver using Drive Dynamics Control," Mike Sayer, head of Product Communications for Bentley Motors Ltd. told TechCrunch. "To enable the chassis to be varied, we utilize three-chamber air springs, which allow three distinct spring stiffnesses. In Sport mode, a single chamber in each air spring is utilized, providing a high spring stiffness. In Comfort, solenoid valves bring all three chambers into play, at a low pressure, providing a softer spring. To this we then add Bentley Dynamic Ride -- our 48V electric anti-roll control."
This iteration of the Speed brings some new tech to the GT for the first time, specifically an electronic rear differential and rear-wheel steering.
For the E-diff, this distributes torque across the rear angle to give it balance and control during turn-in when driving in a sporty manner. Rear-wheel steering was first applied to the Flying Spur to give the full-sized luxury four-door a tighter turning radius as well as enhanced stability at speed. On the GT Speed, it's meant to give the two-door sharper turning and is far more active on this car than on the sedan.
All told, the more than 5,000-pound GT can sail at up to 208 mph, rocketing off the line to hit 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds, something cars without a cruise ship's worth of luxury accouterments struggle to achieve.
Bentley sprinkles in tech
Image Credits: Alex Kalogianni
Within the Continental GT Speed is a carefully crafted interior that has been a signature element of Bentley vehicles.
A substantial sum of the car's assembly is by hand, and while there are some automated tasks, there are very few elements that don't receive attention from a master craftsperson. The interior is replete with premium leather and real wood surfaces that range from burr walnut to rare, naturally felled redwood.
Seat elements and the steering wheel are all hand-stitched, and the hefty metal switches are scored with diamond-pattern knurling.
"The knurling that's used on the main rotary controls took 18 months to develop, and involved the creation of an algorithm to accurately describe the way the facets of the knurling are angled," added Sayer, highlighting the degree of focus given to every detail. This ornate, meticulously built interior is the setting for a high degree of modern technology, and yet it's all very well integrated.
Image Credits: Alex Kalogianni
A 12.3-inch touchscreen can be found in the center of the dashboard, as a modern luxury car buyer would expect, and it performs the usual functions. It's the source for navigation and entertainment, as well as the interface for several vehicle functions. Drivers can customize their preferred throttle and steering settings, raise the suspension for a few inches of extra clearance and access the full driver's manual if need be.
This is paired with an all-digital gauge cluster that can also be customized to mirror much of the same information displayed on the touchscreen. There's even a heat-based night vision option that highlights the area in front of the car for enhanced night driving. This system also has integrated pedestrian recognition, so any persons encountered in the night are highlighted by a red box.
The high-resolution screens feature graphics styled to mitigate their juxtaposition against all of the tangible craftsmanship.
"The design of the graphics of those gauges was subject to the same attention to detail as physical components," said Sayer. "Beyond that, our ethos includes retaining physical, haptic buttons and rotary controls in lieu of multiple touchscreens."
In case it's still too much tech to tolerate, the screen tumbles away into the panel and is replaced with three analog gauges; a clock, compass and air temp monitor. A touch of in-car gadgetry theater? Perhaps, but another way of looking at it is future-proofing the interior of a vehicle in a way. Aesthetically speaking, the rest of the cabin will age far better than the display will, and having a method to tuck it out of sight fits the accommodating nature of this luxury grand tourer.
Image Credits: Alex Kalogianni
Seated at the wheel of the GT Speed can be a little dazzling at first due to the glitzy chrome and polished veneer, but it's quick to demonstrate how driver focused it is from the moment of ignition.
Assists such as a head-up display and traffic sign recognition are on hand to improve situational awareness, and on long journeys, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control relieve some of the burden. Convenient, though the GT Speed is most rewarding when fully engaged.
The W12 engine is blustery and sonorous when its note rumbles out the back of the exhaust. Stepping on the throttle feels and sounds like accelerating in the single-engined fighter planes that the GT Speed shares a lineage with. That's as far as the similarities go because everything else beyond is far from antiquated. Power delivery is smooth yet forceful, and there's quite a ways to go before experiencing any drop-off, though reaching that point requires a length of unrestricted highway.
In that regard, the GT Speed mirrors the Flying Spur in that it feels heavy and grounded like a steam locomotive, and when it's time to take a sharp corner, this leads to a great degree of hesitation. Muster up some trust and bravery, though, and the GT Speed is surprisingly dynamic.
The car is at its best in those moments when a windy back road presents itself. Its size and weight are still palpable, but the active tech in play allow the Bentley to round corners with confidence. The enjoyment diminishes when things get increasingly challenging, however, and all the physics-warping engineering can't disguise the car's heft. It's in those moments where you make a mental note to return with something smaller and more spry.
Regardless if it's in sport or comfort, the speed at which the GT's dual-clutch transmission fires through gears is near seamless, giving spirited drivers the power they need and cruising ones a touch more serenity. On the highway or as a daily driver, the GT Speed doesn't put one foot wrong, making the more than $274,000 price tag feel worth it. One would hope, at least.
From a competitor standpoint, the GT Speed does stand largely on its own, not because of a lack of sporty luxury coupes, but due to how uniquely it executes the same mission. Segment stalwarts BMW and Mercedes-Benz can't rightly match the level of lavishness and exclusivity that the Bentley provides, so anything equally dynamic would still be lesser. In terms of handling and power, the AMG S63 Coupe comes close and at a relatively lower starting price ($173,100), but though it's in the same weight class, the Continental GT Speed simply does it better.
For a true contender, its not-too-distant cousin, the Rolls-Royce Wraith is the closest match. Beyond its similarly stacked luxury pedigree and exclusivity, the Wraith sports its own whopper of a power unit, a 624-horsepower 6.6-liter V12. This two-door grand tourer has an equally staggering $300,000 price tag and can pull off similar tricks that the GT Speed can in terms of acceleration and cruising smoothness.
As with anything, the future is uncertain for how Bentley plans to continue this union of old and new. As the past has proven, it's planning ahead.
"Firstly, the product range will be hybridized -- we've already launched hybrid versions of the Bentayga and Flying Spur, and the Continental family will follow. We'll then launch the first Bentley BEV in 2025, ahead of Bentley being an electric-only brand by 2030," Sayer stated.
For now, we still have the Bentley Continental GT Speed, a near-anachronistic luxury powerhouse that sets the standard in its segment while marching to the beat of its own thumping 12 cylinder engine. It's the culmination of Bentley's dogged adherence to sticking to what they do best while still being flexible enough to bend with the winds of change.