Friday, 28 March 2014

Bentley’s life in luxury’s fast lane means 200 mph

Some cars seem bigger than life, and the Bentley Continental GT Speed is one. Behind the graceful winged B badge on the nose sits a twin-turbo W-12 engine that cranks out 616 horsepower and drives this deliciously beautiful coupe through all four wheels to a top track speed of 205 mph. It’s a supercar with traditional British luxury, but without the flash of a Lamborghini or Ferrari.

In spite of its twin-turbo power, this Bentley can be used every day, although I did feel a bit silly taking it to the supermarket. All-wheel drive gives it outstanding traction that I sampled during a recent snow. Equipped with winter tires, the car scrambled through the snow like it was dry pavement.

The Continental GT Speed, with a sticker price of $229,340, is the second-most expensive car I’ve ever driven, exceeded only by the Rolls-Royce Wraith. Thanks to the good folks at the U.S. office of Bentley Motors for trusting me with it for a week.

Bentley is a British company with a proud performance history. W.O. Bentley built his first car in 1919. Autocar magazine reviewed that car and said, “For the man who wants a true sporting type of lightbodied car for use on a Continental tour, the three-liter Bentley is undoubtedly the car par excellence.” Those words would be just as fitting today as they were then, and they were the inspiration for Bentley using the Continental name. The Volkswagen Group took ownership of Bentley in 1998.

Mash the throttle and the W-12 responds with a rush as constant as water from a fire hose. The thrust feels endless, given the fact that the GT Speed whooshes to 60 mph in 4 seconds and continues to the vaunted 200 mph mark. It buzzes the highway like a low-flying personal jet, and anything less than triple digits feels like slow motion. One of my friends described the acceleration as that of a carnival ride.

COURTESY PHOTO COURTESY PHOTO The engine was created by merging two narrow-angle V-6 engines on to a common crankcase. The four rows of three cylinders loosely resemble a W.

Fuel economy is rated at 13 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway and requires a one-time $1,700 gas-guzzler tax. I averaged 16 mpg in mixed city and highway driving. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic that can be shifted manually.

Open the door and you’re greeted with white-letter gauges, glittering chrome trim, quilted leather, cross-stitching on the leather steering wheel and knurled chrome surfaces on everything you touch. You sink down into the car like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. The smallish side windows, big dash and center console give asked if she should wear pearls. I laughingly suggested a mink. When I dropped by her house, she came out wearing a big smile and her mother’s mink collar. At the end of our ride, she left the mink in the car for others.

The Continental GT is also available with a 500-horsepower V-8, an engine that is likely to be popular because it consumes less fuel but provides performance only a few ticks slower than the W-12.

Putting more than 600 horsepower to the pavement requires a suspension designed expressly for the task, and brakes that are more than a match for the engine and the car’s 5,115 pounds. The Speed’s front disc brakes, nearly 16 inches in diameter, looked as big as pizza platters behind the delicate 21-inch wheels, but they erased speed with incredible ease. Carbon ceramic brakes are optional.

The Speed sits slightly lower than the standard GT, and the suspension has more aggressive tuning. The ride, even in Sport mode, is surprisingly compliant, given the low-profile tires. On the highway, the car glides, yet never floats.

The backseat is tiny, with very little legroom, but I had friends who did squeeze in for a short distance.

¦ Price: The base price was $217,000. Options included contrasting stitching, carbon fiber dash panels, red brake calipers, a rearview camera, heated steering wheel, valet key and leather on the shift paddles. The gas-guzzler tax was $1,700. The sticker price was $229,340.

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