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Discovering the speedy side of Bentley

Bentley may build stately but powerful cars, but some of them are just at home on the racetrack as they are on the expressway. By Lionel Kong

Published Thu, Nov 10, 2022 · 06:50 PM

I’m blasting down the front straight of The Bend, South Australia’s largest permanent race track. Long before I hit the braking zone for the first turn, the Bentley Continental GT Speed I’m driving has gone past 200 km/h, its 12-cylinder engine snarling furiously.

Getting through a moment on the track like this is usually a matter of strong brakes and a stout heart, but this time there’s a small complication: it’s pouring with rain.

In fact, the purpose-built race track is so sodden that the white lines marking the track edges and pit lane exit lane are now as slippery as ice.

The nervous driving instructors for the session have suggested we brake extra early into the corners. So between the possibility of spinning a million-dollar luxury car off into the grass or successfully negotiating the track, I back off and gingerly thread the car through the tight first corner.

We both live to do the rest of the lap, with more to come at Symphony of Speed, a Bentley event intended to showcase the brand’s fastest cars, and what the “Speed” label they come with means.

While the Continental GT Speed surprises with its composure under such slippery conditions, Bentley’s motorsport chief, Paul Dickinson, tells me that the brand’s high performance philosophy is not about building fast cars for the racetrack.

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“Bentley’s Speed cars are really the ultimate way of experiencing a very fast grand touring driving experience,” explains Dickinson. “They are designed to give the driver plenty of confidence while getting around quickly, but quality and luxury are still the driving forces behind the design.”

Bentley builds a Speed version of the four cars in its model lineup, and brought two to The Bend for the press to have a go in. The Continental GT Speed coupe is the pacesetter of the pair, with the ability to reach a scintillating 335 km/h. The Bentayga Speed, an enormous Sport Utility Vehicle, doesn’t lag far behind despite its hefty 2.5-tonne kerb weight, with a top speed of 306 km/h.

Both have more than 600 horsepower apiece – about five or six times the power of the average family car – courtesy of a mammoth 6.0-litre engine with 12 cylinders, famously packed into a W configuration for compactness.

With emissions standards growing ever more stringent, these engines are headed for obsolescence after more than 20 years powering Bentleys and other exotic machines in the sprawling Volkswagen Group. Their swansong appearance in the Bentley Speed models could someday give these cars value as collector’s items.

Bentley at least tries to make them somewhat special today. Visually, the Speed models differ from the lower specification S and base versions of the cars in subtle, but very distinct ways. They have very trendy dark tinted front intake grilles, larger oval exhaust tips, and small Speed badges on the front fenders.

Inside the cabin there are flourishes of extra sportiness including Speed badges on the fascia, interior trim made of dinamica (a lightweight but resilient material) and slick-looking two-tone upholstery.

Yet, the basic premise of a modern Bentley runs counter to speed. Luxury features make a car heavy, which tends to blunt the handling. But the Bentayga Speed shows just how it’s done in the wet on a closed track, changing direction quickly, accelerating ferociously but also shedding speed quickly, thanks to titanic brakes.

The cars tend to flatter the driver with plenty of technology that works in the background. Features like adjustable air suspension, an electronic limited slip differential, and electric anti-roll bars that adapt to cornering forces give even the big Bentayga Speed manic levels of grip and body control.

Even in today’s driving rain, it’s clear that this SUV gets you places quickly, but in opulent comfort. As you would expect, the Continental GT Speed coupe offers up an even sharper drive because of its low-slung nature and also because it features four-wheel steering, a handy driver aid that can tighten low-speed turns, but also improve a car’s stability at high speed.

Making a fast lap feel easy is the ultimate goal for Bentley’s engineers. “Bentley cars really get driven. It’s not like a limited edition Ferrari that people buy, garage, and maybe gets driven a thousand miles a year,” motorsports head Dickinson says. “We’ve documented that the Bentleys in England get driven an average of 6,000 miles (9,700 km) annually, even the bespoke versions. A Bentley Speed variant just takes the driving experience up to the maximum.”

Bentley’s fastest cars may be anything but ordinary, but they are designed to be an everyday experience.

Bentley Bentayga Speed

Engine 5,950 cc twin-turbo W12

Power 635 hp at 5,000 rpm

Torque 900 Nm at 1,750 – 4,500 rpm

Gearbox 8-speed twin-clutch automatic

0-100km/h 3.9 seconds

Top Speed 306 km/h

Fuel efficiency 14.3 L/100 km

Agent Wearnes Automotive

Price S$1,269,000 without COE

Available Now

Bentley Continental GT Speed

Engine 5,950cc twin-turbo W12

Power 659 hp at 5,000 – 6,000 rpm

Torque 900 Nm at 1,500 – 5,000 rpm

Gearbox 8-speed twin-clutch automatic

0-100km/h 3.6 seconds

Top Speed 335 km/h

Fuel efficiency 14.0 L/100 km

Agent Wearnes Automotive

Price S$1,259,000 without COE

Available Now

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