By now you probably know that the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed is powered by a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12. You may also know that this 5,115-pound head cracker is all-wheel drive. And it's probably safe to assume you're aware that the word "Speed" at the end of this car's name means it's a special model with both more power and better handling that the standard Continental GT.
What you don't know is that at 170 mph on the Autobahn, this car still accelerates with the swelling yank of a fission-powered locomotive. You see, 170 mph represents only — gulp — 83 percent of the GT Speed's 205-mph maximum velocity.
Other curious facts about this 205-mph GT Speed — the fastest ever, by the way — are abundant. At this velocity the car's radiator processes 1,057 gallons of air per second, its rear wing (deployed at a mere 90 mph) generates 275 pounds of downforce and its body sits 20mm lower thanks to air springs programmed to lower as speed increases. Also, its dampers automatically stiffen and, should the need arise, its Bosch engine controller can perform 180 million calculations per second.
In other words, this latest evolution of Bentley's grand tourer is a substantial one.
Just a Car
Calling the 2013 GT Speed the fastest Bentley ever is true, but it's hardly significant. The previous-generation Continental GT Supersports was capable of a claimed 204 mph, making the match between the two a matter of both bench-racing semantics and — given the many variables that determine such things — utterly meaningless. Still, this new GT Speed, built from the revised GT introduced last year, produces 616 horsepower — 49 more than the standard car. The power bump is largely a product of a 4.5 psi boost increase and revised ignition timing.
Torque is now 590 pound-feet at only 2,000 rpm. And it is largely the defining factor in the GT Speed's personality. Roll into the throttle in any gear, at virtually any speed, and there's meaningful acceleration. With the turbos huffing away just off idle, the big mill makes 500 lb-ft of twist at only 1,000 rpm. It also peaks 1,000 revs later and continues essentially flat until 5,000 rpm. There are farm tractors with less usable torque.
But having it in a car, we've decided, is a good thing. After all, it allows neat tricks like dropping a few gears and then attempting to snap your passenger's head clean off with the power plant's obtuse might. Yes, it's fair to say the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed is eager. Smooth brake/throttle transitions are challenging when driving quickly and there's rarely a need to approach the engine's 6,250-rpm redline.
Power to the Ground
After the engine, the next most significant piece of the GT Speed's persona is the use of ZF's eight-speed automatic transmission (previous-generation Continentals utilized a six-speed automatic). Essentially the same unit used by both Chrysler and Audi, the new gearbox yields the ability to go very quickly without ever trying very hard — a trait we suspect its owners will appreciate.
The combination of huge grunt and many gears means acceleration follows throttle position in a near-linear relationship. It's most impressive in Sport mode, which ups the tranny's response without making it undrivably aggressive on the street.
There's also a full manual gate for the shifter and redundant wheel-mounted paddles. Shifts, according to Paul Jones, Continental product line director, require only 0.1 second — matching or exceeding the shift rate of most double-clutch transmissions. With the ability to take up to five gears in a single downshift, it's hard to find fault with this gearbox. It provides both control and response beyond what most drivers will demand and firmly establishes the evolution of the model.
Also, it helps produce a 0-60 time of 4.0 seconds according to Bentley — a claim we'll be glad to verify when the car hits the U.S. next month.
A True GT
Spring rates of the GT Speed's air springs are increased on both ends relative to the base car — 45 percent up front and 33 percent in the rear. The car also sits 10mm lower and has 15 percent more negative camber in its front wheels. Its rear stabilizer bar is 53 percent stiffer.
Even so, you'll not mistake this Bentley for a sports car — its weight and size ensure that. Don't bother trying to toss this big boy around or make transitions like a rally car. This is, most certainly, a capable and wildly rapid GT. Drive it on back roads at eight-tenths where you can relish in its strengths and it's still confidently quicker than its closest competitors. Pretend you're Juha Kankunnen, though, and you'll be immediately reminded that you are not. Even a rear-biased 40/60 torque split doesn't make us want to drive this car at maximum attack.
Damping rates are manually adjustable over multiple steps but automatically increase as speed climbs. Steering effort, too, increases with speed to the extent that, at 150 mph, lane changes require genuine intention.
Also, stopping a car as powerful and heavy as this Bentley requires a lot of brake force. Iron rotors are standard, but the truly indulgent will opt for the $13,600 carbon-ceramic option that offers 16.5-inch front rotors — the largest brake rotor on any production car in the world. Eight-piston front calipers and single-piston rear calipers do the stopping.
More Efficient, Conspicuous
Efficiency is a big deal for even the high-end luxury carmakers these days, and Bentley is no exception. On the GT Speed, eight gears allow the engine to stay in its sweet spot more often and alternator output is also reduced during low-load conditions. The Continental's more recent restyle, combined with a smooth underbody tray, reduces aerodynamic drag by 7.5 percent while increasing downforce by 8 percent vs. the standard Continental.
Altogether, the changes result in a 12 percent increase in fuel economy, which bumps the GT Speed's EPA combined rating to an estimated 15 mpg. So the GT is more efficient than before, but still not efficient.
Ten-spoke, 21-inch wheels unique to the GT Speed are 15 percent lighter and 79 percent torsionally stiffer than the wheels they replace. They don't really make it any more efficient, but damn if they don't look great on the road.
Classic British Luxury
Inside you'll find the hand-hewn quality you'd expect of such a machine. Leather is sourced from Spanish bulls raised in high-altitude enclosures lacking both barbed wire and insects. Each car requires nine or 10 hides to complete, according to Nigel Lofkin of the Bentley Experience. Each hide is reviewed and marked for blemishes. Rejects are sent away to be made into work gloves — really nice work gloves.
Five hours and 15 minutes are required to hand sew the leather on a Continental GT heated steering wheel. Double-stitching a set of front seats consumes 37 man-hours. Wood veneers are "book matched" such that they're patterned symmetrically on interior pieces.
Calling it gratuitous is a very British bit of understatement.
There's dark tint "engine-spin" finish on the console and dash, aluminum on the pedals, knurling on the aluminum knobs and a full array of technologies such a machine should offer: Bluetooth, navigation, an optional 11-speaker Naim audio system, an SD card reader and a 15GB hard drive for music storage.
You'll Pay Dearly for the Privilege
Bentley tells us this exercise in speed and luxury will cull $215,000 from its buyers' Swiss bank accounts — about $22,000 more than a standard Continental. And when you think about it, that sum seems perfectly reasonable for a car whose competitors need a Uranium-238 suppository to have any hope of keeping up on any road of consequence.
And trust us. When you're behind the wheel of the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed on the Autobahn, it feels as close to invincible as a car gets. That's worth $215K in our books.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.