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One Last Drive with Bentley's 12-Cylinder Masterpiece

Soon gone, but not soon forgotten

Bentley group shot with Continental GT coupe and convertible, Flying Spur and Bentayga
  • Bentley will cease production of its twin-turbocharged W12 engine in April 2024.
  • The automaker invited us to drive a W12-powered version of each vehicle in its core lineup.
  • We'll miss its quick acceleration and smooth power delivery.
Bentley W12 group shot with Continental GT coupe and convertible, Bentayga and Flying Spur

The thundering roar of a V8 will never stop triggering that primal part of your brainstem, and with the newest versions of the AMG C 63 and AMG GLC 63, Mercedes-Benz proves that you can make prodigious power from just four cylinders. But there's nothing quite like a 12-cylinder — that exotic engine layout famed for its enormous complexity and eye-popping output figures, necessitating inclusion on only the most expensive and rarefied vehicles. Wallet-busting fuel consumption is another hallmark of such a motor, and for Bentley — one of the last manufacturers employing a 12-cylinder — that didn't line up with the company's Beyond100 plan for a sustainable future. Earlier this year, the automaker announced it would end production of its twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 in April 2024.

With the expiration date soon approaching, Bentley invited us to a press drive just a few miles from Edmunds' Santa Monica offices for stints in W12-powered versions of the Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible, Flying Spur sedan and Bentayga SUV. The ultra-luxe cruisers felt right at home on our route through Beverly Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu; each vehicle offered a different experience from behind the wheel but the same boot-it-and-hang-on thrust when you nail the accelerator.

2023 Bentley Continental GTC profile

First up was a Continental GTC Speed finished in sparkly Anthracite gray over a Beluga (black) interior with Pillar Box Red trim. All Speed models come with leather and Dinamica (faux suede) as standard, and the glossy carbon-fiber veneer complemented the sport theme nicely. This particular example was specced with a tidy $73,360 in options, with the big-ticket items being the following packages: Styling Specification ($12,490, carbon-fiber exterior trim elements); Touring Specification ($8,815, advanced safety features) and Front Seat Comfort Specification ($5,560, additional front seat adjustments). The Anthracite paint job is from Bentley's Mulliner arm and costs a cool $6,405 on its own. Total damage? $395,985.

Opening the throttle in a convertible that costs as much as a house would draw stares in my neighborhood, but a drop-top 12-cylinder Bentley cruising through Hollywood doesn't command as much as a sideways glance. Part of this, curiously, is down to the W12 underhood. It's relatively silent, except for the soft burbles and cracks emanating from the exhaust when you're in Sport mode. This isn't a throaty Aston Martin or high-revving Ferrari screamer. The Bentley's W12 is essentially two Volkswagen VR6 units strapped together, so the engine has a surprisingly pedestrian note. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's agricultural (I drove our long-term Viper extensively — I know what a 645-horsepower tractor engine sounds like), but the W12's singing voice is definitely not exotic enough to warrant a purchase on its own.

At our crawling Beverly Hills driving speeds, we don't get a chance to take advantage of the prodigious acceleration, either. Bentley says the 650-horsepower Conti GTC Speed can charge from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, or 0.4 second quicker than V8-powered versions (which make do with 542 hp). But I don't mind that I don't get to open the taps, because it's so enjoyable just to relax in the big Bentley.

It's really not enough to simply state that the Continental glides over pockmarked pavement like it's levitating, or that the body doesn't flop around on serpentine mountain roads. There is a little bit of floatiness in Comfort mode (why can't an air suspension ever feel quite right?), but leave it in Sport and the GTC hunkers down a bit without sacrificing any road comfort. And then you can focus on what really matters, like that three-spindle rotating display in the center stack, or the knurled detailing on the inside of the door handle, where no one would ever see it ...

Stay on target. This is a W12 drive, not a Continental GTC review.

2023 Bentley Continental GT front

We head east from Beverly Hills to Los Feliz, then north to a parking lot near the Greek Theatre, where we swap into a GT Speed coupe. Its gray-gold Pale Brodgar sheetmetal and blacked-out styling elements allow this $356,220 grand tourer some semblance of anonymity, but the interior was anything but typical. You might have heard of piano black, but piano white? Bentley offers this unusual veneer in its vehicles, and our tester is decked out in a piano white/piano black trim combo that mimics the cabin's black leather with white piping. It feels like my co-driver and I are off to a night at the opera.

After taking a detour to Griffith Park Observatory, we guide the GT to a lookout point on Mulholland. On the way, we note how well Bentley's engineers dealt with the removal of the convertible's top; it hardly feels any different from this coupe. If I had brought Edmunds' sound meter from the bag of testing equipment, I might have measured that sound levels were lower in the coupe, but with four layers of fabric in the roof, the convertible couldn't be significantly noisier.

2023 Bentley Bentayga front

At the lookout, we jump into a Bentayga Speed that's a little more conspicuous than the Continental GT. The exterior paint is a Dwight Howard-spec purple called Damson, which is matched inside as the primary color, contrasted against a creamy accent called Portland. Damage to the investment account is $321,440, which is actually ... affordable? ... compared to the pair of Continentals.

The W12 makes less power in the Bentayga — 626 horsepower against the Conti's 650 hp — but it's the SUV's higher center of gravity and extra mass that predictably make it feel more ponderous than the two-doors. It's actually a solid handler on its own (we measured a V8 model pulling a respectable 0.91 g on our skidpad) that slots between a softer ultra-luxury SUV like the Mercedes-Maybach GLS and the more performance-focused Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT. It's just here, in the switchbacks of a mountain road, that the W12 feels too much. I feel like the standard V8 version with less weight at the front axle and snarly exhaust would be a bit livelier.

2023 Bentley Flying Spur front

We descend through the mountains to Pacific Coast Highway, pointing the big Bentayga north to a tony shopping plaza in Malibu. The Bentley's home turf. We swap into our final new ride of the day, a Flying Spur Speed in British Racing Green 4. There's something about this color on this car that my eyes don't like; I love BRG, but this shade isn't quite right. I spy the other Flying Spur in our caravan painted Marlin (dark blue) and wonder what could have been. Paint aside, our example is nicely specced. Boxes have been ticked for a number of styling packages (including, of course, the Styling package) that add tens of thousands of dollars to the price tag and a $9,000 Naim audio system. This limousine is the most classically Bentley model we've driven today, and it rings in at $343,040.

After a few minutes behind the wheel of this yacht with tires, it becomes apparent that the Flying Spur is the perfect application for the W12. The big sedan is so tailored toward passenger comfort that the rorty V8 is a bit of a mismatch. On the other hand, the 12-cylinder's 664 lb-ft of torque is available sooner in the rev range than the V8's 568 lb-ft. That means you don't have to wring out the engine to get all that thrust, resulting in a more serene driving experience.

I spend the last bit of my day returning to our initial launch point at the helm again of the first car. I ruminate on the W12 with in a Bentley convertible with the top down, Pacific glittering to my right and the sun beating down, the top of my balding head emanating the first hints of sunburn — honestly, is there any better way to ruminate? Despite the uninspiring exhaust note and the sheer weight it adds to the front of the car, the W12 does exhibit a charm that I'll miss when Bentley ceases production next year. It's one of the last 12-cylinder engines in the world, a count that used to signfiy the epitome of performance and exclusivity. Bentley's first EV might be quieter, smoother and faster than any of these W12 titans, but I doubt it will stir the soul in the same way.

Edmunds says

It's almost time to say goodbye to Bentley's twin-turbo W12. If you're in the market, you owe it to yourself to drive one now before the opportunity disappears forever.