Test Drive: Bentley Continental GT Speed 12-Cylinder

You’re looking at a unicorn. You might guess I’m talking about the price of the Bentley Continental GT Speed: $274,900. That already puts the two-plus-two British supercar far out of reach of the average Mini purchaser. Nope. The Bentley Continental GT Speed has genetic rarity under the bonnet (read: hood). The beast quaking this Bentley is a 12-cylinder, fire-breathing, gasoline-fueled jewel that blasts 650hp and 664 ft. lbs. of torque. And for obvious reasons this form of propulsion is no longer in fashion, even in the eff-everyone-else baller realm of supercars.

Bentley’s not stupid: Even their customer base is quickly switching channels to Bentley’s hybrid offerings and the brand has committed to a plan where, beginning in 2.5 years, they’ll drop a new EV every year through 2030. They’re also committing to all their manufacturing becoming carbon neutral. These goals happen to be business-savvy. Nobody would likely say it out loud at Bentley’s HQ in Crewe, England, but if Tesla proved its Model S could supplant Ferraris in the garages of Silicon Valley titans and Lucid’s Air is proving a possible successor (and without a doubt, so will Rivian’s R1T and the new EV Hummer, etc.) then the Bentleys of the world must evolve as well.

But…there’s a tails side to every coin. Imagine a world 20 years from now when something that runs on gasoline is increasingly unusual. You might have to pay a hefty luxury tax to even wield such a machine, and likely, in that rare atmosphere, the only place to drive such a car would be a members-only track. Cars like one of the last 12-cylinders made may be verboten on urban streets—but they’ll very likely be excellent investments even if they rarely run.

With that buy-and-hold context in mind, here are three facets that stand out on a car that’s not even trying that hard to be “stealth.”

Twelve-cylinder engine
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More Than the Sum of Its Cylinders

The twin-turbocharged W-12 configuration of this engine is unusual, even in the realm of twelve-cylinder motors. And as mentioned, it’s not likely to stick around, yet the reality is that even for all its prowess (0-60mph in 3.5 seconds and a 208 mph top speed are no joke), the joy of this Bentley isn’t found in sprinting. It’s in slaloming.

Bentley’s air-adaptive suspension, as well as electronic active anti-roll bars prevent the Conti from wallowing even as you bang 5,011 pounds of mass around turns. It’s an experience that can’t help but make you giggle. It’s absurd that a car this comfortable and plush (and hush!) on the interstate wants to dance around every sinew of double-yellow country lane.

Now, this isn’t quite magic. All Continental GTs get all-wheel drive, but the Speed version also adds four-wheel steering, so it’s quicker to turn into a corner under throttle—and that helpful tuck-in provided by the rear wheels makes the Bentley dart like a much smaller, much lighter vehicle. It helps that Bentley’s reformulated the power split of that all-wheel-drive system to bias torque to 90 percent rear most of the time. The car feels sportier at every apex, like it wants to wag its tail, then power shifts forward to pull the steering back straight. Grab a big fistful of paddle to downshift the manumatic eight-speed gearbox just before a bend and the whole recipe gets even tastier.

Interior of luxury car
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The Devil Is in the Details

Test-driving a car like this is an exercise in envy. And even if you’re quite wealthy, the sheer perfection of a cabin so well executed will have you calling your personal architect and grilling them to copy every last thread and fitment to the interior of your mansion.

Not that it’s all precisely everyone’s cup of Earl Grey. The thing to copy is the quality of execution, not necessarily the specific aesthetic choices.

On our loaner, the carbon fiber dashboard and lacquer-everywhere along with diamond-in-diamond quilting on the seats had a rented jet-set quality that was distinctly over the top. Not to worry. Bentleys are seldom bought “off the rack.” You can choose from 26 fabric and hide options for seating and interior panels, and there are myriad hard-surface materials to mull over. This doesn’t even begin to touch the customization potential either, since Bentley’s goal is that no two cars are alike. And why not? If you’re in for nearly $300,000, why not use the canvas they’re offering to paint your own masterpiece?

Regardless of material choice, you’ll have seats outfitted with massage and heating/cooling functionality. They’re so comfortable, it’s difficult to pry yourself away even after hours behind the wheel. It doesn’t hurt that the 2200-watt, 20-speaker/subwoofer audio system will darn near make you cry at its astonishing sonic clarity.

Also, for all those who might instead choose a super-cramped sports car, go ahead. What the Continental GT Speed offers isn’t just pace, but genuine comfort. The backseats might be small, but they exist, as does a reasonably sized trunk. This is a gran-tourer in the classic sense, so you’re never deafened by a droning exhaust, bellowing engine, or beating-you-to-submission suspension. Get away for a weekend in this supercar and you’ll arrive fresher than when you left.

Grey car in showroom
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Weight-ing for the Future

One revelation that’s arrived at the rear of any EV owner is that all that weight in the basement corners better. Fast-twitch has a place, no doubt, but what’s been more appealing recently is making the most of…assets. Even though an EV has to be heavy, putting batteries in the floor can give even a softly sprung machine a planted feeling that lends the driver sharper control.

Welcome to the club, all you newcomers.

While the GT Speed is entirely gas-powered, driving this car is like looking through a wormhole. You’re gazing back in time at everything Bentley knows what to do with weight—and simultaneously seeing a road map to the company’s EV future. Because if they can achieve this much poise with a car with this much weight on the front axle, just imagine what they might do with a perfectly even balance of power and bulk.

If you have the means, plunk down your Black Card for the Continental GT Speed, pronto. But there’s hope, too, that a car like this heralds even more creativity for what Bentley can turn out come 2025.

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