If you just look at the figures, it is difficult to understand the rationale behind Bentley’s new Continental GT Speed. The latest version of the regular 552bhp GT is hardly a laggard with a top speed of 198mph and goes 0-60 in 4.6sec. Cost: £120,500.
It is claimed that the GT Speed version hits 202mph, takes 0.3sec off the 0-60 time and makes 50-70mph in 2.3sec. Combined fuel consumption is 17mpg. CO2 emissions are 396g/km, which may sound horrific but at least they are 3.5 per cent better than the previous GT. Cost: £137,500.
The GT Speed is not just about finding the extra power to travel 4mph faster at what is already a daft rate for a road car, though; it is more grown up than that.
Appreciation of the far wider design and engineering improvements in competence and comfort that the car represents dawn only when it is driven quickly, effortlessly and safely hundreds of miles on a Continental journey, taking in ultra-smooth motorways, main routes and narrow, sharp-cornered, poorly surfaced roads in rural Spain, which it tackled with a sangfroid extraordinary for a 2.3tonne machine.
After two days of this, I started to understand the rationale behind the design. It is not ideal for nipping down to the supermarket, carrying dogs, or more than three people (although it has four seats, space in the rear is limited), but it compacts long distances and melds opulent luxury, advanced technology and a surprising sportiness.
At very high speed it is remarkably quiet, yet its mighty 6.0litre W12 engine, with enhanced efficiency and lighter components, can be made to growl and rumble. Its steering is sharper than previous Continentals and its lowered suspension, with its safety net of electronics that do not interfere unnecessarily, can be adjusted for damping effect � and in 38C (100F) heat its cabin was a cool cocoon.
I did not reach 202mph, but I did make use of the huge power, ceramic brakes (a £10,000 extra that can be a touch sharp and squeaky), all-wheel-drive and overall capability to achieve safe, rapid progress. Extra-urban fuel consumption is 24.3mpg and 20mpg a practical proposition.
“The Continental GT Speed is a response to market need,” Dr Ilrich Eichhorn, the engineering director of Bentley, said. “No one has to drive at 200mph, but the car provides that ability, just as the buyer of a 4 x 4 has the ability to drive off-road but may not choose to. As for emissions, a mass-produced car may be driven 30,000 miles a year with perhaps emissions of 200g/km. We make only 10,000 cars a year and typically, over 12 months, each is driven about 10,000 miles.”