It’s faster. It takes corners better. And it’s designed to make long trips pass by in comfort. The 2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed could prove to be a landmark product for the British automaker, potentially the last major model to rely solely on Bentley’s massive W-12 engine.
The automaker announced last November that it will offer only plug-in hybrids and pure battery-electric models starting in 2026, while going 100% BEV by 2030. That means that this new version of the GT Speed will have a relatively short, albeit glorious, life.
“It delivers the ultimate combination of driving comfort and performance,” said Matthias Rabe, Bentley’s engineering chief, during a Tuesday morning media webinar.
The pinnacle of the brand
The Bentley Continental, in all its forms, has been the most popular model in the company’s history, helping usher in a massive transformation of the brand since the car was introduced back in 2003. The Speed is the “pinnacle” of the line, said Rabe. And, for 2022, it gets an assortment of upgrades.
That starts with the 6.0-liter W-12 engine which gains an additional 24 horsepower. The 2022 model now punches out 659 hp and 664 pound-feet of torque, enough to hit 60 in 3.5 seconds. Top speed climbs to 208 mph. Power is directed to all four wheels through an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission.
A Bentley isn’t about straight-line performance, of course. And, to improve its road manners, the ’22 GT Speed adds all-wheel-steering and torque vectoring, along with an electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential. A driver who wants to push the limits can even switch off the GT Speed’s electronic stability control and drift the car “a little,” said Rabe — no mean feat considering its size and mass.
New carbon-ceramic brakes help scrub off speed.
Few surprises … until you look under the skin
Visually, there are few surprises with the update. There’s the familiar, rectangular Bentley grille which gets a subtle tweak to its finish. There are new 20-inch twin-spoke wheels and gloss black accents are available. But the look is immediately familiar, with the distinctive crystal cut quad headlamps, the fastback roof and the three distinctive accent lines.
Inside, there are four bucket seats and a leather, wood and metal-accented interior that offers a seemingly endless range of customization opportunities. Among other things, buyers can choose from 15 different hues of leather and Alcantara.
The W-12 has been a distinctive symbol of the Bentley brand. The question is how much of a future it has. Bentley stunned industry observers when it laid out plans to go all electric late last year. It’s timing puts it well ahead of key luxury competitors, as well as more mainstream companies like General Motors, which expects to switch entirely to BEVs by 2035.
The decision followed a survey of Bentley owners, 58% of whom said “they would buy an electrified Bentley in next five years if one was available,” said the brand’s CEO Adrian Hallmark. “If it wasn’t above 50% we probably wouldn’t have been as bold about our plans for the future,” he added during the Tuesday web event.
Though the shift to plug-based products is coming up fast, “I wouldn’t quite call (this) a swan song for the W-12. There is a life left in what is essentially a new engine,” said Hallmark, noting there will be a number of variants of the Continental and other models before 2026.
That said, “We’re not going to create a plug-in hybrid with a 12-cylinder engine,” he stressed. It would simply be too big once adding a 250-pound battery pack. So, by 2026, any GT Speed successor going hybrid would likely use the British marque’s 8-cylinder alternative.
Whatever approach Bentley takes, chief engineer Rabe is confident it will connect with buyers. Battery cars should deliver precisely what Bentley customers expect: a quiet, comfortable ride, yes, but electric motors also have the advantage of providing maximum, tire-spinning torque the moment they start turning.
A good run
For the near-term, Bentley is just bringing its first PHEV to market, a version of the Bentayga SUV that is rapidly becoming the automaker’s best-selling model-line.
But Bentley, on the whole, is having a good run. Despite a seven-week shutdown of production last spring caused by the COVID pandemic, the automaker recorded record sales of 11,206 vehicles in 2020. And demand is up about 30% so far this year. Hallmark is confident that the launch of the new Continental GT Speed will add to that momentum.
The new model will launch in the U.S. and Europe during the third quarter of 2021, reaching China and other key markets a few months later.