Driving the Bentley
So I find myself in Germany again, for a world launch and another Inquirer exclusive. Business-class plane tickets, a 5-star resort hotel in the midst of a beautiful German autumn up the equally beautiful German Alps. Fortunately, I didn’t come here for the first-class treatment, wining and dining, etc. I came to Germany to drive. And drive very fast, stupid fast, as fast as I could drive on the Autobahn.
To describe driving the Continental GT Speed as fantastic is an understatement.
On the A8 and A99 routes of the Autobahn, the Continental GT Speed is peerless. With 616.44 hp and 800 Newton-meters of torque on tap, flooring the throttle, the suspension set in sport mode, and it’s like cliff-diving, rocket jets strapped to your back. Countless cars tried to keep up with the Bentley: Porsches of all makes and models, V8 and V12 AMG Mercs, BMW Ms, Jaguars, a couple of Aston Martins, even a handful of late-model Ferraris. They were all left standing still whenever I’d floor the throttle. The rate the Bentley accelerates—from 100 to 270 kph—is simply mind-boggling, like someone pressed a button to stop time, allowing only the Continental to speed up and everyone remained motionless. Cynics will say going fast in a straight line is easy, but try going stupid fast for four hours a day, to meet the schedule and get someone onto his flight on time, some 350 kilometers away, and let’s see if you’ll find that easy. I wasn’t able to beat my personal best of 286 kph in a Porsche Panamera Turbo S last year, only hitting 280 kph this time, with traffic being far heavier due to Munich’s proximity to the Alps (where every German in Bavaria tries to go to on the weekend). Still it’s amazing I could hit the speeds I was hitting with far greater ease than I did with the Panamera.
But being a luxurious Grand Tourer, the Bentley’s sweet spot for me is cruising at around 200 kph all day while enjoying a conversation about politics, cars and our countries with my driving partner, Ahmed from Malaysia. Slot the big gear-change lever into manual mode and the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel allow for block-shifting (i.e., non-sequential), thus shifts can be made faster. The all-important eighth-to-third-gear downshift can be done quickly, so cruising at a low 1,200 rpm in eighth at 100 kph, all the way to third for those manic overtaking maneuvers is seamless, showcasing the Bentley’s Jekyll & Hyde persona on demand.
While the Big Bentley prefers high-speed cruising, it does fine on the tight and twisty stuff. And when I say tight and twisty, I mean 5-meter-wide roads such as the Alpenstrasse going up to our hotel for the evening, the Intercontinental Bertichsgarden, situated at the foothills of the Alps, less than 30 minutes away from neighboring Austria. With the mountain facing on one side and cliff on the other, the big Bentley deftly masks its heft as I pound the Alps to make it in time for dinner. It’s here that the Bentley proves to be a real pussycat: The light steering, still brimming with decent feel, allows you to accurately place the Continental inches away from the curb and Armco barriers, making overtaking small and slow vehicles a walk in the park despite limited space.
In between Autobahn blasting, we find ourselves driving through a lot of wine and farm country, sleepy towns with picturesque medieval churches (Bavaria is predominantly Catholic unlike the rest of Germany, which is Protestant, with a surprisingly large part being Muslim) and lattice-like winding roads, the Continental soaks it all up with ease, the Satnav working perfectly to keep us within schedule. Like a velvet gauntlet, the Continental GT Speed is fast, powerful, overwhelmingly brutal especially when you floor the throttle. Yet it exudes a somber confidence without the flashy histrionics of traditional sports cars and GT cruisers.
Truthfully, while I love the Bentley so much (that its name starts with a B makes it easy for me to love it right from the start, plus the Continental and I are both very much in the PLUS sizing), I know it’s not YET for me. Bentley sees its customers in the ’60s, although the Continental, particularly the base-model V8 and regular GTC variants have been attracting new, much younger customers.
And to make things more interesting for the brand, an all-new GT3 Race Spec of the Continental V8 has been recently unveiled at the Paris Motorshow this year. Details are vague, but Bentley hopes to sell these turn-key race cars to gentlemen-racers. Much like in the old days of Walter Owen Bentley and Woolf “Babe” Barnato. Things are getting exciting again for the boys at Crewe, England. I’m glad we’ll be officially welcoming them over by February of 2013.