Poor Bentley. The storied British motorcar manufacturer is plagued by customers with short attention spans who rarely keep their expensive new cars more than a couple of years.
So the imperative is to continuously reinvent the company's few basic models to keep them fresh, exciting and exclusive, and their devotees writing checks. Thus it is that we witness the debut of the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed, billed as the fastest Bentley ever, with a top speed of 205 miles an hour.
Until now, that title belonged to the 204-miles-an-hour Continental GT Supersports, which likely will regain the top spot again once the GT Speed becomes old hat in, say, a year plus some months. Or maybe sooner.
But wait a minute -- the new GT Speed has an acceleration time clocked by Bentley itself at four seconds to 60 miles an hour, certainly in super car company. But the 2010 Supersports did it in a claimed 3.7 seconds. So the GT Speed is faster but the Supersports is quicker in a sprint. It's a distinction without much of a difference.
The Continental, an exotic high performance ultra-luxury coupe, is Bentley's best selling car, and it comes in eight variations. There's the GT, GT Speed and GT Supersports, each in coupe and convertible models. All of them have 12-cylinder engines and all-wheel drive, and each sells for somewhere north and south of a quarter of a million dollars, including bespoke (that is, custom) options that also are aimed at keeping exclusivity-oriented buyers titillated.
In addition, there's a still speedy but less expensive and relatively more economical GT with a V8 engine, also available as a coupe or a ragtop.
When Bentley brags about the new GT Speed's speed, it's talking about a machine with that maximum of 205 miles an hour. It's a rare something you might be able to attain on an aircraft runway, a deserted stretch of Germany's autobahn or a racetrack with a long straightaway. But mostly it's a bragging rights and feel-good thing, just knowing you could do it.
It is that capable because the entire package -- chassis, suspension system, steering, brakes -- all are designed to insure that there is no driver discomfort, mental or physical, at those triple digit speeds. In fact, cruising at 150 or so on Germany's autobahn, unheard of in the US of A, doesn't feel much different than an ordinary mid-size sedan at 70. The GT Speed is that steady.
The power comes from a W12 engine, so called because the cylinders are arranged in a W pattern, unlike the more familiar V arrangement. It delivers 616 horsepower through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering column.
One of the characteristics of the new Bentley eight-speed is something called block shifting. It means that if you're cruising in eighth gear and you want to pass someone, flooring the pedal will jump the transmission all the way down to third gear without any intervening interruptions.
It's a surprising and exciting whack in the shoulder blades as the Speed fairly rockets past the unsuspecting victim. But there's a noticeable shudder once the transmission shifts back to a normal mode to resume cruising. The tested GT Speed also had racetrack ready carbon ceramic brakes, a $13,600 option.
The engine is sourced from Volkswagen of Germany, which now owns Bentley, based in Crewe, England. But the Bentley engineers bristle at any suggestion that it resembles anything with a VW badge. They say that it is thoroughly cleansed and massaged before it ever finds its way into any Bentley.
That, of course, is part of the Bentley performance mystique, which dates back to "W.O." -- William Owen Bentley -- in the 1920s. At one time, both Bentley and the pinnacle of luxury, Rolls-Royce, were under the same ownership. But now the Rolls rolls under BMW's mantle.
The Bentley always was the driver-oriented machine, leaving the chauffeurs to compete discretely for the Rolls. That remains true to this day, and especially so in the Continental GT models, for which Rolls-Royce has no answer.
The neat thing about the GT Speed, aside from its sumptuous interior and state of the art electronics, is how docile it can be in everyday urban motoring. Anybody's genteel Aunt Edna could trundle about without mussing a hair, although she'd have to be careful not to frighten herself by inadvertently stabbing the accelerator pedal.
Model: 2013 Bentley GT Speed two-door coupe.
Engine: 6.0-liter W12, twin turbochargers, 616 horsepower.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 95/13 cubic feet.
Weight: 5,115 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 13/20/15 miles to the gallon.
Base price, including destination charge: $217,725.
Price as tested, including destination charge and $3,000 gas-guzzler tax: $257,215.
Contact Frank Aukofer at driveways6(at)gmail.com