A dash of confidence
Lesser cars scatter before the imperious approach of the Bentley Continental GT Speed, writes William Wadsworth
When you've spent a significant part of your motoring life under surveillance, you appreciate the finer points of traffic policing. 'Ah Sir' of the Tung Chung manor is a real pro on the Lantau Expressway. For a couple of clicks he's kept a discreet but visible watch on the glide of this red Bentley Continental GT Speed along the windswept stretch to Disneyland.
I saw Ah Sir's Isuzu way back, of course, as a white speck in sleek wing mirrors built for the fast lane. Toggle the rear views to your driving position for a minute and you could save a morning in court. So the Speed goes quietly, at a respectful 90km/h, to minimise margin of error on any speedguns and let Ah Sir look over Bentley's fastest production car safely. He's only doing his job.
Named after the 1923 three-litres, the Speed is worth a closer look. The two-plus-two coupe seems like any fast-backed Continental GT at a distance, but Bentley has given the Speed a dark, more vertical, chrome grille. The fastie is also fitted with larger front intakes for more whoosh to a six-litre engine that's said to be cleaner and more efficient, with lots of new parts. The test car's rifled twin exhausts are also wider and a black lower bumper valance reminds Ah Sir that he's bridling a 600 brake-horsepowered coupe capable of 100km/h in 4.5 seconds and reaching 326km/h. Not that I'd think of trying that in Hong Kong.
The law's a few bus-lengths back now. The key to staying out of court under close scrutiny is to avoid unforced driving errors. Just keep your eyes to the front, and simply control yourself and the car. That's not hard in the Speed, for it flatters driving with probably the clearest instruments and easiest of controls. The hide of the new three-spoke steering wheel feels substantial and the car's excellent handling is said to have been improved with new hydraulics. The alloy foot-pedals are so responsive, however, that you might require thin-soled loafers and an iron will to keep a clean licence.
The test car edges up to 92km/h and I keep it there, thanks to the imperturbable power of the W12 block that does what you want, when you feel like it, like a Rolls-Royce Phantom. The Speed's ride is refined but hardly boring on uprated and lowered springs and dampers. You don't get the engine scream or head-into-the-rest thrust of a Porsche or a Ferrari, but then this is a coupe for people who don't have to shout in the fast lane.
Ah Sir is now on the Speed's inside rear quarter and I indicate to allow him to overtake. The lever feels reassuringly crafted, and the Isuzu's headlights flash as Ah Sir takes to an exit. Our surveillance duet is complete and the Speed's mirrors suggest we may see more of what the coupe can do.
Bentley Hong Kong has thoughtfully programmed a dashboard speed-limit light to flash on at 110km/h, but its 'bing' is a butler's reminder rather than a nanny's nag and the car soon glides to unprintable speeds. I expected a stiffer drive from the 2,350kg steel chassis, but the Bentley's a cinch in the wallop with speed-sensitive servotronic steering. Thank goodness, then, that the Speed has the biggest ventilated disc brakes in the business. But you don't jar them in a Bentley. Only nouveaux do that.
The marque says the Speed boasts 15 per cent more torque and 9 per cent more power than the standard Continental GT. So the test car's speedometer soon swings from an automatic points deduction to a severe wigging in court. I find such assured thrust a rare thrill in Hong Kong, yet the Bentley's still yawning and filing its nails at under 3,000rpm.
The Speed's effortless exuberance might goad your inner school bully, however. As BMW 5-Series, Audi A6s and even taxis scatter before the test car's imperious approach, I feel the onset of a sixth-form sneer and a sense of insuperability that might ship in a silk to challenge any speeding ticket. And when a Mercedes-Benz S-Class lingers in the overtaking lane, it receives a sharp flash from the Speed's snarling headlights. The brand slaves move aside, dear things. And so they ought, for the Speed marks you as one of the biggest swinging Richards in town.
You can drive far like this, but not in Hong Kong, where the law has installed more than 240 speed cameras on about 1,930km of road. You don't always have to welly the Speed, however. Heaven is at 60km/h on the Tsing Ma Bridge, where you can look up at its span and over to the lights of Hong Kong and relish the glee of being seen behind the right wheel in the right place at the right time.
Bentley makes you look good in a choice of 16 paint colours, 17 leathers, four wood veneers, a knurled chrome finish to controls and a full range of Mulliner personalisation options. The seats' quilting seems fussy after the Mercedes-Benz 500CL and Maserati Quattroporte, but they're boardroom solid on the back and sufficiently roomy for four six-footers. Access to the rear shouldn't test the arthritic or high-heeled but the matt back on the test car's front passenger seat back revealed a scuff and the need for a material rethink. The 500CL has more rear headroom and its upholstery seems more ready for dogs, however. The Speed's 370-litre boot might be adequate for maybe a week's stay with friends and an afternoon's shopping.
The test car is surprisingly manoeuvrable in Central traffic and steers as well as a Mini along Stubbs Road. The paddle shifts are fun up the Peak but the six-speed ZF automatic box is a slicker shifter. Parking is hard over a long bonnet and wings could be scuffed in Mid-Levels blocks. The Speed is more justifiable on the mainland and probably more enjoyable in Europe, but it's a magnificent car. You can still do the Continental in Hong Kong, but do watch out for Ah Sir: he's probably in your mirrors, watching your Speed.