A Need for Speed

Lionel Kong
Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

Bentley’s Speed series cars are more than just about getting around quickly


No one’s ever claimed that modern Bentleys are slow. Every single Bentley presently available for sale officially in Singapore, from the Continental GT coupe to the Bentayga SUV, comes packed with at least a turbo V8 generating more than 500 horsepower. Yet the reputation that Bentley carries, like its fellow country man Rolls-Royce, is one of building supremely luxurious cars.

That’s what we are partially here in the outskirts of Adelaide, at The Bend, to experience. One of Australia’s newest permanent racing tracks and the location for what Bentley calls its Symphony of Speed, it’s also where the brand has gathered its fastest cars to give us a chance to experience the magic. 

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

The Bentley Continental GT Speed and Bentayga Speed have a very unique calling card in the form of their engines: the 6.0-litre, twin-turbo W12 petrol engine that, more than 20 years after it made its way into series production and countless updates later, could now be in its last iteration as the brand gradually makes way to electric power. 

The W12 powerplants are hugely complicated engines to design, putting what are essentially four rows of three-cylinder banks together to turn a single crankshaft. Then there’s the plumbing of the two turbochargers to manage as well. 

Bentley Speed car W12 engine at The Bend Adelaide

For some however, the beauty of a W12 engine is like that of a precision tourbillon set within a watch face, but a watch face doesn’t do thousands of tiny explosions a minute and create 659 horsepower.

That’s how much power there is in the Bentley Continental GT Speed, the brand’s quickest two-door coupe. We’ve been let loose on the Bend’s 3.41km-long West Circuit for the opportunity to do a few hot laps in the Speed cars, but the trouble is, it’s now bucketing down with rain.

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

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Chief driving instructor Luke O’Neill has given specific instructions to not treat this day out as a track day, but rather, an opportunity to explore the handling ability of a Bentley driven at, well, speed. 

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

As Paul Dickinson, Bentley’s head of commercial in motorsport and Mulliner program explains, “A Bentley Speed car is a fast luxury grand touring car turned up to the maximum, but it’s not a specialised track day car.”

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

This is evidenced when I get into the Continental GT coupe, as the top of my full-face helmet almost wedges into the roof of the car even after the seat has been lowered to the floor. The car really wasn’t built to accommodate a helmeted human, but there is just enough wiggle room to spare.

There’s little chance to acquaint myself with the luxury appointments of the Continental GT Speed as we’re out of the pitlane and onto the track, in the driving rain. A driving instructor is with you on these laps to ensure that you don’t do anything silly, and with the limited visibility from the water on track this is a welcome help, as the instructor’s track knowledge really shortens the time needed to learn which way the track goes. 

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

Adaptive all-wheel drive, adjustable air sprung suspension, an electronic limited slip differential, and electric anti-roll bars that adapt to cornering forces give even the Continental GT Speed manic levels of grip and body control. It pulls itself out of corners with authority even as the rain intensity picks up. On the front straight, with a good exit from the last corner, the car hits 210km/h with plenty of room to spare before we get on the brakes early because of the reduced traction thanks to the rain. 

Ironically, the Continental GT Speed’s unique engine is what makes it feel slower through the tight corners. The weight of the W12 engine in the front of the car doesn’t let the car change direction as readily as the V8-engined Continental GT S, its smaller engined sibling. Still, the W12 engine pulls like a freight train anyway and its sheer physical presence is unmatched. 

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

Then there’s the matter of the Bentley Bentayga Speed SUV not leaving very much behind despite its 2.5-ton kerb weight. Despite a lesser state of tune that sees it have 24 horsepower less than the Continental GT Speed, it’s a prime example of a solidly assembled luxury SUV that is also set to be one of the last great internal combustion-engined SUVs in history. It’s equipped with all the same electronic handling gizmos as its coupe cousin, and while the weight of the car needs to be carefully managed and driving inputs tempered in heavy rain, the car fulfils its brief of being a very fast, very luxurious SUV with a very unique engine under the bonnet. 

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

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There was also a Bentayga S and ‘standard’ Continental GT V8 present for lapping the circuit, and to make direct comparisons of the driving experience against. With smaller, lighter, but still very powerful V8 turbo engines, the ‘small’ engined cars of the Bentley range are still very quick, but without the astronomical fuel consumption and accompanying power of the W12 versions. 

Interestingly, the V8 engines are louder and have a more sonorous rumble compared to the muted bass notes of the W12. Visually, cars have identical silhouettes but the Speed gets the additional Speed badging and some shiny accents.

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

The biggest difference between the V8 and Speed variants, besides outright power, is the way the lighter V8-powered cars change direction. They are more nimble, and have much less of a ‘nose-led’ feel when flicking through a right-left corner combination. Surprisingly, they also give away very little in straight line acceleration and if the track was dry the S cars would have been very evenly matched with the Speed cars. 

Bentley Speed cars at The Bend Adelaide

Trackday specials these cars are not, but as a potent combination of luxury and power, these are suitable swan songs to bring the curtain down on the fossil-fueled engined era of the Bentley.

On to Page 2: What is Bentley Mulliner all about?

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Bentayga Bentley continental gt speed W12

About the Author

Lionel Kong

An old hand from the bad old days of crazy COEs, the straight-shooting, ex-CarBuyer editor is back in the four-wheeled world. Rumours that he went to another country to start a Judas Priest tribute band are unfounded.

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