We’re blitzing to Boston in a Bentley, a Continental GT Speed. It’s a hulk of a car that looks like it was sculpted from a solid block of steel and weighs almost as much.
With a starting sticker of $215,000 and a W-12 engine with 616 horsepower crammed into the nose, this machine is unblinking in its mandate to cruise the asphalt. A power broker’s dream machine.
The drive from New York to Beantown is one of my least favorite trips on the planet, a traffic-snarled, 215-mile stretch along commuter-crowded Northeastern arteries. I’ve driven it too many times over the years to visit friends and family, often along the most toilsome I-95, before common sense and Google Maps intervened, and I availed myself of slightly less obvious routes.
Accompanying me on this trip are my wife, Miranda, and my eight-month-old son, Max, along with all the accoutrements that accompany an infant. The car has two doors and four seats, though the rear buckets only accommodate a baby seat with the front seat shoved forward as far as it will go.
With just 12.6 cubic-feet of capacity, the trunk is unlikely to please mobster hit-men or pack-rats, and we had to leave the boy’s stroller behind.
From the first stomp on the gas pedal, shooting the car onto Manhattan’s West Side Highway from a full stop, the updated, second-generation GT Speed begins speaking my language.
It has a most unusual blend of smoothness and power, creating the sensation of moving forward incredibly quickly, while taking a chunk of pavement along with you. Imagine an airport moving walkway on hyper-drive.
Onto the Saw Mill River Parkway with its off-camber curves and high-speed commuters darting home. The wide, low car sits flat, with no body roll at all. Then the Cross County Parkway to the Hutchinson, an enjoyable piece of road as long as it’s not packed bumper to bumper.
Dusk begins falling, the spring light goes golden and the roadside trees seem very green. The car runs strongly, the massive 21-inch Pirelli P Zero tires rolling along silently.
The Continental GT and GTC convertible are Bentley’s best-selling models, starting at $174,000 for the 500-hp V-8 model and $193,000 for the 567-hp W-12. Though the Speed versions are pricier and lack brag-worthy exterior badging, they’ve proved extremely popular.
The base GT was gently redesigned in the 2011 model-year, and this Speed model also gets the second-generation treatment. The previous cars left me cold, their drive sterile and detached. The second generation cars don’t look much different, but the overall experience is far more interesting.
The alterations are minor, both to the exterior and the mechanicals, but the sum is more than the changed parts, like a custom versus an off-the-rack suit. The former feels better in slight but important ways that are not always obvious when the two are hanging in the closet.
Our test car has carbon-ceramic brakes, a $13,600 upcharge that helps explain the $251,490 price. (The Naim audio system tacks on another $7,155.) Carbon ceramics were first found on race cars, and the stopping power is extreme.
Yet these brakes are hard to moderate evenly. A little pressure yields little deceleration; push harder and the brakes suddenly bite down hard. If an accident happened in front of us I could come to a mind-bendingly fast halt -- but would probably be rear-ended in the process.
The idea of a “grand touring” car, or GT, which travels great distances in speed and style is nearly as old as the automobile. We’ve reached Highway 91 toward Connecticut’s Hartford and the Bentley is proving itself more than worthy of the tradition.
I’ve got the gas pedal depressed only slightly but effortlessly keep up with the swift traffic. I feel like I’m only using a tenth of the car’s power. (Top speed is actually 205 mph.) Bentley is owned by Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen Group and it’s clear the GT Speed is designed for long runs down the autobahn.
The model I’m driving is painted a handsomely muted shade of “Burnt Orange,” which shows off the large grill and powerful rear shoulders to best effect. The oversized wheels add extra visual heft.
The interior includes fabulous darkened aluminum panels on the front console (a $4,785 option), which mesh nicely with the dark leather and overhanging leather cowls. Masculine, yet tasteful. The knobs and window controls have that keenly-tuned sense of Bentley heft.
It’s dark now and starts to rain. I put on the windshield wipers and they clean the glass noiselessly. “That’s eerie,” says Miranda. I agree. The car is mausoleum quiet.
Almost too soon to be believed, we reach the outskirts of Boston. Max has been sleeping the entire time, cocooned in the rear. The Bentley offers the very best of ways to conquer the most dreaded of drives.
The 2013 Continental GT Speed at a Glance
Engine: 6.0-liter, twin-turbo W-12 with 616 horsepower and
590 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in four seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 13 city, 20 highway.
Price as tested: $251,490.
Best feature: Imperious power.
Worst feature: It doesn’t come cheaply.
Target buyer: Globe-trotting power brokers.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Philip Boroff on theater and Greg Evans on television.