It sounds absurd to call a $160,000 car a bargain. But the 2003 Bentley Continental GT arrived at that price with a flashbulb-popping style and a 198 mph top speed that had it flying off the shelves like no six-figure car in years. The secret to the GT’s relative affordability lay beneath its lovely skin: an aluminum chassis plus engine components and an all-wheel-drive system that were designed by Volkswagen (Bentley’s parent) but uniquely engineered for the GT.
With the company’s worldwide sales up tenfold since that debut, the $200,000 Bentley Continental GT Speed—its name evoking Bentley’s classic Speed models of the 1920s—seeks an even loftier clientele. An obscenely potent twin-turbo W-12 engine (a pair of V-6s conjoined in a W pattern) has been upped to 600 horsepower, making this the first Bentley to crack the 200 mph barrier. The 60 mph mark flies past in 4.3 seconds, which leaves 142 mph to go: Not bad for a cruiser that tops two tons. To reel it in, add on the largest brakes on any passenger car, offering heat-shedding carbon-silicon rotors for an optional $16,500. Twenty-inch wheels and Pirelli P-Zero tires, adjustable air suspension and sportier tuning for the steering give the GT Speed uncanny abilities for such a massive machine. For its driver, the physical sensations of these forces are pleasantly remote. Credit for this goes to a decadently luxurious cabin, a hand-built pasha’s lair of lambswool carpets and artisan-worthy wood inlays available in seven timber varieties.
Demerits?Although the trunk fits three golf bags, the back seat holds at best two spoiled children. A clunky VW-based navigation system is sore-thumb evidence of the Bentley’s roots. And my fluffy-cloud fantasy of a week at the wheel was dampened by dreary 10 mpg city fuel economy. Then again, a Bentley buyer could dig for pocket change, add a Prius to the garage and wash away any lingering guilt.
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Price: $200,000 ($215,655 as tested)
Engine: Twin-turbo, 6.0-liter W-12
Torque: 553 pound-feet
Weight: 5,180 pounds
Zero to 60 mph: 4.3 seconds
Top Speed: 202 mph
Ernst Benz Chronoflite Worldtimer
Diameter: 47 mm
Case: Stainless steel
Contact: 248-203-2323, ernstbenz.com
Taking flight: The ChronoFlite WorldTimer