How good can a £225,000, W12-powered convertible really be? To find out, Ben Griffin spent a week living as the richer one per cent of the world as part of his 2017 Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition convertible review.
The annual 200mph family car get-together must be a rather small affair. Really only the Ferrari FF and its replacement, the GTC4Lusso, offer a similarly outrageous level of pace and 2+2 seating arrangement as the Bentley Continental GT Speed.
The gathering would be smaller again if it was for a convertible that combines British craftsmanship and luxury with an engine so explosive it makes volcanoes look feeble. Tea for one, in fact.
Despite being a VW Group underling since 1998, the 15-year old Continental GT Speed is as lavish and ridiculous as ever, with 110 hours of handcrafted love poured into making each car in Crewe, Cheshire.
The latest car has undergone yet another a minor refresh and can now be had with the words ‘Black Edition’ stuck at the end. Suffice to say, our “murdered out” Bentley, with black alloys, black brake calipers and black everything, is the epitome of cool. Rapper or not.
Justifying the expenditure of £225,000 for a car will, of course, require more than just turning a few heads. So what else makes the Continental GT Speed Black Edition convertible special and is it worth all that money?
Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition: What should I know?
That it comes with a real powerhouse of an engine and one that may be the last of its kind. Because a twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 is never going to be anything but a burden to the planet. A noisy, wonderfully powerful burden that, in the 2017 car, has 633bhp.
The only thing sweeter than that horsepower figure is the one for torque, which comes in at 620lb/ft. Or 840Nm, if you prefer, all of which is available from just 2,000rpm. There are less powerful cruise liners.
Considering the Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition is a two-door, 2+2 convertible, it is anything but svelte. The convertible version we drove has a gross weight of 2,900kg ─ not far from twice that of a Ford Focus RS.
Nor is it a small car, considering the fact it is 4,806mm long and 2,227mm wide. A London Routemaster bus is only 25mm wider so, as you can imagine, one does anything but sneak in and out of traffic.
But for all of its vastness, people seem to appreciate that badge and so other motorists seem to give you all the space you need. Most expensive cars spark a visit from Mr Envy, yet the Bentley gets smiles and nods from men and women alike.
You could say the Continental GT Speed goes too far from pipe and slippers and into rapper territory, but that does little to stop this from being a classy machine.
Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition: What is the Black Edition?
The Black Edition part of the name actually only signifies a “styling option”, to quote a Bentley representative, as opposed to a special edition model. It costs £9,700, making it second only to the carbon ceramic brakes on the car we tested in terms of price.
A choice of black or red brake calipers, black 21-inch five-spoke alloys and high-gloss black finishes to the window openings, lamp bezels and various other exterior elements of the car all contribute to a more youthful appearance.
We rather liked the stealth approach of our test Bentley, but those who want to be less of a rapper can ask for a Hallmark, Beluga, St James’ Red or Cyber Yellow contrasting colour, which is applied to the front splitter, side skirts and rear diffuser.
A brightly-coloured stripe would scream Halfords on most cars, but the Bentley gets away with it. It helps, too, that you can have the same colour inside the cabin, which is largely filled with shiny surfaces and a less shiny dark tinted aluminium.
Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition: How does it perform?
Like a big, heavy car fitted with a gigantic engine. Seriously, this is hardly the car to keep up with a McLaren 720S at the Nurburgring. But as a fast, magnificently capable Grand Tourer? Few cars are quite like it.
The suspension has been firmed up to inspire a heavier foot in the corners and while it comes at the expense of comfort, it makes the 2017 Continental GT Speed feel more purposeful and sharper. A potent combination of all-wheel drive and Pirelli ZR21 tyres provide ample traction and grip.
Push too hard and understeer reminds you of the weight and size of the car, but any speed lost in the corners is soon made up for when you press the accelerator. 0-62mph takes 4.1 seconds for the convertible and 3.9 seconds for the 150kg lighter Coupe.
The speed builds very quickly beyond 62mph. 0-160kmh takes just nine seconds and the top speed of 203mph is, frankly, absurd. Or 206mph if you can forgo the fabric roof.
Quite how the W12 is road-legal is one of life’s greatest mysteries. In the standard drive mod, it shakes the tarmac to bits every time you press the accelerator. Go into Sport and it practically digs a crater.
Drop the roof, which is a long but mechanically-satisfying process, and the unfiltered noise has the power to deafen. It has a less of a howl than a V12 and is harsher than the Continental GT Speed V8, but its brute force nature has a charm of its own.
The eight-speed ZF automatic is rather good at up-shifting and does so without you noticing, but a little more haste when burying the accelerator would be welcome, especially as the paddles are a bit high up on the steering wheel to bother with.
Dinner-plate sized discs at the front help stop the Bentley Continental GT Speed convincingly, especially if you spend £10,825 extra on the carbon ceramics we had fitted, and are sensitive enough to scrub off speed with precision. But harsh braking does remind you of the kerb weight.
For such a brute force combination of speed, size and power, the Bentley Continental GT Speed has a graceful character that encourages a light touch, especially with the weighty but not overly heavy steering setup.
Really chucking it about reveals the flaws, but push too hard and you start to imagine the Bentley engineers crying as you risk damaging the paintwork. Swift, careful progress is rewarding enough, which is reassuring at this price.
Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition: Perfection, then?
It really is a special car to drive and the interior, complete with exquisite materials and tasteful design elements such as the Breitling analogue clock, remind you why you spend quite so much money on a Bentley.
The seats are so comfortable we were tempted to take them out and keep them at home, while the high-up doors and dashboard arrangement adds to the grandeur.
But the Continental GT Speed convertible is not without its flaws. Although the indicator stalks have a metal tip, the remaining section feels like a cheap plastic. The infotainment system is adorned with plasticy buttons that bring the opulence down a notch.
Not only that, the sheer volume of them makes it hard to find what it is you need and the processor inside the infotainment system is so slow there is a half-second delay from adjusting the volume and hearing it change.
Another fault is the infotainment system itself. The fact the offering you get in a BMW 5 Series ─ or even some superminis ─ is more sophisticated gives the Bentley a somewhat dated edge.
Given the younger appeal, the lack of Android Auto may be noticed. In fairness though, the 2017 Bentley Continental GT Speed has the bare-essentials covered such as adaptive cruise control and DAB digital. But a USB port is an odd ommission at this price.
We should also probably point out the fact the W12 drinks fuel. A few short journeys in busy traffic saw a quarter of the 90-litre tank vanish. This is one car that would reap the benefit of an electric motor helping with the stop/start stuff because fuel economy drastically improves once it can stretch its legs.
Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition: What else should I know?
The 358-litre boot in the Continental GT Speed coupe is just about passable for a jaunt into France, but the convertible loses 98 litres to house the fabric roof, which means far fewer Ikea bargains.
But then if you can afford this car, you can probably afford to have your luggage shipped ahead. Or buy an entirely new wardrobe when you arrive.
The rear seats are another negative as anyone with legs and above six feet will be in pain on anything but a short journey. Not so much pain you will turn down a trip in such a prestigious vehicle, of course, but it is best suited for people who are short in height or short in the tooth.
347g/km (338g/km for the Coupe) of CO2 is emitted from the exhaust and fuel economy is 19mpg combined (19.3mpg for the Coupe). Hardly going to put you on Greenpeace’s Christmas card list, but those figures are rather good all things considered.
Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition: How does it compare with the competition?
We are still waiting on a drive of the GTC4Lusso but the Ferrari FF is a car we know well. As the lighter car, it is much more nimble and the cockpit is more formula one car and less stately home ─ the rev counter on the steering wheel a prime example.
In a race, the FF and GTC4Lusso would leave the Bentley for dust, but the Bentley is designed to make every journey a treat and remind you that you did rather well at the game of life. It is very much an apples and oranges comparison.
Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition: Should I buy one?
For long distance cruising in ultimate luxury that fuses performance and comfort, the Bentley Continental GT Speed is about as good as it gets and the Black Edition option makes it more appealing to younger buyers. Not just anyone who produces rap hits.
It is just so effortlessly fast and comfortable that you can only fall for its British charms, especially when it fills the road with such a pleasingly tasteful design.
It must be said, the V8 helps the Continental GT Speed weigh less and improves the chucking-around potential, but there is something compelling about having such a thunderous engine at your disposal.
Negatives such as the weight and aging infotainment system head straight to the back of your mind when that W12 comes to life. Because, as it turns out, 633bhp puts you in a more forgiving mood.