Pick­ing up the speed

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Smyth smythm@mweb.co.za

Mo­tor News trav­elled to Mu­nich to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing more than just great beer

TALK of a new re­ces­sion is a lot like lis­ten­ing to the weath­er­man. It might rain, but it might not, a storm is com­ing but it might not be as strong as first pre­dicted.

While many are adamant that there will be some sort of re­ces­sional cli­mate next year it seems that it may not af­fect Bent­ley.

I re­cently trav­elled to Mu­nich, Ger­many to test the brand’s lat­est model, the po­tent GT Speed and learnt that the com­pany is en­joy­ing a fair amount of suc­cess right now. World­wide sales this year are up 25% com­pared to last year, with the US see­ing sales up 29% and even em­bat­tled Europe en­joy­ing a sales hike of some 20%. The lat­est gen­er­a­tion of the GT is at the fore­front of this re­ces­sion bust­ing phe­nom­e­non, with an in­crease of 25%, so it is no sur­prise that the com­pany is keen to get more mod­els to mar­ket.

The cur­rent GT is on a shorter life­cy­cle than the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, as the com­pany plans to put the next ver­sion on the same ar­chi­tec­ture as the next gen­er­a­tion Porsche Panam­era, due in 2014. In the mean­time it con­tin­ues to be a piece of hand­built engi­neer­ing shar­ing a num­ber of com­po­nents from within the Volk­swa­gen Group.

The lat­est Speed model is ac­tu­ally the fastest road go­ing Bent­ley ever pro­duced, with a top speed of 330km/h, al­though the com­pany tends to un­der­state its fig­ures so ex­pect it to be a lit­tle more. Try as I might, I could not get to this fig­ure on the Ger­man Au­to­bahn due to traf­fic, only manag­ing to reach around 270km/h. At one point I thought that some bored per­son be­hind a desk was watch­ing us as the gantries seemed to change to 120km/h only sec­onds be­fore we ap­proached each one. Spoil sports.

Still, for a car weigh­ing in at over 2,300kg, that top speed as well as a claimed 0-100km/h time 4.2 sec­onds is not bad at all. Much of this is cour­tesy of the same W12 engine that does duty in the GT and in the Audi A8, al­though up­rated with 447kW and 800Nm of torque.

Al­though the fig­ures them­selves are im­pres­sive, the weight is a bit of an is­sue. The Speed has all­wheel drive but as the 8-speed ZF box flicks through the gears, I found my­self aware of this mas­sive ton­nage around me. It still han­dles su­perbly, but all this hand­made lux­ury and be­spoke equip­ment en­sures that it weighs in at around 500kg more than a Fer­rari 599 and 200kg more than a Panam­era Turbo. It also weighs in at the same level as the reg­u­lar W12 GT, al­though it does have 15% lighter wheels, which it turns out you can have as part of the Mulliner Driver’s Pack on the GT any­way.

One of the chaps in­stru­men­tal

This is not the per­fect car if you are seek­ing per­for­mance thrills.

in the new model is a South African by the name of Brian Gush, who is Bent­ley’s head of engi­neer­ing. He was present at the launch and ex­plained that his team have re­duced the drag ver­sus the old GT Speed by 7.5%.

Chat­ting at din­ner one evening, it turns out that the drag fac­tor is the same as that on the reg­u­lar new GT, but for­tu­nately it is not all mar­ket­ing spin as the down­force has been in­creased on the Speed over the GT by 8%. This is to cope with the in­creased speed and is helped by the in­clu­sion of a two step com­puter con­trolled low­er­ing kit. The Speed also has a re­designed front valance and rear dif­fuser, again to aid with aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency.

Other engi­neer­ing items in­clude a 15% in­crease in the front wheel cam­ber an­gle to cope with the higher speed and of course the elec­tron­ics have been re­cal­i­brated too. In terms of styling, there is very lit­tle re­ally to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it, apart from the Speed wheels, a darker tint to the front grille and en­larged air in­takes be­cause at 330km/h Gush ex­plained that the Speed takes in 4,000l of air per sec­ond. You also have the op­tion of car­bon ce­ramic brakes and you get those all-es­sen­tial pieces of de­tail­ing that show peo­ple you are not a reg­u­lar GT owner.

Our route took us out of Mu­nich and along the Au­to­bahns into Aus­tria be­fore cross­ing back into the Ger­man Alps to stay at the no­to­ri­ous Ber­cht­es­gaden, where Adolf Hitler had his hol­i­day home known as The Ea­gles Nest. For­tu­nately though, the route in­cluded plenty of Alpine driv­ing on twisty moun­tain roads where the true level of engi­neer­ing in this car showed through. Get­ting nearly 2.5 tons to take a tight hair­pin at speed or to pull up abruptly when you come round a cor­ner to find a trac­tor in your way, is quite an achieve­ment.

How­ever, this is not the per­fect car if you are seek­ing per­for­mance thrills. The pad­dles be­hind the steer­ing wheel are un­com­fort­able to use and the 8-speed box proved to be slightly jerky on oc­ca­sion. The pres­ence of all that weight is un­de­ni­able too, but for­tu­nately this is not sup­posed to be a nim­ble lit­tle sports car. It is a GT, or Gran Tur­ismo. It is de­signed to make you look good as you leave the Mount Nel­son af­ter af­ter­noon tea, then make you smile as you waft pass lesser peo­ple in Audi A8s be­fore the lit­tle devil inside you is ap­peased as you charge through Fran­schoek Pass on your way to your wine es­tate.

It does all of this very well, but un­for­tu­nately it does not do it dra­mat­i­cally bet­ter than the GT W12, or even the new V8 model, but if you are one of those who seek the brag­ging rights of say­ing you have the best of the best then the Speed will suit you per­fectly.

First de­liv­er­ies of the new GT Speed, left, will be around March next year. The rear, top, sports a new dif­fuser and a ri­fled ef­fect on the ex­haust. The in­te­rior, above, gets di­a­mond quilted seats and a few other touches.

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