Picking up the speed
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.