Autobahnstorming in the fastest production Bentley
Munich, Germany — Bentley introduced the first-generation Continental GT Speed four years into the model's life, and while it was a late addition, it also proved a popular one. A year after launch, the Speed was taking 60 per cent of Conti GT sales and it held onto the model split leadership right up until the launch of the second-gen Continental GT W12 for 2012. Sensibly, then, Bentley hasn't hung about in getting the new Speed out.

You want 330 km/h? You got it.

2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed(Photo: Bentley)

Just to be sure it causes a stir, the car is being launched with a headline statistic: its top speed of 330 km/h (205 mph) makes it the fastest Bentley production car ever. Part of what helped make it a fully fledged member of the 200-mph (322 km/h) club is a 50-hp boost in power and a 73 lb.-ft. boost in torque. With a grand total of 625 hp, it's but 15-hp shy of the ultimate Continental, the Supersports.

That's why it can do 330 km/h. That's why it hits 96 km/h from rest in four seconds dead. That's why the dash from 0-160 km/h is, at just 9.0 seconds, a whole second faster than the old GT Speed. That one wasn't lacking — this one's just faster.

Despite this extra pace, the new Speed uses less fuel. Bentley says it's 12 per cent more economical, with lower carbon dioxide emissions too, thanks to a new eight-speed ZF gearbox, and an alternator that only operates when required. These changes will also be fitted to the 2013 W12 model, so regardless of which car you end up selecting, it's a win-win scenario.

Subtly does it

2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed(Photo: Bentley)

Despite these big numbers, Bentley decided the GT Speed doesn't need to shout about them in the parking lot. But for a 10-mm lower ride height and bigger 21-inch wheels, it's identical to the standard W12 car. A dark-tinted mesh front grille and new exhausts with a rifle-bolt design make it look a smidge more purposeful.

Inside, the Mulliner Driving Specification kit — an option on other Contis — comes as standard, again with a bespoke dark tint option for the polished metal surfaces. Mulliner also means a diamond-quilted leather and hide headliner, and both drilled metal pedals plus fancier part-leather gearknob. No denying these changes are very subtle, though. Bentley prefers the car's on-road performance to do the talking. And the shouting...

Keeping the customers happy

2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed(Photo: Bentley)

The standard Continental GT W12 is a very refined, smooth-running car. That's why people buy them: they like the torque delivery and the wave of power that builds fast doesn't let up. Bentley was keen to keep this refinement — after all, this was a big part of the original Speed's appeal — while increasing driver engagement. A tricky balance, for sure.

Its answer is two different driving modes. Leave the auto shifter in 'D' and you get the default, regular mode. Press the Bentley 'B' button on top, pull it back and you engage the sporting 'S' mode. It's simple — no jabbing at dash buttons, no diving into sub-menus on the touchscreen sat-nav — just pull the weight shifter back and you've changed the car's demeanour.

What's it like in regular mode? Well, even here, it's appreciably more cohesive than the standard W12 thanks to new firmer suspension complete with different bushings. Bentley's engineers tightened up the fundamentals here, rather than just dusted on a surface façade of sportiness, and this attention to detail shows in how even the regular drive is that bit more fluid and dynamic.