Some cars tap into our primal emotions. The Bentley Continental GT Speed does this effortlessly through automobile beauty, artistry, and extraordinary vigour. Bentley motors’ latest car is the marque’s most powerful in its 101-year history. It is also a classic grand tourer – happy to leisurely cruise scenic Sicilian roads, navigate the narrow twisting lanes flanked by vineyards that lead to the volcanic Etna, then power at incredible speed along the makeshift Bentley racetrack at the abandoned Nato base at Comiso Airport. 

Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
The new Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible

We are in Sicily to test the Speed and the Italian island feels somewhat fitting. The rugged landscape scorched by the summer’s extreme heat, the storied ancient hilltop towns and villages where so many civilisations have walked and shaped, the capricious mount Etna that gives this fertile land its nutrients, hills that also gave birth to the mafia who, as landowners, monopolised the lucrative lemon farming.

These contrasts help explain a car that is at once an elegant luxurious gran turismo and a meaty performance beast.

Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible

The Continental GT Speed story began in 2007 with a car that was based on the regular Conti GT but also inspired by the 3-litre Bentley Speeds of the 1920s. This latest third-generation continues the story. Much work has therefore gone into refining its performance and handling. The 6.0-litre 12-cylinder engine is unique to Bentley and delivers an impressive 659-horsepower and 900Nm of torque, can speed up to 208mph and reach 60mph in as little as 3.5 seconds.

Bentley Continental GT Speed wears its technology lightly

Yet at no stage in our drive do these big numbers intimidate or overshadow the experience. Rather, the Speed wears its technology lightly. ‘It is a hugely powerful beast, but you don’t need to make races at the traffic lights,’ says Bentley’s new director of design Andreas Mindt. ‘We leave that to Lamborghini,’ he notes of the sportscar maker in the Volkswagen Group which also owns Bentley. ‘You race Lamborghinis to show off their high revving and high spoilers. Bentley is completely the opposite of this. It’s a great place to be.’

Bentley Continental GT Speed
The new Bentley Continental GT Speed

Adjustable air suspension helps the Speed glide over most surfaces, with the bumpy southern Sicilian roads offering plenty of opportunities to test this out. Unique to the car is the active anti-roll, which keeps it level through corners, while the all-wheel steering system enhances the dynamic handling in the three Bentley driving modes. The Speed is packed with advanced driver assist technology too, and has the largest brakes fitted to any production car. Meanwhile, the engineers have successfully modified the acoustics by toning down the unpleasantries – body vibration, road noises – while amplifying the fun sporty notes.

Discreet visual flourishes

The Speed design continues the visual story of the quieter Continental GT in coupé and convertible styles but with extra flourishes – none of which is too garish or macho. These include a dark tint radiator and lower bumper grille, sculpted sports sills, a dark tint radiator matrix and discreet Speed badging in chrome on the front fender. The tyres are 22in Speed wheels in bright silver, with the option of a dark tint or black gloss finish. Jewelled versions of the fuel and oil filler caps are standard on the Speed, while illuminated Bentley treadplates to the sills are a nod to its performance credentials.

Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible interior
The interior of the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible

Seven roof colours are available on the convertible Speed, including a modern take on the traditional tweed. The mechanics are Bentley’s ‘z-fold’ which seamlessly blends the fabric top with the metal body and contributes, we are told, to a three-decibel reduction in overall noise levels compared to its predecessor. With unexpected extreme rainfall on day two of our Sicilian road trip, we can confirm the roof performed extremely well.

Inside, the cabin is tactile and ergonomically sound. You can sense the presence of the craftsmen and women of Crewe here, with surfaces that are covered in diamond quilted soft squishy leather and single-piece wooden veneers. There is a vast menu of materials to pick, including 26 hide hues which can be mixed with Alcantara. Customers can choose an open pore veneer of dark burr walnut, crown cut walnut or Koa, surface the centre console in a dark tint aluminium trim, or for the ultimate tailored experience, visit the Bentley Mulliner team for inspiration.

Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible interior
Bentley allows every stitch of the Continental GT Speed to be personalised

Material research

The Speed may be staying safely within the boundaries of traditional luxury materials, yet Mindt’s team are exploring ecological fabrics and practices for the upcoming Bentley cars. He explains some of his ideas: ‘We want to reduce chrome in our cars, look to alternatives to leather, and make sure our leather suppliers follow the standards of the Leather Working Group,’ the environmental body which Bentley joined recently.

He says the marque is considering working with reclaimed woods such as discarded Venetian briccole (timber mooring poles). ‘These poles bring with them imperfections which then tell other stories. You can turn all these elements into their own beautiful narratives.’

Bentley Continental GT Speed
Bentley Continental GT Speed at the abandoned Nato base at Comiso Airport, Sicily

The Continental GT Speed will be made in limited numbers at the Bentley facility in Crewe. Certified carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust, the factory harvests its own rainwater and solar energy, and recycles where possible, while the marque is working towards making its whole business net zero by 2030.

This means, from the next five year on, the company will no longer make gasoline-powered motor cars. And so, the Speed seems like a suitable farewell ode to the combustion age as Bentley heads towards an electric future

Bentley Continental GT Speed