Bentleys Always Surprise in the Best Possible Way

The Bentley Continental GT Speed just shouldn't be this good.

2022 pcoty
DW Burnett

It seems to happen every time PCOTY rolls around. Someone asks about the year’s contenders, keen to know which supercars will vie for glory. I’ll list off the usual suspects – Ferraris, Porsches, and Lamborghinis, a set of silly bewinged Gundams painted like candy wrappers. Their eyes light up.

Then I’ll mention the Bentley. Their eyes go wide and bewildered. “A Bentley?!” they’ll say. A Bentley indeed.

We’ve invited a few to join us at PCOTY over the years, but the broader enthusiast ranks haven’t come to grips with the marque’s sporting credentials. The winged “B” still conjures broad slabs of gorgeous British iron for most. Usually they’re wafting about the mind’s eye, painted some wonderous shade of glinting flecked silver. And to be fair, Bentley still builds most of its cars to chase that old-world notion of luxury. Even the name Bentley still broadcasts elegance, stateliness, and a touch of Empire. But rarely does it conjure excitement.

2022 pcoty
DW Burnett

Here’s the thing though, every Bentley we’ve pitted against the “hardcore” PCOTY crowd has availed itself. How could a burly coupe with the curb weight of a half-ton pickup deserve its place at PCOTY? The same way that a spunky runt from Hyundai took top honors; these fast Bentleys are fun. They’re playful in corners and spooky fast on straightaways, genuinely cackle-out-loud brilliant on the road and racetrack. And with each iteration, these high-performance versions of the Continental GT keep getting better, leaning into that linebacker-in-John-Lobb ethos, backing joyous driving dynamics with peerless refinement.

And that’s the case for this year’s Bentley, the 2022 Continental GT Speed. All those Old Bentley hallmarks remain, the sumptuous interior appointments, brash-yet-streamlined styling, and the plain presence of the thing. But the chassis, powertrain, and engineering that now underpins those luxury credentials is striking. Since Bentley’s takeover by the Volkswagen Auto Group, the Germans have moved some of Bentley’s vehicles closer to the raucous performers of its pre-war glory. Some will argue that a Bentley sharing its bones with the Porsche Panamera (and by extension some of Audi’s fast sedans) diminishes the “special-ness” we associate with the brand.

I hear that. But it’s flimsy rhetoric. Had the Germans not stepped in, Bentley might still be limping along as it was before the takeover. Worse still, it might have gone extinct. The argument also suggests the Germans drained Bentley of its old character. In some ways that’s probably true. Less of the design, engineering, and production of these modern Bentleys is done in England than before. That’s lead to some tangible changes in personality (drive something like the old Turbo R and you’ll find those changes both good and bad). Just don’t confuse those changes for a lack of character.

2022 pcoty
DW Burnett

Because these modern Bentleys chase that Battle Axe by Gucci thing better than anything else. One of my favorite memories from PCOTY this year was getting the Bentley up to speed on Monticello’s back straight, easing the big coupe’s nose against the hairpin just beforehand, then hammering the gas pedal just as the corner yawned wide open. I’d have to double check the data, but I’m almost certain the Continental hit the highest speed of any competitor on that straight. Something north of 150 mph. If that wasn’t the day’s top speed, it was close, and it certainly felt far faster than anything else out there. Consider the competition, from a V-10 Lamborghini track special to Caddy’s supercharged freight train, and let that sink in.

Would I buy a Continental GT purely as a track toy? Absolutely not. But track time in these modern Bentley supercoupes reinforces their bona fides. These are not meant to be pared-down track tools, but they do have enough tire and brakes to last a full HPDE session (or a full day of magazine editors hammering on the brakes/tires). That means you won’t smoke the Conti’s brakes down a switchback mountain pass. You won’t marble its tires through triple-digit corners on hundred-degree asphalt either. Instead you’ll enjoy the hell out of your sporting Bentley on ANY road. That versatility and playfulness is the point.

Performance Car of the Year isn’t won by knife-edged performance alone. The winner must engage its driver with tactility, joy, and emotion. Bentley seems to understand that more and more with each iteration of fast Continental GTs. So long as they do, I’ll always welcome the Flying B to trade haymakers with those silly winged Gundams and their candy wrapper paint. Thanks for playing, Bentley. Please come again.

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