The best part of the fastest Bentley is how it helps you slow down.
Getting your head around relativity isn’t easy. Einstein tells us that time slows down around large masses or when the observer is traveling at high speeds, making the whole concept squishy, messy, and, well, relative. It’s not the kind of thing we’re built to understand. In the Bentley Continental GTC Speed, though, I’m starting to get the idea.
Relativity has almost no bearing on human-scale objects or speeds, but of course the Bentley operates with a mass and velocity that seems inhuman at times. I feel the 5388-lb leviathan start to pull me into its orbit as I walk across the Dallas airport park-n-ride lot, the prospect of a dazzling white Bentley gravitational in its pull. Velocity is zero, but with a 664 lb-ft of torque at its disposal, the Continental seems ready to change that.
Austin is the destination, the expanse of the Texas plain our best Earthly analogue for the endless void of space. Google estimates 3 hours and 14 minutes of drive time, but Google doesn’t know what 650 hp and a massaging seat do to me. I drop the top and pull out onto the industrial parkway with Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” on the Naim stereo. Every note lingers as the tempo picks up and, as I accelerate onto the interstate onramp, I start to notice the time dilation.
Bentley claims a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds for the Speed Convertible, but I’d never be one to test it. This isn’t a car for brake torquing and launch control, 0-60 or 0-100. It lives for the 80-percent throttle run from 15-75. I roll onto the power and speed comes like drizzled chocolate, smooth indulgence made sweeter since I could access even more, should it ever be necessary. There is no snapped neck nor sensation of strain, just the invisible tug of a dent in space-time.
This is the magic of the Bentley Continental. It delivers excessive speed without excessive distraction, speed absent its own sensation. Eighty in a Conti feels almost static, so quiet and composed that every detail of the surrounding environment can be observed without intrusion. I leave the top down but the windows up, and even then, at highway speeds, I’m hardly bothered by the impoliteness of the wind.
Perhaps more impressive than the quiet, though, is the Continental’s ability to ease every stress of a long drive. In the draining sunlight of a hot afternoon, I notice that the open-top cabin is still cool. Humanity’s finally found a force as potent as the midday Texas sun, and it lives somewhere in the ductwork of the Bentley. Surprisingly quiet in its operation, the only evidence that the A/C is working hard comes from the condensed sweat on the metal vents.
Back sweat is also mitigated by some of the best ventilated seats known to science, while the multi-mode massage function keeps any one spot from getting too sore. The real crowning achievement of the Conti’s cabin, however, is the stereo. A great stereo is always welcome, but in a convertible, the task gets much harder. That the Naim can outshout the hurricane without fudging the details is a serious accomplishment.
So too is the Bentley’s suspension, subtle as can be on the highways but easily up to the task of supporting all 2.5 tons through high-G maneuvers. Credit goes mostly to the active anti-roll bars, which counteract body roll in corners and then loosen up on the straights to keep harsh impacts isolated. In its softest setting the Continental never fully disconnects me from the undulations of the road, but provides enough distance that no impact feels harsh enough to distract from a daydream.
I sit here, firmly within reach of the rest of the world but removed from its discomforts and hurried pace. In a car that makes speed so effortless and distance so irrelevant, I can actually relax. How long it takes to get there becomes as irrelevant as how long it’s been since I left, so simple and pleasant is the experience that there’s no real difference when it ends. And since any speed is comfortable and stretch breaks are unnecessary, there’s no concern about making good time.
In fact, as I pull into the downtown Austin hotel, I realize that I’m not sure how long the trip actually took. With a lazy lunch stop and a requisite first-time-in-Texas gawking stroll through a Buccee’s, I’ve lost track of what time I was supposed to get here and never paid close enough attention to the clock to work it out in reverse. All I know is I’m not all that aware of how long I’ve been in the car or all too eager to get out, but when I look at my phone I see that the real world is calling me back. I step out into the haste of a city at rush hour, a hotel at capacity, and an R&T experience at its excited beginning.
The next morning, I bring the Bentley to the Circuit of the Americas for the official kickoff of our Austin City Limits event. The track is rented, the Bentley cleared for shenanigans, the helmets lined up. I have on multiple occasions had time in the current Continental on track, in both V-8 and W-12 form. The company keeps offering to send them to Performance Car of the Year and we all find the idea a bit too funny to turn down. Despite the W-12 power and the shockingly large tires, the track isn’t exactly home for the big Conti.
Out there, the goal is sensation. We come to places like COTA to chase the sensations, to bring a car alive in our hands, to dance on the edge of oblivion or at least what feels like it. The GTC Speed can provide all of the speed of the machines we adore but none of their theater or communication. The novelty of a British country estate sliding around a track is certainly worth experiencing, but I’ve already seen that movie. I walk right past the idling Bentley and get in the Mazda MX-5 Miata I’ve booked as my chase car for the rally. For my first experience at COTA, I want a car that’s undiluted.
The Miata, as ever, delivers. I feel alive and in flow in a way the Bentley has never quite delivered, a testament to the impossibility of building an everything machine. Everything rushes by in a blur of sensations, from the late-braking heel-toes to the fibre-optic data stream from the steering wheel. But an hour later, I’m offered one more four-lap stint on the Circuit of the Americas, a track I’ve dreamed about and ogled on TV for years and may never lap again. This time, I choose the Bentley. Surely I’d have more fun in the Miata, but I’ve had my fun. What I want is to make this experience last, to use this massive, fast-moving object to slow down time. I want to savor this experience, this moment, this drive. I feel the Bentley dragging me into its orbit, and I let it.