This past year, the paradigms of normalcy continued to be shaken to their core with a tenacious pandemic, which, along with disrupting lives, caused serious breakdowns in the supply chain. And the automotive industry was not immune. And yet, amidst that backdrop, Robb Report managed to field the most innovative and diverse assemblage of top luxury and performance vehicles in the 19-year history of its Car of the Year (COTY) contest.
There was a wide selection of power trains, for example, from turbocharged V-8s and a naturally aspirated V-10 to hybrids and the first all-electric example ever offered at the event. It was a variety that perhaps may never be available again as the internal-combustion engine’s prominence among new models will soon run on fumes. Yet despite the assortment of future-focused competitors, it was a conventionally powered 12-cylinder entry from a 103-year-old marque that took top honors. The Bentley Continental GT Speed is Robb Report’s 2022 Car of the Year.
Although 1919 saw the debut of the British automaker’s original grand tourer (GT), the four-cylinder 3 Litre model that took first place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans five years later, the introduction of the Continental nameplate was in the form of the 1952 R-Type Continental. That four-passenger car crested 100 mph and was exquisitely sculpted for the task. In the interim, the brand became inextricably linked to a renowned band of well-heeled gentlemen racers responsible for giving the manufacturer five overall victories at Le Mans from 1924 though 1930, forever being remembered as the Bentley Boys. If the latter were around today, they would almost certainly choose to sit behind the wheel of the Continental GT Speed, a model that bested the competition with startling performance combined with unequivocal panache.
The Speed moniker added to this Continental variant is more than just a marketing appellation, it’s the mission statement for the design and engineering departments. Both the two-door coupe (starting at $274,900) and convertible (from $302,400) took turns at this edition of COTY and feature body styling that appears sculpted by the air and balanced in proportion. Sinewy lines hint at the car’s potent output and athleticism, especially those over the wheel arches and the low, exaggerated side strakes.
The looks are not deceiving. Stomp the throttle from a standstill and you’re met with unexpectedly aggressive yet linear power delivery that sends the 5,029-pound two-door from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds as it seeks a top speed of 208 mph. Those metrics are owed to the 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 engine responsible for 650 hp and 664 ft lbs of torque (available from 5,000 to 6,000 rpm and 1,500 to 5,000 rpm, respectively). The hand-built power plant is mated to a dual-clutch eight-speed transmission that further expedites the action with a shift-response that, in Sport mode, takes just half the time as that of the standard Continental GT.
The GT Speed’s brawn is balanced by a chassis that benefits from a host of upgrades, including all-wheel steering, active all-wheel drive, a three-chamber active air suspension, a 45-volt anti-roll system and, perhaps most notably, Bentley’s first integration of an electronic rear differential; there are also new carbon-ceramic brakes featuring 10-piston front calipers and five-piston counterparts at the rear.
Although the GT Speed’s lithe comportment is a surprise, the vehicle’s opulent interior is not. Arguably, the cabin’s only equal is that of the Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost (or its larger Phantom sibling). The handcrafted approach by the team at Crewe is on full display, from the 3-D-accented paneling and the upholstery’s diamond-quilted stitching to the knurled finishes and brightwork to the enthralling display that rotates between a choice of analog gauges, a 12.3-inch touchscreen or clean veneer.
The net result is a singular machine that “checks every vibe and mood,” according to COTY judge DeAnn Romanowski, who called it “classy, sensual, fun and, best of all, unforgettable.” And evaluator Paul Williams went as far as saying that, from a driver’s perspective, it offers “an experience to satisfy every need,” a sentiment echoing the mindset of Bentley’s founder from the outset.
The constructor’s initial automobile was developed from W.O. Bentley’s mandate “to build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.” More than a century later, the Continental GT Speed has now made that directive almost seem like a call to chase low-hanging fruit, as the class-defying model excels across categories and bucks the rising tide of homogeneity within the industry. More importantly, it captures the spirit of the Bentley Boys to inspire and nurture a love of motoring. As far as Robb Report is concerned, Bentley has the new benchmark—at least for the next 12 months.