New Bentley Continental GT Speed Le Mans Collection review: a near flawless motorsport homage

The latest special edition of Bentley’s Continental GT reminds us why we’ll miss its iconic W12 engine when it’s gone

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4.5 out of 5

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The Continental GT Speed is a phenomenal machine; one which is almost completely flawless in its execution. Yes, the W12 engine is thirsty, but we’ll certainly miss it when it's gone. Wealthy motorsport fans will no doubt love the heritage of this special edition, but in a car that you can personalise almost endlessly, the irony is that this version will be less unique than many other GT Speeds.

Bentley has a rich motorsport heritage that dates back over a century. It first won the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans back in 1924 – if you’re a motorsport history buff, there’s a chance that you’ll already know this, but if you own a Continental GT Speed Le Mans Collection you’ll know for sure. 

That’s because if you’re lucky enough to have taken delivery of one of the 48 limited edition models (a combined total across coupe and open top GTC body styles), it’ll tell you as much every time you glance over at the passenger side of the dashboard. Here, a row of wreaths are beautifully inlaid into the carbon fibre fascia – one for each of the marque’s six wins at La Sarthe. 

The most recent of those came in 2003 with the EXP Speed 8 prototype, and this car is built to mark the 20th anniversary of that historic victory.

The exterior finish tips its hat to the Speed 8, with a silver stripe running along the centre of the body, contrasting against Verdant Green paint. The black grille at the front is stencilled with a large '7' – a tribute to the victorious number seven car of Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen, and Guy Smith – and the 22 inch wheels are painted black. 

Inside, there are further motorsport-inspired touches, plus a very special piece of motorsport memorabilia. Along with the wreaths and the carbon fibre trim, the cabin is trimmed in a mix of black leather and alcantara, highlighted by red stitching. The quality is almost flawless; we say almost, as the contrasting piece of red plastic on the steering wheel looks a little cheap alongside an otherwise beautiful cabin. 

The highlight is reserved for the Bentley Rotating Display. Like other Continentals, this spinning piece of motorised theatre can either be positioned to show a clean panel that blends in with the rest of the dash, a touchscreen infotainment system, or a bank of three analogue clocks. 

But between the regular thermometer and stopwatch, here the compass has been replaced by a tiny display cabinet, inside which is an actual valve from the 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine that powered the race-winning Speed 8 from 2003.

Some will adore the Le Mans Collection for its motorsport references, but others might think that some of the extra details might be a little bit chintzy. With the potential to personalise any Continental to the most finite details, the knowledge that you’re driving a special edition that’s nearly identical to 47 other cars might take the shine off, too.

But if the cosmetic specification might seem a little try-hard, that’s not an accusation that anyone could make of the phenomenal engine. Under the bonnet sits a six-litre W12 petrol engine boosted by a pair of turbochargers. The total output of 650bhp is more than a match for the racer to which it pays tribute, but it’s the torque figure that makes this an effortless way to move around 2.3 tonnes of four-seat coupe... 

It produces a staggering 900Nm of torque that arrives at just 1,500rpm. It doesn’t matter what speed you’re going or the revs that the engine is pulling, it takes only the merest tickle of the throttle for the Conti GT to surge forward. We could talk about how responsive the eight speed gearbox is to kick down, but it happens so infrequently it almost doesn’t matter – such is the strength of that torque.

If anything, the graceful performance in the lower reaches of the W12’s rev range is even more impressive than what it can do flat out. Which is saying something, because the Le Mans Collection takes just 3.6 seconds to dismiss the 0-62mph charge. It makes a pleasing, deep chested growl as the revs build, but with so much ability available at all times – and the massive potential of this motor – full throttle experiences on a public road are fleeting.  

With all of that power on offer, the good news is that the Continental remains more than up to the task through the corners. With all that weight to haul around, there’s never an intention to deliver the sharpness of Italian GT cars like the Ferrari Roma, but the Bentley’s still impressively agile. Composure and body control are brilliant, while the rearward torque bias to the four-wheel drive system means that there’s a reassuring feeling of the back axle nudging you from apex to corner exit. The steering is loaded with feel, but it is precise and pleasingly weighted.

That it can achieve all of this with such superb ride and refinement is its greatest strength. Even in its middling ‘Bentley’ mode it manages to blend control and comfort sweetly, but ‘Comfort’ is the perfect choice for longer motorway runs, where the suspension relaxes even more and it glides across the surface of the road. Despite the fat tyres, road noise is a distant hum, and the engine slots into either gear, where it’s barely ticking over at 70mph. Yet still has access to plenty of torque when needed. 

Model:Bentley Continental GT Speed Le Mans Collection
Engine:6.0-litre W12 twin-turbo
Transmission:Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:3.6 seconds
Top speed:208mph
On sale:Now
Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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