Bending a Bentley
We get the rare opportunity to blast Bentley's S V8 and Speed W12 range around Australia's newest racetrack.
It's a rare opportunity to drive one $500,000 Bentley GT car briskly on a racetrack, let alone four.
And not any racetrack, rather Australia's newest circuit that's also one of the longest FIA Grade 2-certified tracks in the world. The Bend Motorsport Park is a South Australian facility that's privately owned by the Shahin family.
Coming to Australia in the 1980s, the Palestinian natives set up a successful chain of service stations and tobacconists that grew to become South Australia's largest private entity – the Peregrine Corporation.
The three brothers now in charge of the company are passionate motorsport fans and car collectors, so it makes sense why The Bend Motorsport Park came to fruition.
In fact, before the Shahins moved in, the precinct was owned and used by Mitsubishi Motors Australia as its testing and proving ground for quite some time.
That means we're driving on holy ground – the place where classics like the mighty Magna were developed, engineered, and later manufactured on South Australian soil. What a place to put down a facility, then, and apt for hosting an event Bentley dubbed the Symphony of Speed.
The cars we are to be driving on-track include the 2022 Bentley Continental GT S V8, 2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed W12, 2022 Bentley Bentayga S V8, and finally the 2022 Bentley Bentayga Speed W12.
All four cars are the hopped-up versions of the regular Bentley, with the Speed W12 versions being the penultimate version underneath the more bespoke Mulliner vehicles.
Chief driving instructor Luke O'Neill was quick to remind us that we weren't here to destroy brakes, and rightly so. The modern Bentley remains the quintessential GT car, so driving post-haste was probably the wrong tact to take anyway.
Instead, we were encouraged to brake and power out early – exploring mid-corner and exit performance and how each vehicle performs. My first stint out was in the 2022 Bentley Bentayga pair.
Aside from feeling their weight, both remained hilarious on-track. Either car's high centre of gravity and long suspension travel meant some ham-fisted behaviour was required to 'get it done', but to be frank, the experience was still an enlightening lesson on how good contemporary mass-management technologies are.
The secret sauce to making a 2.5-tonne Bentley tip in half-decently is a 48-volt e-swaybar set-up. On either end-link – the part that attaches a swaybar to a car – are electric motors that preload torsional stiffness beforehand.
So when you expect the car to have a 'big' moment as it leans in, it simply doesn't. It remains flat, composed, and way more agile than your preconceived notions.
It's still a big, top-heavy car, though, and something that becomes evident after steering either Bentley Continental GT on offer. My first taste of the good life came from the Continental GT Speed W12, which in our case was the only car optioned with Bentley's sport rear-locking differential.
Only after my driving instructor trusted me enough to disable the aids did we begin to feel the magic. On mid-corner foot stomps, the tyres will turn and pivot the car, but it quickly reacts, feeds power forward and pulls you out of mischief.
It's intuitive, and any minor counter-steering efforts were simply superfluous and a sign of my inexperience. Although gutsy and fun out of mid-corner, the W12-equipped cars did leave you wanting more in this environment.
Both were remarkably powerful but rather flat-feeling through the powerband; a sign the W12 is a better partner for the road. The twin-turbo V8 Continental GT was probably the pick of all four cars on the day, and not just because of that engine.
It turned in better than the rest – even its W12 counterpart – as the lightest of the lot. It's not the total weight saving that's good, rather that the weight is reduced over the front axle and actually where it matters.
It creates an easier and better experience on-track, just in case you were debating such a nonsensical decision between V8 and W12. Back-to-back, it's clear the V8 loves to be whipped.
Set aside its motorsport DNA as the Bentley GT racing car's heart, the V8 simply feels better when redlined and blossoms as it does.
The melody is better, the delivery more of an event, and its weight saving is the last reason why you should not overlook a V8-powered Bentley as the W12's inferior brother.
Both have their place, and in the slight heat of a competitive environment, it was the most fun of all powertrains on offer.