Bentley Continental GT
FIRST DRIVE British brand has created a truly remarkable grand tourer
THE Continental GT was the first car Bentley produced after it was taken over by Volkswagen in 1998. It went on sale in 2003, and was heavily revised in 2011.
Now, though, Bentley has released the latest Continental GT, which it claims is 100 per cent new. And the big news this time is that it shares its underpinnings with the latest Porsche Panamera.
Bentley’s engineers were involved at ground level with their Porsche equivalents during the car’s development, so they could dictate exactly which parts they were going to end up with. And that, say the folks at Bentley, has made an enormous difference to the quality of the end product.
From the outside, the new Bentley Continental GT represents a recognisable but sizeable step on from the outgoing car. Inspired by the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept from 2015’s Geneva Motor Show, the twin headlights get a much fresher design, while the grille appears to have been stretched to within an inch of its life.
Despite being no longer overall, the Continental GT gets a lengthened wheelbase as well as shorter front and rear overhangs. This offers a squatter and more dynamic look, pulling it closer to many of its two-door rivals in terms of outright road presence. The rear is better resolved, too, with new oval lights, chrome details and a big badge.
In terms of equipment, the new GT’S interior contains just about everything you could ever wish for, including a new 12.3-inch ‘retina quality’ rotating touchscreen infotainment centre with Apple Carplay and real-time sat-nav as standard. When the car is switched off, the central facia looks like a single piece of high-quality veneer, but fire up the ignition and the panel rotates to reveal the infotainment screen. The set-up is actually three-sided, and rotating it once more reveals a set of analogue instrument dials – adding a final flurry of class to the GT’S beautiful cabin.
The overall level of finish and quality is truly excellent, with the front seats offering a rare mix of comfort and support. All the switchgear is bespoke to Bentley, with certain functions and buttons being shared with the Bentayga SUV, although there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s greater scope for personalisation, too, and owners can pair selected interior colours for a contrast effect. There are 15 hides to choose from. The GT’S interior is a class act; it feels at least half a grade more exclusive than an Aston Martin DB11, and comes fractionally better equipped, as well.
True, space in the rear seats is not exactly generous for taller adults; both leg and headroom are surprisingly tight considering how much road space the car uses. The boot is big, however, cementing the Bentley’s place as a true GT car.
At its heart, the Bentley is still powered by a 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12, although a smaller V8 and a petrol-electric V6 hybrid will follow. However, despite featuring the same capacity and a similar fundamental design as the previous 12-cylinder engine, the unit we have here is brand new, mated to an also new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Cylinder-deactivation tech also features for the first time, saving fuel on part-throttle cruising.
This helps the Continental GT to a claimed fuel economy figure of 23.2mpg with CO2 emissions at 278g/km. Neither of these seems too horrendous considering the size and potency of that engine.
As before, the GT is four-wheel-drive only. Its outputs, and therefore its performance, are pretty monstrous; that W12 produces 626bhp at 6,000rpm, while peak torque is a whopping 900Nm. Perhaps most impressive is that the maximum torque is developed between 1,350 and 4,500rpm, making for seriously swift progress. When deployed through the launch control system, this is sufficient energy to fire the weighty 2,244kg GT to 60mph in just 3.6 seconds and to a top speed of 207mph.
The chassis and suspension of the new Conti GT arguably represent the biggest departures in philosophy compared with the previous model, because Bentley claims it is not only more comfortable than before but also more sporting in its demeanour.
As a starting point, the W12 engine is set around 150mm further back in the chassis, which makes a huge difference to the GT’S balance. There are double wishbones at the front, and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, but at both ends there is a threechamber air suspension system with a 48v electronically “active” anti-roll bar pioneered on the Bentayga SUV. Together, these elements provide the GT with more control than before, claim the engineers.
The brakes are the biggest of any production road car, with 420mm steel ventilated discs at the front and 380mm
rotors at the back. Ceramic brakes aren’t yet an option, although Bentley refused to rule that out on future iterations.
As mentioned, the GT is four-wheel-drive only – although the way in which it deploys its power and torque has been radically altered this time. In Comfort mode, up to 38 per cent of the torque goes to the front axle, which essentially makes the GT feel like a regular four wheel-drive car, appearing very secure in all conditions.
But if you then select ‘Bentley’ mode, a bit less torque goes to the rear and the car starts to feel a touch more sporty. This setting also offers more control from the dampers, plus a more focused map for the throttle and gearbox. In Bentley mode you’ll notice a delicious sense of serenity about the way the GT glides across the landscape. It feels sporting but also supremely refined.
The new GT feels properly rapid, however, partly because it manages to disguise its vast weight so effectively – but also because the responses from the engine and gearbox are so good. And the way it summons its energy so effortlessly really needs to be experienced to be believed.
The acceleration is extraordinary, as is the feeling of control. So, too, is the way the new dual-clutch gearbox operates. Lag from the W12 twin-turbo engine doesn’t seem to exist – allowing the GT to go hard from the moment you squeeze the throttle.
However, it’s not until you select Sport mode and drive the Continental GT on a track that you can fully appreciate how far Bentley has gone with it this time. In the old car, such antics were mostly pointless because the chassis control and steering precision simply weren’t there. No longer. The new version goes to a level that is way beyond anything you might expect of it. As a result, the Continental GT is actually a cracking good car to drive.
In Sport mode, only 17 per cent of drive goes to the front axle, and everything else – dampers, throttle, gearbox, exhaust – is set to deliver maximum sporting thrills. And in this setting the new GT feels incredibly well sorted for such a huge and heavy car.
And if you turn the electronic stability control off, as Bentley insisted we did when we drove this pre-production car at the twisty Anglesey circuit in North Wales, it will do things and reach angles of slide that a previous GT owner would never believe possible. In some ways it feels quite a lot like a Nissan GT-R – that is in the way you can throw it around with such confidence. Despite how that may sound, it’s actually a huge compliment to Bentley’s team of talented engineers.
And yet at the other end of the scale, when driven with less haste on the road, it is more comfortable and more refined than ever before. Plus it turns heads in a way that the old car did not. That is until we start to see one on every London street corner in years to come.
Performance 0- 60mph/top speed 3.6 seconds/207mph Running costs 23.2mpg (official) £108 fill-up C02/tax 278g/km £450 or 37% Body control and comfort are both remarkable for such a huge machine
PRACTICALITY Boot is surprisingly spacious, with more than enough room for a long weekend’s luggage. There isn’t very much space in the back seats, however, especially for taller adults
EQUIPMENT Switchgear feels of the highest quality and is well ahead of that of the Aston Martin DB11. Some interior parts are lifted from the Bentley Bentayga SUV, but there’s no denying the quality
INTERIOR Cabin is beautifully crafted. All-new infotainment screen rotates and can blend in with dashboard veneer if required
Four-wheel drive makes Continental GT feel utterly secure at all times