Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT

FIRST DRIVE Bri­tish brand has cre­ated a truly re­mark­able grand tourer

Auto Express - - New Cars - Steve Sut­cliffe mail@ au­to­ex­press.co.uk

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

Dual-clutch au­to­matic gear­box is al­ways in the right gear when you need it to be

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