New Bentley Continental GT
Still fast, still lush – and now with real handling
NOTHING LESS THAN EXQUISITE COMFORT COMBINED WITH SPORTS CAR HANDLING WOULD DO
ARD TO BELIEVE now, but in the late ’90s, once VW had completed its purchase of the Bentley brand, there were doubts about whether the new owners could update the creakingly aged model range and snare some crucial buyers – namely those yet to sport any grey hair. The doubters were rapidly proved wrong. The Continental GT – launched in 2003, revised seven years later – completely aced the brief, delivering classic Bentley magic but with sympathetic nods to the 21st Century. Shared innards helped make it relatively affordable too.
And now it’s time for Mk3. The essence is unchanged, but there’s little carried over save for a visual hat tip and the mission statement: fast and luxurious like no other car. So how has Bentley gone about this high-stakes reinvention?
1 BANISH ALL TRACES OF PHAETON
The original GT made do with the platform of the less-than-successful VW Phaeton, but the 2018 Continental GT shares its sexy pants with the new Porsche Panamera. As before, it’s powered by a W12 engine, but the transmission, suspension, four-wheel-drive and electronics are all new.
Its chassis is a bespoke variation of the modular MSB architecture, set to underpin all future upmarket Porsches, Audis and Bentleys. ‘MSB is a quantum leap forward,’ says a beaming chief technology officer Rolf Frech. ‘Even though we introduced several new high-tech features, the weight has come down by 130 kilos. In combination with the more evenly balanced weight distribution and the uprated three-chamber air suspension, the difference in ride quality and handling prowess is simply mind-boggling.’
The body mixes high-strength steels with aluminium to cut weight and boost stiffness. Add in acoustic glazing and the improvements to refinement are clear, with Bentley claiming a nine decibel reduction in noise levels at speed.
2 GET EVEN MORE FROM THAT W12
Designed, developed and built within the CW1 postcode, Bentley claims its W12 is the most advanced 12-cylinder engine in the world. Already used in the Bentayga, the new unit is 30kg lighter than the old GT’s. High- and low-pressure injection running in parallel cuts particulates but keeps
performance and economy stronger than before, while the two twin-scroll turbochargers have their housings welded to the manifold for maximum efficiency and reduced lag; in fact the turbos never stop spinning, cutting response time.
Cylinder-on-demand tech means the W12 can run as a VR6 in the right conditions – in gears three and eight, below 3000rpm and up to 221lb ft of twist. The standard Continental GT gets 626bhp, just slightly down on the outgoing Speed, but 664lb ft of torque – only the hot-shoe Supersports has more. The dual-clutch transmission, replacing a torque-converter auto, varies shift times and smoothness depending on the dynamic settings and adds a launch mode for the first time. Max speed is in seventh, leaving eighth as a more economical overdrive. The 0-62mph sprint takes just 3.7 seconds, top speed is now 207mph and Bentley claims a range of 500 miles. CO2 emissions are down to 278g/km.
3 HARNESS THE POWER OF MSB
Nothing less than exquisite comfort combined with sportscar handling would do. The old model was hampered by its layout; the big W12 sat well forward in the nose, encouraging understeer in tighter corners. This time the front wheels are 135mm further forward, which Bentley went to extraordinary lengths to pull off. Repositioning the W12 has resulted in one of the driveshafts now running through the engine block, as close as 1.5mm to one of the engine’s main bearings. That was a huge engineering achievement, and evidence of how serious Crewe was about sorting the old car’s foibles.
Underpinning all that is a new three-chamber air suspension system which promises the holy grail of a more comfortable ride and sharper handling. The three chambers give 60 per cent more air volume when in Comfort mode for a softer spring rate. Switching settings locks out one or even two of the chambers to take you to the well rounded ‘Bentley’ mode or full-on Sport, the latter running more than double the stiffness of Comfort. As well as ride quality, the rotary drive mode selector calibrates power assistance, throttle response, shift strategy and ride quality. You can, however, mix and match the key vehicle traits to suit your own preferences.
The GT gets an updated version of the 48v Dynamic Ride System first introduced on the Bentayga. It combats body roll by instantaneously stiffening the springs on the4
Body is 80kg lighter, more shapely, with more boot space. Lights and tail pipes came from the same designer’s doodle