The first proper driver’s Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT for which we have all been wait­ing gen­er­a­tions.

The first proper driver’s Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT for which we have all been wait­ing gen­er­a­tions.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Contents - TEXT LOW KA WEI

Man – let’s call him Mike – pulls up in a late-model Ital­ian sports car. Takes a gan­der at the third­gen­er­a­tion Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT, walks around it to have a closer ex­am­i­na­tion, and promptly plonks his name down for one.

“He did not even know the specs,” re­calls Bent­ley’s David Parker of the en­counter at the car’s UK pre-launch cus­tomer event. “He told me what is more im­por­tant is that he had in­stantly fallen in love with how it looked – an ob­ject that would make him smile when he sees it in his drive­way in the morn­ing.”

His point is that peo­ple like Mike are at­tracted to good de­sign with­out nec­es­sar­ily re­al­is­ing it. Scep­tics may counter that, hold­ing the view that, as the head of prod­uct mar­ket­ing, Parker has to talk up the car, but his anec­dote is en­tirely be­liev­able. Whether in pho­tos or in the flesh, the new Con­ti­nen­tal GT is gen­uinely stun­ning, es­pe­cially when viewed un­der the bril­liant sun­shine here on Aus­tralia’s Gold Coast, where the car was re­cently launched for the re­gion.

While the di­men­sions of the beast re­main roughly the same as be­fore – give or take an inch here and there – on the whole, it comes across as more ath­letic than its pre­de­ces­sor. This trans­for­ma­tion is cour­tesy of the lib­eral ap­pli­ca­tion of vis­ual tricks, the first of which you would no­tice as you ap­proach the car from the front.

It ap­pears to sit squat thanks to a lower bon­net, re­duced over­hang and a broad­ened ma­trix grille. Then, trace with your eyes the power line as it runs down the side of car. Its sub­tle, grad­ual drop to­wards the rear, com­bined with the faster slop­ing roofline, fools your brain into think­ing that the car is slim­mer. This dra­mat­i­cally con­trasts with the mus­cu­lar haunch (the body panel that flares out above the rear wheel), evok­ing the image of a sprinter’s sinewy glutes, as he crouches at the start­ing line, ready to re­lease his pentup en­ergy at the crack of the pis­tol.

Fi­nally, at the rear, Bent­ley has de­con­structed the dual-stacked oval tail lamps that used to be housed in a rect­an­gu­lar clus­ter, em­ploy­ing just one el­lip­ti­cal light per side, an­other de­sign hack that helps to vis­ually stretch out the width of the car.

Ar­guably, any com­pe­tent de­signer could dream up th­ese tweaks, but it takes Bent­ley’s deep pock­ets to ex­e­cute the rest of the eye candy. Take, for ex­am­ple, those tail lamps. Like the head lamps, they fea­ture an ex­pen­sive new faceted ef­fect: The tail lamps glow red like af­ter­burn­ers, while the other twin­kles like cut-crys­tal whisky glasses.

And that gor­geous in­ter­play of sharp edges, and con­cave and con­vex sur­faces on the body­work? Tra­di­tional press­ing would tear the metal apart, so Bent­ley bor­rowed a pricey tech­nique from the aero­space in­dus­try called Su­per­plas­tic form­ing, which heats sheets of alu­minium to 500 deg C to ren­der them mal­leable, be­fore vac­u­um­ing them over the mould.

LOOKS THE PART, BUT HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

At this point, sales could have sim­ply told en­gi­neer­ing to sign off the de­sign­ers’ blue­print, pat one an­other on the back for a job well done and head down to the pub. End of story. Truth be told, driv­ing dy­nam­ics has not been Bent­ley’s strong­est suit or, hitherto, has it been a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus. Nei­ther did cus­tomers care, it seemed; the Con­ti­nen­tal GT in all its pre­vi­ous guises found 70,000 own­ers, an as­ton­ish­ing sales fig­ure for a lux­ury car and Bent­ley’s most suc­cess­ful model yet.

For­tu­nately, though, this is not a clas­sic case of all show and no go. The re­vamped mien in fact por­tends the re­newed vigour of the car. On th­ese hair­pins deep in the By­ron Bay hin­ter­land on Aus­tralia’s south-eastern se­aboard, the new

Con­ti­nen­tal GT tack­les – and savours, even – each cor­ner with deft poise and alarm­ing alacrity, where the old car would have heaved, pitched and rolled.

It is not that the new car is that much lighter (it still weighs 2,244 kg, down 70-odd ki­los, if you are keep­ing count). Rather, the new­found agility is due to a chas­sis, co-de­vel­oped with Porsche, de­signed to whip han­dling into ab­so­lute obe­di­ence. (The pre­vi­ous car had Volk­swa­gen Phaeton un­der­pin­nings, known for its com­fort but not so much for its sporti­ness.)

The front wheels, for in­stance, have been shifted for­ward by 135mm, im­prov­ing weight dis­tri­bu­tion. While the car is still driven through all four wheels, the new sys­tem now pref­er­en­tially sends power to the rear, un­less the front needs some of it to help main­tain grip. Torque vec­tor­ing also makes an ap­pear­ance in the Con­ti­nen­tal GT’s reper­toire, with se­lec­tive brak­ing of in­di­vid­ual wheels to im­prove trac­tion and agility while cor­ner­ing.

But the big­gest change must be the adop­tion of a rather clever high­pow­ered elec­tric ac­tive roll-con­trol tech­nol­ogy first seen in the Ben­tayga. What this sys­tem does ba­si­cally is to de­tect the side-to-side rolling caused by in­er­tia when you change di­rec­tion, and push­ing out a mas­sive amount of torque to re­sist it within a split sec­ond. Much more ver­sa­tile than sim­ply in­stalling stiffer springs.

If you have skimmed through all that tech­ni­cal mumbo jumbo, the crux is that the car will sail through cor­ners even at stupid speeds, while main­tain­ing a cushy ride un­der more se­date cir­cum­stances.

THE IN­SIDER NEWS

And that would read “most of the time”. For, once en­sconced in the lovely cabin, tak­ing in the scent of the cowhide and be­hold­ing the acres of wood, you would sim­ply be en­cour­aged to re­lax and sim­ply waft along.

The ro­tat­ing dis­play is a case in point. Tak­ing cen­tre stage on the fas­cia, it ini­tially presents it­self as a con­tin­u­ous sec­tion of ve­neer that bridges those to its left and

right. When you start the car, it will swivel and re­veal the touch­screen, like the li­cence plate on a James Bond car. But, if the mood calls for it, you can se­lect a third mode that dis­plays three olde worlde ana­logue gauges. Dig­i­tal detox, if you will.

You can ex­pect the typ­i­cal top­notch Bent­ley fin­ishes else­where in the pas­sen­ger com­part­ment. De­but­ing in this model is the dual wood op­tion, with the usual se­lec­tion of ve­neers con­trasted against a strip of pi­ano black. The cen­tre con­sole may now be or­dered in a Cotes de Gen­eve fin­ish, a nod to fine Swiss watch­mak­ing. And, com­ple­ment­ing the bejewelled ex­te­rior lamps, a novel knurl­ing sur­face is avail­able for the tac­tile con­trols such as the knobs and levers.

The sig­na­ture em­broi­dery on the seats and door pan­els has been taken to an­other level, with an op­tional “di­a­mond-in-di­a­mond” pat­tern that took – be­lieve it or not – 18 months to de­velop. Each com­po­nent di­a­mond unit con­tains 712 stitches; 2.8km of thread is used in a car thus equipped, enough to en­cir­cle Fort Can­ning Park.

The de­sign brief for this car was plain: to make the best grand tourer there is. Bent­ley has achieved that and more, and is be­gin­ning to en­croach upon se­ri­ous sports car ter­ri­tory.

I re­call meet­ing, a few years ago, a prod­uct man­ager of the Ital­ian mar­que men­tioned in the first line of this ar­ti­cle. He told me at the mar­que’s own grand tourer’s launch that he con­sid­ered the Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT to be a dis­tant ri­val, “only if the cus­tomer prefers a softer ride”.

For sure, the Bri­tish con­tender will not be a one-for-one re­place­ment for his car – prod­uct phi­los­o­phy be­ing a ma­jor rea­son – but the over­lap is in­creas­ing. If the Mike is any­thing to go by, that prod­uct man­ager would need to start re­vis­ing his com­peti­tor ma­trix, stat. Bent­ley Sin­ga­pore, 45 Leng Kee Road. Tel: 6378-2628.

HARDER, BET­TER, FASTER, STRONGER Fi­nally, a Con­ti­nen­tal GT that ticks all the boxes.

01 BEJEWELLED From di­a­mondin-di­a­mond mo­tif em­broi­dery to cut crys­tal-like head­lamps, the new car takes lux­ury to a new level.

02 PRE­CI­SION CARMAKING Ap­pear­ing for the first time in a car, the Cotes de Gen­eve sur­face is ma­chined into alu­minium in 0.5mm-an­gled steps for a 3-D fin­ish.

03 NEW OP­TIONS Sev­eral firsts in this model in­clude the ro­tat­ing dis­play (in gauge mode here); the dual wood treat­ment (Koa over Grand Black); and the di­a­mond knurl­ing on the ro­tary con­trols.

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