At the outset, I will admit that the new Bentley Continental GT is a very impressive performace car! Bentley has put a lot of thought into this one. The upgrade is both discernible and impressive. But in making some of the changes, it might be argued that Bentley lost a little of the spirit that is the marque. Bentley Continental is arguably the car that revived the marque’s fortunes. According to the numbers some 66,000 have been sold over the past 14 years or so. That’s about 5,000 a year and attests to the demand and the desire for both the car and the “winged B”. While the original design has been evolved over the years since, this Continental GT has seen not only a re-design of the body and a complete overhaul of the mechanics and systems. Hence, when a successful car has so thoroughly been re-designed there is a need for it to succeed as its predecessor had.
New Bentley Continental GT W12
The re-styled body has a sleeker profile than the last iteration. The lines are smoother and perhaps slightly more aggressive. The dimensions have changed. The front wheels have been moved forward about 14 centimeters to shift the engine towards the middle of the car. Some of the weight has been stripped out too. With the sleeker body form and more aggressive front design, the car does well in terms of mpg for a 6 litre W12 engine. Reported mpg is 23.2 and with the engine technology being what it is, once the car has attained a certain speed half the cylinders cut out. The engine itself delivers while also producing 626bhp and a thumping 664lb ft of torque from a mere 1,350rpm, maintaining that through to 4,500rpm. Powering all four wheels through an eight-speed gearbox and featuring a launch control system, 0-62mph takes 3.7secs and top speed is 207mph.
For such a large car, the new Bentley GT is nerve rackingly quick. I was driving it in some of the worst conditions possible: heavy rain, and as I swung the car into corners on the wet surface, and even the slightest attempt at a skid, the traction control software snuffed it out. The car literally corners as if on rails; the heavy frame providing a centering on the road that makes such driving safe and assured.
The new Bentley is more akin to a ground level aircraft – or spaceship – than a motor car. The modern Bentley is fitted with infrared night vision, a heads-up display of the speed limit and your speed for comparison. There is an array of dials, lights, and new readouts that lay before you in the driver’s seat.
Bentley’s always have been gauge and dial heavy in the display; from the times of the blower Bentley’s until the most recent form. Everything is electronic – from gear selection – there is a nominal gear stick to select gears – and an array of buttons to normalize everything from the air conditioning to iPhone capture.
The powerful electrics developed for the Bentayga are used to great effect in a more performance related car and manages, among other things, the suspension, actuators on front and rear anti-roll bars combating body roll. The set 40:60 power split between rear and front wheels is now fully variable, actually sending 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels as often as possible to the benefit of fuel efficiency and emissions.
A rotary controller on the central console switches between four possible settings for the car: Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Custom mode. Each setting brings with it a different feel and engine noise. In the first two modes, up to 38 per cent of power can be directed to the front wheels, in Sport that drops to 17 per cent. The ride firms up and the engine and transmission sharpen their wits. Bentley mode covers most requirements ably.
Fortunately, the brakes were also redesigned and engineered to be up to the task of stopping and controlling the car. Handling, even in torrential rain, was very sure. However, you cannot hide the fact that this is a grand tourer, two and a quarter metric ton car! As such, perhaps it is still the “world’s fastest truck”; but equally it is still the fastest and best in class. Other GT cars now have a new standard to aim for. Bentley should take pride in the title!
The car powers and glides down the road. But rather than being sporty in terms of turn and lean, the car leans and turns. Down country lanes the car is too cumbersome to react in time. One difference to the GT3R, with its tetchy steering, is the reaction time in the corners. The new Continental doesn’t under or over steer – partially thanks to the abundant technology – but then that removes half the fun. The new technology helps to keep the car centered on the road. It does not come from the positioning of the engine and the mass of the car on the frame. The electrics and the intelligent software help stabilize and move the car around corners. Quite uncanny for a car of this size. Think of it like a B2 bomber, if the car did not have the intelligent and correcting software, come the first corner the car would spin off the road.
There is a sumptuous sportiness to the interior. The lattice work on the leather, the stitching, and the embroidery all make for an interior where you are cocooned in the cockpit with just enough comfort to feel at ease, even on the of tightest turns, but where you can still feel the car on the road. The dials and readouts are now all digital and adaptable. The modern car is more spaceship than low flying jet as the active software to keep the vehicle on the road has to be ever more complex and efficient in its delivery. Even the new design of “key” shows the importance of necessary electric power. It’s almost the size of a cell phone and designed in keeping with the sleeker exterior to the car.
This car is the future: the smart technology helps in a number of ways. That you don’t drift on motorway lanes without knowing it; that objects in the distance at night don’t just spring out at you because they show up on the infrared scan, smart engine technology that takes account of the kinetic energy required to get a car to speed but requires less energy to keep that speed constant.
But as a driving experience it leaves you wanting a little more. The idea of driving, and driving a performance car, is that you are driving the car. Not that the car is allowing you to drive! There is a difference. There is no criticism of the Bentley per se, but generally of the incorporation of such technology into cars. But where I have an issue is the need for such technology in a performance car that you would like to swing into a corner and using driving skill keep the car anchored into the corner. The technology of course makes sure that anyone can swing the car into a corner; it is safe for all.
Video Bentley Continental GT W12
A friend of mine remarked that this is the perfect car for L.A.! And I think he had a point. The car crushes driving on large roads, over extended distances. It eats up the miles with pace and comfort: always what a traditional GT car does. That said, the new Bentley GT is just as capable on English country roads, on a very rain laden surface, where the assured handling provides comfort and ease. It is an extremely accomplished car. For me, I cannot wait to see the new V8 version, and if anyone is listening, a new GT3R car – please!
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Andrew K.G. Hildreth is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, and Freeman of the City of London. A lifelong enthusiast and collector of watches – it was the first thing he asked his parents for when he was four years old. He has written for a number of publications on watchmaking and haute horlogerie (along with photography, fountain pens, and vintage cars – especially Bentley).
When not writing and talking (endlessly) about watches, he travels around the world occasionally indulging in his favourite tipple: a gin and tonic. His watch articles can be found in PuristSPro (AndrewH_219), Revolution, The Rake, The Telegraph, GQ, MensHealth, Hodinkee, WatchesbySJX, Watch Journal, QP, iW Magazine, The Hour, Twelve, or Calibre.
His gin article was published on AlphaLuxe.
You can also follow him on Instagram: @andrewh_219