JAW-DROPPING POWER AND COMFORT
New Bentley Continental GT
I’ve got a soft spot for the original Continental for
a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s the guided tour of Bentley’s crew factory I attended shortly after its original launch back in 2003 – a fascinating glimpse into the parallel universe of luxury car manufacturing. Secondly, I associate it, and everything it represents, with a more decadent, carefree world – pre Brexit, austerity and global warming. And lastly, it does make you feel rather special when you’re at the wheel. But, having said all that, and for all its mind-boggling pace, its sporting prowess was not great – the underpinnings (from a VW Phaeton) were always going to limit its potential in this respect. Comfortable, refined an spectacularly fast, yes. Thrilling, no. So much so, I actually met an owner who had his 600bhp Continental chipped to try to inject more excitement. He won’t need to do that with the new Continental. This time, Bentley’s engineers have looked to Porsche, not VW, and have been working hand-in-hand with Porsche engineers to create a platform (shared with the new Panamera) from ground zero that gives
them exactly what they want. They’ve also been able to roll their sleeves up with W12 powerplant and half-inch Porsche’s eight speed auto box. The result is transformative. First things first. It still bears a resemblance to the old Continental – which is no bad thing. It’s prettier though with plenty of presence, and is easily identifiable, even at a glance and from a distance. The other big plus that hasn’t changed is the sense of occasion in the cabin. It’s simply sumptuous – all leather, walnut and beautifully crafted controls – it’s as close as you’ll get to a gentleman’s club in a high performance sporting GT. It’s uber comfortable and amazingly refined in Comfort mode, stunningly so, if you stop to think about it.
Flick it in to ‘Bentley’ mode and things start to get interesting. This is the mode that probably gives the best all round driving experience on public roads
– just the right combination of comfort and driver satisfaction. It’s then that you start to appreciate the benefits of the chassis and suspension development. The main headlines are the chassis is stiffer, yet lighter (76kg overall – an average sized person), as are the suspension components. The engine is set 150mm further back, there are double wishbones at the front, a multi-link arrangement at the rear, and a three chamber air suspension system with an electronically “active” anti-roll bar. All massaged and tuned for a dynamic driving experience which is precisely what you get. It belies its 2 1⁄4 tons feeling nimble and crisp with tremendous grip.
Pop it into ‘Sport’ mode though and you realise just how transformed the Continental is. It is simply staggering. Everything is set up to max out driver enjoyment and precise handling, which it does
brilliantly. To be frank, we have no right to expect such performance in a plush and heavy GT.
And all of this is on top of simply jaw-dropping power delivery. 626bhp and 664lbof torque catapults the Conti to 62mph in 3.6 secs, and remember this is a 2 1⁄4 ton car. As important is the delivery - the W12 has been re-engineered throughout – even the ring order’s different – to produce a far more flexible and sporting experience. The result is an engine that’s more powerful, smoother, economical and sports orientated fun. Which sums up the new Continental GT perfectly - it’s still a great car for touring but now has a real sporting edge to it.