The Continental GT marked a massive shift in focus for Bentley and did more than a little to shake up the whole of the luxury coupe sector. Now it's been improved. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Bentley Continental GT may not be able to live with the ultra-focused supercar set but that's not the idea. If you're after brutal performance, high-tech engineering and elegant design, then this improved, more stylish and more efficient baby Bentley has got the lot.
Is there really a place for a really sporting Bentley? You might imagine not. If you want a supercar after all, you buy a Porsche or a Ferrari, surely? But then you'd have to do without the unequalled feeling of luxury that only comes from a car like Bentley's Continental GT. Is it really possible to have power, poise and glory? The improved version of this car suggests that it is. Here is a Bentley that weighs in at Porsche money and that stakes a claim as the most technologically advanced car on sale. The flagship version still powered by a 6.0-litre twin turbocharged W12 engine but that unit is now faster in top GT Speed guise, offering an enormous 626bhp, as before controlled via four wheel drive and a paddle-operated gearbox. The variant most now choose though, gets V8 power, with either 500 or 521bhp on tap. Clothing all of this is the same desirable smart, sleek body inside which is the expected exquisite cabin. In short, the Continental GT is even harder to resist.
The W12 engine is adapted from a Volkswagen design and is astonishingly compact, yet can pump out 567bhp, due in no small part to the two KKK turbochargers. Or 626bhp if you go for the GT Speed variant which is flat out at 206mph - the fastest Bentley ever. Forced induction has become something of a cause celebre at Bentley, stretching back over 20 years in the modern era and being traceable right back to the supercharged 'Blower Bentleys' of the 1920s. Buyers who don't need quite that much power can talk to their dealer about the still very rapid V8 version, offered in standard form with 500bhp or in V8S guise with 521bhp. The V8S also gets a sharper suspension set-up which makes it far more of a driver's car. Power is still transmitted to the road via a rear-biased four-wheel drive set up which gives the Continental GT a handy advantage when the going gets slippery. Advanced ESP stability control technology helps here too with its 'Sport Traction' mode allowing extra scope for the driver to enjoy the car's handling with the safety net still in place. The link between the driven wheels and the engine comes courtesy of a six-speed automatic transmission built for Bentley by ZF. This can be marshalled via paddles behind the steering wheel should you wish, or else it can be driven like a conventional automatic. This was a surprisingly controversial feature, with some engineers arguing that a car with this much torque didn't need a six-speed gearbox. Yes, you could lock the Continental GT into third gear and surf languidly along for much of the time, but the enthusiast owner profile eventually dictated the six ratios. Another first for Bentley was the attention to aerodynamics. A car that can accelerate to 60mph in less than five seconds and on to the far side of 190mph requires sufficient aerodynamics that its owner can be assured of it remaining dirty side down. The Continental GT benefits from the expertise of the best aerodynamicists the Volkswagen Group had and the venturi tunnel under the rear of the car and the cooling ducts in the engine bay all attest to their labours.
Design and Build
One thing's for sure. Once potential buyers have had the opportunity to take a good look round the car they'll be looking for a dotted line to sign. It's a shape that works a good deal better in the metal than on the printed page, where it can sometimes look a little lugubrious. Watch one on the move and you'll witness a lightness of touch, a simple design elegance and a car that hints at the potency that lies under that long bonnet. The classic Bentley matrix radiator grille is more upright these days, while the smart headlamp design, in traditional four-lamp format, has exquisite jewel-like detailing including eye-catching, LED daylight-running lamps. At the rear, Bentley signature 'floating' LED lamps extend around the corners of the wings, emphasising the car's width and purposeful stance. The track is wider by41mm at the front and 48mm at the rear than the previous model. The hand-crafted interior remains demonstrably Bentley with acres of leather and wood veneers. The fascia, with new touch-screen technology, has been designed with a notion of symmetry, the centre console rising up to divide two swathes of veneer that were designed to resemble the Bentley winged logo. It's said that Bentley's designers even took a tape measure to a team of New York basketball players to ensure that headroom is acceptable even to those at the extremes of the morphological scale. The Continental GT is a proper four seater, although a broad transmission tunnel runs down the centre of the cabin.
Market and Model
Of course, Bentley craftsmanship will never be inexpensive and, sure enough, you'll still be looking at around £124,000 for the coupe Continental GT model in V8 form. You'll need to budget in the £135,000-£140,000 bracket for the V8S or W12 variants though, while a W12 Speed will set you back well over £150,000. There's a premium of around £13,000 if you want the GTC convertible version. Rather than the established aristocracy, the Continental GT appeals largely to buyers new to the Bentley marque, who would have baulked at paying for the Arnage series but who consider the Continental GT to be good value in comparison with a Ferrari F12.
Cost of Ownership
Though fuel consumption of the W12 isn't much improved from earlier models - at 19.5mpg on the combined cycle - and the CO2 figure still smoky at 338g/km, at least this doesn't rise if you go for the W12 GT Speed variant. And you can do a lot better if you opt for the V8. Here, 26.7mpg in possible, with CO2 emissions of 246g/km. Nevertheless, this car will remain a prime target for the taxman's sniping. Of course, the collection of high-flyers, footballers and self-made millionaires who buy the car won't give two hoots. It's a drop in the ocean and the car's desirability has produced solid residuals to help protect buyers' investments. If you are bothered by running costs, then you might want to consider this car's FlexFuel capability. This means it can run on both standard unleaded petrol (gasoline) and sustainable bioethanol (up to E85) or any mix of the two.
In bringing Bentley into a new era, the Continental GT has proved to be a hugely significant car and this improved version is more desirable still. Purists may grumble at the Teutonic influence, but one can't help feeling that if WO Bentley is watching, he'd be mighty proud of the coupe that bears his name. This model seamlessly blends Bentley's glittering heritage with the latest technology to create a highly desirable package. If you have the means, sports coupes don't come more classy and capable than this. Its substantial mass ensures it's no hardcore track weapon but if you've got a continent or two to cross in double quick time, there can be few better options.