Bentley Continental GT review

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The original Continental GT marked a massive shift in focus for Bentley and did more than a little to shake up the whole of the super luxury coupe sector. This third generation model has moved that segment a further step forward. Jonathan Crouch drives it.

Ten Second Review

The third generation Bentley Continental GT coupe aims to be the kind of rewarding driver's car its predecessor always should have been. That's thanks to engineering from Porsche and a sophisticated MSB platform. Yet at the same time, it claims to deliver even more luxury thanks to an exquisitely design cabin with a range of very special touches.

Background

Early Bentley models were sports cars. More recent ones have been luxury GTs. Can the company really produce a car able to combine both elements? The original Continental GT was a consummate Grand Tourer, but it wasn't really a choice for driving enthusiasts. With this third generation design, the brand reckons it can do a much better job of satisfying these people.

You'd expect that would be the case. After all, in its first two generations, this Bentley was based on a platform from an old fashioned Volkswagen Phaeton saloon dating back to the turn of the century. This MK3 model in contrast, shares its lighter, stiffer chassis with the very latest second generation Porsche Panamera. That car also donates a quicker-reacting dual clutch gearbox and there's a more sophisticated 4WD set-up too. So, should lottery winners form an orderly queue? Let's find out.

Driving Experience

Under the bonnet, the range is based around a 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 with 542bhp, which makes 62mph in 3.9s en route to 198mph. As an option with 'Mulliner' trim or as standard with the flagship Speed version, you get a twin turbo W12 TSI 6.0-litre engine with 650bhp, which makes 62mph in 3.5s en route to 208mph. The W12 was the powerplant we tried, mated to a far more modern automatic gearbox than previous generation model have used, the twin clutch PDK transmission featured in Porsche's Panamera. In fact, much about this car is shared with the Panamera, including the lighter, stiffer, stronger MSB platform, though in this case, it's 200mm shorter in keeping with this model's Coupe remit. This chassis, Bentley hopes, will play a major part in making this current generation Conti GT model the rewarding driving machine its predecessor never truly was. That's not only because it's torsionally stiffer - though that obviously helps - but mainly because it supports an engineering format that sees the wheels pushed further forward and the engine moved rearward, so considerably improving weight distribution.

Another key change with the current car lies with the introduction of its more sophisticated all-wheel drive system. The previous generation set-up featured a fixed 40:60 split between front and rear wheels and left the car understeering rather easily when you tried to push it along. In contrast, the current Active All-Wheel-Drive' package can constantly vary front-to-rear torque split depending on the driving situation and deliberately leaves the car using rear wheel drive as much as possible. As before, there's air suspension, now a three-chamber system that works in conjunction with the clever 48V electro-mechanical anti-roll bars first seen on the Bentayga. Suspension feel is one of the things you can influence via three provided driving modes - 'Sport', 'Comfort' and 'Bentley'. Steering feel and throttle response also get tweaked with the settings.

Design and Build

As usual with this model, there's a choice of either a Coupe or a Convertible. In terms of aesthetic design, both at first glance seem to represent merely a subtle evolvement from the previous generation models but actually, much has changed. This MK3 version's aluminium skin is crafted using what Bentley calls 'Super Formed' technology, a precision technique that sees this light, strong metal heated to over 500-degrees C. It's a method that allows for the creation of more complex, sharply defined body lines and a deeper, sculpted haunch muscle.

Inside, as you'd imagine, the cabin is exquisite. Over 10 square metres of wood are used in each Continental GT and it takes nine hours to create and fit the wooden inlays by hand. The dashboard is sculpted by long, flowing wings that mirror the shape of the Bentley badge, while a floating leather top flows seamlessly to the doors. Perhaps the cabin highlight though, is the clever 'Bentley Rotating Display'. When you first get in, there appears to be no screen on the dashboard. Press the engine button though and the veneer in the middle of the fascia rotates to reveal a huge 12.3-inch touchscreen with a configurable home screen with three windows able to display your preferred functions - navigation, media and 'phone for instance. The instrument binnacle dial pack is a configurable all-TFT display too. As before, the Continental GT is a proper four seater, although a broad transmission tunnel still 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 £171,000 for this coupe Continental GT model in base V8 form; there's a premium of around £12,000 for the Convertible. There are three plusher V8 versions - the 'Azure', the 'Mulliner' and the more sporty-looking 'S'. The 'Mulliner' can also be had with the option of a W12 6.0-litre engine, the powerplant you'll also find in the more dynamically-tuned Continental GT Speed flagship variant.

Whichever model you choose, as you'd expect, get a very special experience. Take the 20-way adjustable front seats for example, which are said to set new industry standards for comfort and refinement. Smooth centre panels allow maximum efficiency for the cooling, heating and massage functions, while the bolsters retain the signature Bentley quilting. As an option, an event more exclusive 'diamond in diamond'-style quilting finish is available which gives the effect of a 'floating' quilted surface in a sea of leather.

Buyers get a choice of three audio systems; the standard 10-speaker 650-watt set-up, a Bang & Olufsen 1,500-watt 16-speaker system and a thumping Naim 2,200-watt 18-speaker package. Customers will need to spend even longer considering the wider portfolio of exterior paint colours - there are now 17. Inside, you can complement that with a choice of natural leather and wood trim that includes 'Koa', Bentley's newest veneer. What else? Well the headlights use the latest self-adjusting 'Matrix' technology borrowed from Audi. And the wheels come in a huge 21-inch size as standard, with lightweight forged 22-inch rims available as an option.

Cost of Ownership

The fuel consumption of the standard V8 engine has been optimised but don't get your hopes up too high. Bentley quotes 23.3mpg and a CO2 figure at a smoky 275g/km. Doing its best to help in this regard is the usual engine stop-start system and there's a coasting feature that sees the engine disconnected from the drivetrain and 'resting' at cruising speeds.

With the W12 engine in the 'Speed' version, the combined fuel figure falls to just 20.9mpg and the CO2 figure is 311g/km. With this powerplant, Bentley's Variable Displacement system shuts down half the engine under low to mid-throttle driving conditions so that most of the time when commuting, your Continental GT will actually be running as a V6.

With both engines, electric power steering also helps with efficiency, drawing from the car only when steering lock is used. At the end of the day though, all of this can only make so much of a difference to a car of this weight and capacity. Though the brand has trimmed 100kgs from the GT's kerb weight this time round, this car still weighs over two tonnes.

Summary

In bringing Bentley into a new era, the Continental GT has proved to be a hugely significant car and this third generation 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 now 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.

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