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2010 TG Awards: GT of the Year

  1. “Aargh! A Camel!” is not what you want to hear while travelling at speed around a corner in a £130k GT. If you were to provide some sort of macabre menu of final phrases to hear before you die, it would also come very close to the bottom of my personal list, somewhere between “I think that’s poisonous” and “What are you doing with that hammer?” Nevertheless, here we are, my German friend Juergen and I, both trying desperately to push the brake pedal of the new Bentley Continental GT into and past the shag pile and regretting the car’s not-inconsiderable 2,350kg mass. To make matters even more bizarre, Juergen is a passenger. Juergen doesn’t even have a brake pedal. 

    Words: Tom Ford

    See the full winners list

    This article was originally published in TG magazine’s Awards issue

  2. We howl to a stop in a chatter of ABS and mechanical
    straining some 20 metres before the camel, quite a distance before I thought we
    would. Even without the optional carbon-ceramic brakes, the GT can still shed
    speed when it needs to. The camel hasn’t moved a muscle and bats six-inch-long
    eyelashes in what I imagine to be disdain. After all, if you live in a Middle
    Eastern desert and chew greenery with the same shape and consistency of
    knitting needles day after 45-degree day, it’s unlikely that heavy braking is
    really that impressive. It burps up a grassy wad, casts the Bentley a withering
    glance and begins to chew as it walks away, its gait carrying way too much knee
    in an expanse of leg.

  3. Perhaps the camel failed to recognise that this is the 2012
    Bentley Continental GT, a significantly revised (I’m supposed to say ‘new’
    here) version of 2003’s renaissance on wheels. To be fair to the camel, it
    wouldn’t be hard: Bentley has opted for a safe refresh of the visual treatment.
    Mind you, the GT always managed to be as subtle as possible for a 198mph
    four-seat supercar, so maybe it’s the right choice. 

  4. With the sunshine levering open every shadowy nook, second impressions
    are that new Conti is actually quite a lot different from how it appeared in
    the initial pictures and, once you’ve had a bit of time to stare, much more
    detailed than you first think. Bentley has used the same aluminium ‘Super
    Forming’ technique it used on the Mulsanne (where single sheets of ally are
    heated to 500° centigrade and then formed using air pressure) for the GT’s
    complex front wings and boot, and paid more attention to the sharpness of the
    creases throughout the rest of the body. Curves are more pronounced, creases
    are knife-edged, especially over the double-curvature of those front wings and
    the hip over the rear wheels. The result is a much tauter, more sculpted look,
    even though the profile of the car is almost exactly the same as before.

  5. More obvious changes are thanks to new head- and
    tail-lights. The front set retain the traditional Bentley four-lamp
    arrangement, but this time swept slightly back and littered with LEDs. The rear
    lamps now creep gently around to the sides of the car, each lens comprised of a
    couple of big ovals that act as brake and running lights.

    The rear end is what Bentley calls a ‘double-horseshoe’,
    where the bootlid is framed by the extremities of the rear wings - again, a
    similar treatment to the bigger Mulsanne. The surfacing is definitely a
    fabulous feature. Every time you look through the door mirrors, you see that
    big swoosh that starts a foot in front of the rear wheel heave itself backwards
    - either a none-too-subtle hint as to the enormous power at your disposal, or
    really chunky thighs. Your call.

  6. After a bit, it becomes a game to spot the other changes,
    because there are quite a few amendments that you don’t see straight away. The
    front grille is more upright, and the matrix of the front-end apertures is
    supersized and extra-chromed, giving the front of the GT the appearance of an
    extremely aggressive industrial cheese-grater.

    And although it still looks like
    an incredibly aerodynamic brick, the new GT also has a lower coefficient of
    drag than the old car (down to 0.33Cd), as well as a flatter underbody and a
    wider track. The change, wider by 41mm at the front and 48mm at the back, is
    obviously for handling stability purposes, but it also makes the car look very
    wide and low - no bad thing. There is also the option of new 21-inch wheels
    (standard are already quite huge 20-inchers), available in a variety of
    finishes including a chrome, which, I am ashamed to admit, I very much liked.

  7. The basic lay-out remains the same: the GT is a steel
    monocoque with a twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 up front and driving all four
    wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox from ZF. The motor now produces
    567bhp and 516lb ft of torque, enough to barge the car to 62mph in 4.6 seconds
    and onto the aforementioned fingertip-width of the double tonne. It feels very
    fast, though not fist-bitingly aggressive, dispatching all that power and
    torque to the floor without any kind of significant exertion.

    In a straight
    line, the new GT will happily charge towards the red line with barely a woofly
    whisper, relying on four-wheel drive and considerable weight to prevent any
    kind of wheel-spinning hysteria. For the record, the car is much louder from
    the outside, and sounds really rather brilliantly bellowy in the best Bentley
    tradition - imagine a distant, very localised earthquake coming from the
    spade-like exhaust tips, heavy on the reverb.

  8. The four-wheel-drive system has also been adjusted to add a
    bit more sparkle to the proceedings, the torque split having been recalibrated
    to deliver 40/60 front to rear rather than the previous car’s 50/50. That might
    sound like a fairly conservative change, but it makes a difference in tight
    corners; where the old car would be waiting for the understeer to peter out
    before it could apply power, the new Conti catapults out with a touch of
    tightening line and the ghost of oversteer. It’s not really oversteering, and
    if you get stupidly aggressive, you simply understeer anyway, but coax the new
    GT into a corner and lean on the gas, and you can get the car firing out on a
    wave of release. It’s like the first nanosecond before a car goes sideways,
    just as you rocket out the other side. It’s not a drifter, but it is more fun
    than the old one. 

  9. Mind you, I have to admit something here. The launch for the
    new GT was held in the Sultanate of Oman, a place where it hasn’t rained in any
    significant manner for nearly three years. That means that the perfectly smooth
    and modern roads have accumulated both rubber and sand in such a way that they
    are slipperier than freshly oiled ice. Anything other than a massively long
    sweeping corner came with a side order of tyre howl and fairly desperate
    understeer emanating not from the tortured physics of ultimate grip, but from
    the fact that traction is in seriously short supply in the first place. The
    issue being that in a rear-wheel-drive car, you’d probably be having more fun
    gently swaying the car sideways at slow speed - the GT just won’t play. In the
    wet, on a bumpy UK road, it will undoubtedly be safer; out here, it feels big
    and heavy.

  10. But it did underline one huge thing about the Continental GT
    - that the clue is in the name… for all the speed, this isn’t supposed to be
    an acutely aggressive sports car, but a cruiser. At 80 per cent effort, it is
    still deeply impressive. The gearbox underlines the character trait: fabulous
    at cruising - less instant than you might expect from the manual paddleshift.
    In fact, it feels like it could manage more than a merely credible shift-time
    of 200 milliseconds - something underlined by Bentley’s product plans: there
    will be Speed and Supersports versions of this GT, so room needs to be left for
    the harder variants. There will also be a less powerful V8 later in the year
    that promises a 40 per cent increase in efficiency.

  11. The best bit is still the interior though - a proper haven.
    The new car is so quiet that you can hear the rasp of your own breath, the
    twin-turbo W12 relegated to a burbling mumble somewhere below all the glorious
    leather. The new interior really is first-class, poised somewhere between a
    sports car and an incredibly upscale tannery. The big T-shaped dash sprouts
    from a spine of wood that runs between the seats, each plane polished and
    matched to perfection. Everything is skinned in a film of leather that smells
    gorgeous. Even the headlining and sun visors look and feel great. There are a
    couple of cheaper bits (the vanes in the air vents are plastic behind the front
    bezel, for instance), but generally it is a truly special place to be.

  12. The new Bentley GT, then, is a useful extension of the ethos
    of the old. It’s a good percentage better in most ways, but still sticks very
    firmly to the mission statement of Continentality: a bruising GT with the pace
    of a sports car and the luxury and civility of a limousine. The rumour is that
    Bentley regarded this car as its version of the Porsche 911, its own personal
    icon, and required an ‘evolution of the revolution’. It sounds a bit boring,
    but in an economic climate where outrageously shiny and new might well attract
    the wrong kind of attention, the new GT feels perfectly pitched. Despite the
    conservatism, it remains the best posh GT in the world.

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