New found athleticism, design inside and out
Has it perhaps lost a little of its… waftability?
What is it?
There’s a key point in Bentley’s timeline that we can call BC: Before Continental. So vital was the first Continental GT – not only for sales but setting a template and tone for the whole brand – that you could easily argue that were it not for the two-door coupe, Bentley might very well not be with us today. Certainly not with anything like the swagger with which it’s leading the luxury car segment into a whole new era.
Few brands talk as loudly about sustainability, diversity and all that other good stuff as well as Bentley, and it’s all the more believable with a convincing core model to underpin it all. The most successful luxury car of modern times? Quite probably.
It’s now several years into its third generation and continues to be the focal point for the whole brand, embodying what a Bentley is while the Bentayga SUV makes the big bucks elsewhere in the range and handbuilt specials like the Bacalar and Batur work Instagram into a lather. Trim levels and special editions have broadened the range since its 2018 launch; S and Speed versions cover performance while Azure and Mulliner iterations are all about the poshness.
It looks good, no?
It’s a handsome thing, the latest Conti GT, especially in profile, where the front wheels have been shifted forward to improve the weight distribution and drop the engine lower and further back in the chassis. In fact 55 per cent of the weight still sits on those front wheels, but there’s less of it than before: the body alone is 80kg lighter than its predecessor’s, helping the new Conti GT weigh ‘only’ 2.2 tonnes.
But Bentley has made no secret of the fact that a heavy kerb weight actually helps deliver the road-crushing stability and momentum that characterises the way its cars drive. They're knowingly hefty things.
I'm guessing there's tech on hand to help...
Powerful 48v electrics which debuted on the Bentayga are used – among other things – to manage the suspension, with actuators on front and rear anti-roll bars combating body roll. The set 40:60 power split is now fully variable and 100 per cent of torque goes to the rear wheels as often as possible to the benefit of fuel efficiency and emissions.
There are two engines to choose from, both powering all four wheels through an eight-speed gearbox and, should you feel like behaving uncouthly, via a launch control system.
Cheapest is the V8, a 4.0-litre twin-turbo offering up 542bhp, 0-62mph in 4.0 seconds and a 198mph top speed. It nominates itself as the sportiest choice by virtue of its rortier soundtrack and reduction of weight over the front axle.
But above that sits the big-boy 6.0-litre W12 engine, one that’s about to be retired completely. It’s carried over from the old Conti GT – indeed it helped launch the car in 2003 – albeit now modified enough for Bentley to declare it the ‘most advanced 12-cylinder engine in the world’. It features cylinder shut off under light loads, while also producing 626bhp and a thumping 664lb ft of torque from 1,350rpm right through to 4,500rpm. Performance is better: 0-62mph takes 3.7 seconds and its top speed is 207mph.
Yup. Better stick an order in now if you want one of the last W12s to grace any VW Group car. There aren’t many left and the newly spare factory hands and build slots will almost certainly be redeployed on a hybrid version.
The best way to wave a wistful ‘ta-ta’ is with an upgrade past £200,000 and into the arms of the Continental GT Speed. This model has existed in the Conti's previous life, and it served up – no surprise – a bit more briskness. Only now Bentley's given it a whole character of its own. The addition of four-wheel steering, a new electronic limited-slip differential and a much greater rear torque bias for the AWD system make this the sportiest – and supposedly driftiest – GT yet.
Across all GTs you get full Matrix LED lights, a 12.3in central touchscreen, WiFi, head-up display, night vision, a 650W stereo and 21in wheels. Pricing starts at around £150,000, putting this in direct competition with the likes of the Aston Martin DB11, Ferrari Roma and Porsche 911 Turbo.
What's the verdict?
Bentley has given customers what they demanded: a more athletic, sporting, rapid, capable Continental GT. In the areas owners obviously care most about – performance and handling – it’s night-and-day better than the original. The 48v electronics, longer wheelbase and air suspension have brought crispness to the dynamics and allowed the car to cope admirably with the huge increase in straight-line performance.
Comfort and relaxation may have slipped perhaps five per cent, but dynamism is up 50 per cent. And most importantly, that ability and behaviour suits the Bentley Continental GT well. It has plentiful rivals in the weirdly busy GT car sector (so much for a cost of living crisis) but not one of them swallows distance with the charming swagger of a Bentley.