The stakes are high for Bentley’s new Continental GT. The company has sold 70,000 GTs since this aristocratic coupe led the British brand’s renaissance back in 2003. VW Group synergies are good for pooling engineering resources, and the new Continental GT deploys many of the best bits while still delivering an ever-more distinct personality.
Let’s start on the inside. The all-new Bentley Continental GT features one of the most technologically extravagant yet exquisitely hand-crafted interiors in the world. Bentley has its own humidor on site at its HQ in Crewe, England, and each car uses 10 sqm of veneer inside (close, but no cigar).
Depending on spec, there are 310,675 stitches in the leather cockpit; it’s difficult to know whether that number is as amazing as the fact that someone’s taken the trouble to work it out. Reach inside the interior door lever, and the surface your fingers meet is lightly knurled. This is the sort of killer attention to detail that makes you glad a company like Bentley still exists.
But there’s also a fabulous rotating central infotainment screen that motors in and out of view using 40 individual motors. The software uses self-learning algorithms, and when the screen is hidden away you’re left with an uninterrupted view of the dashboard, bisected by tailored a pin stripe, or three analogue gauges if you prefer. Traditional luxury tropes and new-tech have rarely co-mingled so seductively.
The twin-turbo, 6.0-litre W12 engine has been reworked to deliver more power (626bhp) whilst improving efficiency. It’s also been moved back and sits lower in the car, to optimise the centre-of-gravity. There is twin injection, clever twin turbos, and active engine mounts. One side of the engine even shuts down in third-through-eighth gear below 3000rpm, to enhance overall efficiency. Clever.
The GT’s new chassis architecture is related to the hardware used by Porsche, and mixes aluminium with high tensile steel, the hard points cloaked in sensuous super-formed aluminium body panels. (That’s a process that allows for curvier shapes and subtler radii.) Its suspension uses a 48-volt electrical system – similar to the one in the Bentayga SUV – for a compliant but taut ride quality. It also uses a triple-chambered air suspension system with Comfort, Sport, Custom, and a B for Bentley setting. This last one is the default position, and imbues the car with a degree of body control that’s simply amazing, given the GT’s mass.
On which note, Bentley says it has worked hard to save weight, but at 2250kg this is still a heavy beast. Yet it immediately feels half that, and dismisses both tight hairpins and higher speed corners with the same uncanny sense of agility and composure, while still wafting like a Bentley should. The old car had an impressive sense of occasion, but only the Supersport version had the dynamic skills to go with it. The new model is starting from a vastly improved foundation. This is now a true driver’s car.
It’s also close to being classically beautiful. The 2018 GT summons the spirit of the 1950s R-type Continental, a Bentley whose rapidly rising values on the historic market confirm its enhanced status among collectors. The flamboyant sweep of the R-type’s coachwork finds an elegant echo in the new car. Less obvious reference points include fighter jets, London’s Renzo Piano-designed Shard, and a crystal tumbler of whisky. Check out the GT’s headlight detailing to find out how that worked out.
Bentley is promising software tweaks to smooth out the odd clonk the eight-speed dual-shift auto is prone to, and I found the turbos oddly intrusive. But as this is a pre-production prototype, we’ll give them some latitude, until we re-visit the car later this Spring. Bentley’s rep for big, powerful, rather brash cars is undergoing something of a change; make no mistake, the new Continental GT is a genuine trail-blazer, and adds a thrilling new dynamism to the quality and artisanship Bentley is already so well-known for.
Prepare to want one.