The 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 could well move that segment a further step forward. Jonathan Crouch reports.
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 an all-new 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.
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, the first generation model 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.
Under the bonnet lies a twin turbo W12 TSI engine, as before, but this one is the lightly revised unit that first made its debut in the brand's Bentayga SUV. The big news though, is that this time round, it's been mated to a far more modern automatic gearbox, the twin clutch PDK transmission used in Porsche's Panamera. In fact, much about this car is shared with the Panamera, including the new 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 third 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 lies with the introduction of a new all-wheel drive system. The old 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 new 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.
As is clear from a glance, the shape of this third generation Continental GT model represents an evolvement from the original but actually, much has changed. This model'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.
Of course, Bentley craftsmanship will never be inexpensive and, sure enough, you'll still be looking at around £140,000 for this coupe Continental GT model in W12 form. Still, you get a very special experience in return. 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.
The fuel consumption of the W12 is slightly improved from the earlier model, but don't get your hopes up too high. Bentley quotes 23.2mpg, up from 19.9mpg previously. The CO2 figure, while still pretty smoky at 278g/km, represents a useful 16% improvement on the previous model and means that this car can now meet the latest Europe and US-imposed efficiency targets. Helping in this regard is the usual engine stop-start system and a coasting feature that sees the engine disconnected from the drivetrain and 'resting' at cruising speeds. In addition, 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. 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. If you feel the need to do better, then you'll want to talk to your dealer about the alternative V8 and Hybrid engines that Bentley has also developed for this model.
In bringing Bentley into a new era, the Continental GT has proved to be a hugely significant car and this second 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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