‘A work of art’: The new Bentley Continental GT is near perfection

Jul 28, 2019
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I almost fell off my chair when I read this figure: Bentley has produced a little under 70,000 Continental GTs since the vehicle was launched in 2003.

It’s an incredible number, because it’s a car that exists for the sole purpose of ferrying people in speed and style. And, outside of the most recent update, it hadn’t changed a great deal until 2011 when the second generation was unveiled.

From there it lived on until this latest third generation was shown to the public at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show. I was at that particular show when the silk was pulled off the car, and remember being blown away by the presence the car has, but more so by the interior. The interior was always Bentley’s biggest bugbear, and was the sole reason you’d buy virtually any of its competitors instead.

The second-generation Continental had an ancient infotainment system shared with the Touareg, and while the Bentayga was a step forward for infotainment and technology, the Continental really reset the agenda for Bentley. It had speed, style and now modern technology.

So, jump forward to our local drive of the 2019 Bentley Continental GT W12 in Australia, and you can imagine how excited I was to get behind the wheel.

The V8 has always made the most sense in the Bentley range. It sounds good, goes hard and doesn’t really put a foot wrong. In an attempt to reinvigorate interest in the W12, Bentley went to town on making it better in virtually all respects.

Featuring 294 individual components and requiring 6.5 hours of hand assembly, the W12 engine uses two twin-scroll turbochargers, along with a combination of high-pressure direct injection and low-pressure port injection.

Pumping out 467kW of power and 900Nm of torque (all from 1350rpm), the 6.0-litre W12 unit really is a work of art. That makes it 7.5 per cent more powerful, with 25 per cent more torque than the previous offering.

It’s now also more efficient – shock, horror. Efficiency has improved by 16 per cent, thanks to cylinder deactivation that allows six cylinders to be shut off to save fuel, with its 90L fuel tank capable of offering up to 800km of driving range. Official claims put mixed-cycle consumption at 13.6 litres per 100km.

Torque is sent to the wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and as previously, torque is sent to all four wheels. More on how it drives later on.

Open the driver’s door and it’s right down to business. There isn’t an inch of this interior that doesn’t feel luxurious or built with absolute precision. Every surface is covered in leather or carpet, while the level of customisation on offer is unheard of.

Bentley’s Mulliner customisation arm will gladly create a bespoke vehicle for any customer that should desire it. They’ll colour-match, use specific wood elements, and even offer a variety of cow hide to match your tastes – the opportunities are virtually endless.

The new interior centres around an awesome new infotainment system that measures 12.3 inches and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The colour touchscreen is high resolution, fast, and offers a full array of features including an awesome 360-degree camera, high-definition maps and vehicle connectivity.

Ahead of the driver is an LCD display that can be customised to show a number of displays, including a traditional analogue speed and tachometer display.

By far the coolest option available is a tri-faced rotating display. By pushing a button, the infotainment screen can physically rotate out of position to become a flat wood or piano-black surface. Another push of the button then rotates that surface out of the way to offer three analogue gauges. It’s a work of art.

Beneath the screen is a centre stack with buttons for climate controls and the vehicle’s drive modes. This part of the vehicle I wasn’t as impressed with. Some of the switchgear felt a bit cheap and nasty, and nowhere near as premium as the rest of the cabin. These bits aside, the rest of the cabin’s switchgear is top notch – the knurled metal bits are supremely cool.

Briefly – the sound system is bang on. It’s loud, clear and immerses you in noise when you’re sick of listening to the engine and exhaust (which rarely happens). Rear leg and head room are also actually quite good. I was able to squeeze into the back behind my regular seating position and it was a comfortable place to be.

Cargo capacity comes in at 358L, and is big enough to fit a set of golf clubs or two medium-sized suitcases side-by-side.

How does it go? This is the part that really blew me away.

Kick the engine over using the starter button located on the centre stack, and there’s a hearty burble that eventually settles to a murmur. Prod the throttle at idle and you can hear the potential buried within that bank of 12 cylinders.

The drive-mode selector (Bentley calls it Bentley Driving Dynamics) offers the driver four drive modes – Comfort, Bentley, Sport and Individual. When slotted into Comfort, up to 38 per cent of torque can be sent to the front axle and the ride is beyond sublime – even on 22-inch alloy wheels.

That’s because the air suspension system uses three-chamber air springs that offer 60 per cent more air volume than the previous generation. And, the Continental uses a 48V system that interacts with actuators in the anti-roll bars to resist body roll – it can deliver up to 1300Nm of torque in just 0.3 seconds to the anti-roll bar in an attempt to limit body roll.

Comfort shifts the eight-speed automatic gearbox early and offers a relaxing atmosphere, with power available on call at the drop of your right boot.

Sport mode, on the other hand, is where things get fun. The all-wheel-drive system limits torque delivery to the front axle to just 17 per cent, while increasing exhaust noise and sharpening both throttle response and steering. The gearbox holds gears for longer, and it’s this mode that really brings the GT into Continental GT.

Normally, a 12-cylinder engine can be a little lazy and hard to motivate, but the way this W12 shoves you back into the seat is next level. It matches that constant torque surge with epic noises both from the engine and the exhaust. You’ll be grinning from ear to ear every single time you mash the throttle pedal. It’s a unique experience.

Steering feel is good, but not quite as sharp as I was expecting. It’s not the end of the world, given this car will predominantly be eating up miles at speed.

With that said, though, it feels nimble enough (despite its 2244kg kerb weight) to be thrown around when required. The 305mm-wide rubber at the rear (265mm wide at the front) helps it stick to the road without too many struggles.

The brakes are next level. They’re the biggest set of brakes on a series production car. The rotors measure 420mm at the front and feature 10-piston callipers – yikes!

An asking price of $422,000 (plus on-road costs) is a starting point given most owners will tick a number of options boxes before rolling out of the dealership.

Like a lot of high-end manufacturers, Bentley only offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty in Australia. Service intervals occur every 12 months or 16,000km, whichever comes first.

It’s also disappointing that Bentley charges a little over $11,000 for basic safety technology such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) (in the City Specification package), which is standard on most sub-$20,000 cars.

The all-new Bentley Continental GT is a massive step forward for the brand. It’s beautiful to drive, offers endless amounts of style, and the revised W12 engine doesn’t fail to deliver thrills.

Would you like to cruise around in a Bentley Continental GT?

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