Bentley re-wrote the GT rulebook in 2003 with the original Continental but despite a facelift in 2010, it lagged behind its newer rivals in recent times. From 2018 however, the boot’s on the other foot as Bentley has answered the call.
It’s been a long time coming but thanks to some co-development and co-operation from sister company Porsche, Bentley has released its first new Continental GT in 15 years.
Porsche’s contribution is not immediately visible but the new Continental rides on a modular platform that’s shared among the VW Group’s front-engine with rear or all-wheel drive combo cars and was first seen last year under the new Porsche Panamera. We will see it pop up next, supporting the Bentley Flying Spur.
For now, it forms the benchmark for a truly remarkable Grand Touring coupé that’s lighter, more luxurious, more technically advanced and more spacious than the model it replaces.
Under the hood resides a 626bhp, six-litre W12 twin-turbo engine that appears familiar but is very different from those used in previous Bentleys.
Debuted in the Bentayga, this W12 motor has not only shed 30kg but has also been radically re-engineered with the front drive shafts punching through the sump to make it fit into the smaller engine bay and is coupled to a new ZF transmission.
It uses a new injection system comprising both port injection from the old car for more power with direct injection to ensure it meets new emission regulations. Its two turbos have also been upgraded to twin-scroll units and it features cylinder displacement which cuts out six-cylinders when cruising.
This helps it to achieve a stated 16 percent better fuel economy with a range of 800kms and even on our test of more than 600kms though mountain passes and high-speed motorways, we saw better than 13 L/100kms average.
The transmission is an eight-speed ZF unit that uses Porsche’s PDK double clutch set up and was one of the reasons why the car’s launch was postponed from late last year as engineers needed to give it a tweak to handle the engine’s 900Nm of torque. On road it provided rapid shifting that was close to seamless through its eight cogs.
The twin-scroll turbos eliminate all lag as the surge of power felt almost limitless and despite its portly 2244kg, Bentley claims it will get to 100kmh in 3.7 seconds and on to 333kmh.
Portly it may be but in addition to the 30kg lost in the drivetrain weight, the new Conti has also dropped 80kgs through the use of aluminium and composites in the body. The combination of more power and less weight was immediately noticeable.
A lot of aluminium has been used for the castings, extrusions and main structural nodes in addition to high strength steel for crash performance while the outer skin has been clad in sculptured aluminium pressings.
What this means is extraordinary rigidity in the body. This has given the new Conti GT torsional stiffness of 34,000Nm per degree which, as described in layman’s terms by Chief Project Manager, Bob Teale, is the equivalent to hanging one and half Continental GTs off the back on the end of a one metre bar resulting in just one degree in body deflection.
The Continental pointed into corners like no Bentley before and more like an Aston Martin Vantage or AMG GT. This was no doubt helped by the 48-volt Dynamic Ride rear anti-roll suspension from Bentayga and its three-chamber air suspension which gives the driver more control in the stiffness verses comfort battle.
Stopping’s not a problem either despite the fact the expensive carbon ceramic discs are no longer available. In their place are the biggest brakes used on a production car of 420mm, 10-piston units on the front and 380mm, four-piston discs on the back that are similar in spec to those used on the Lamborghini Urus, though the Lamborghini’s are carbon ceramic.
Gone is the car’s claim of being all-wheel drive in the sense we knew it as the previous model had a fixed 60:40 split rear to front AWD system whereas the new car is effectively a rear-wheel drive with a clutch that gives torque on demand to the front wheels as needed.
The front axle has moved forward 135mm not only for better weight distribution but also to give it a more aggressive look, while the 110mm longer wheelbase and 50mm wider footprint gives the car its assertive stance without sacrificing height and headroom.
The new-look Conti mimics the EXP10 Speed 6 concept car from the 2015 Geneva motor show with a lower, wider stance and a concave tail featuring the word ‘Bentley’ as a badge for the first time.
The inside is a radical departure from previous Bentleys and differs from Bentayga, feeling lighter and more spacious despite maintaining the Bentley hallmarks of timber, leather and chrome.
A new “diamond-in-diamond” interior leather pattern shows that handcraftsmanship hasn’t been neglected with exactly 712 stitches in each diamond using 2.8km of thread per car, which over the full interior consumes 12 per cent of its 10 leather hides.
Ambient mood lighting includes razor thin LED strips across the dash and down the doors into the rear where it imitates the outside’s coke-bottle hips.
Not content with just one timber veneer, customers can specify two on the dash and doors, split by a chrome strip, while a new 12.3-inch nav screen is hidden behind a clever panel that rotates to show either a trio of analogue dials or continues the clean timber look.
A host of driver aids such as heads up display, active lane assistance, traffic assistance, parking aides and reversing cameras are also included to bring the Continental GT into the modern era.
The previous GT sold 66,000 units but was desperately in need of a major overhaul as it is the staple product in the company’s range.
With inspiration from the R-Type Continental of 1952, the 2003 model year GT effectively re-launched Bentley under VW’s ownership and was the fastest four-seat car at the time, just like its 1952 sibling.
It also introduced the W12 engine and all-wheel drive architecture which are now hallmarks of Bentley’s engineering DNA. A major facelift was revealed in 2010 but it effectively was still centered around 2003 original.
This 2018 Continental GT looks to have caught up in all the important areas to take the fight squarely to the new DB11, AMG GT and Ferraris’ 812 Superfast.