What it's like to drive Bentley’s brutal 12-cylinder limo
BENTLEY'S first new Continental GT in 15 years has arrived with a little help from friends and family, particularly the Porsche Panamera and Lamborghini Urus.
Porsche's contribution is not immediately visible but the Continental rides on a modular VW Group platform first seen under the new Porsche Panamera and due to underpin the coming Bentley Flying Spur.
For now, it forms the benchmark for a truly remarkable Grand Touring coupe that's lighter, more luxurious, more technically advanced and more spacious than the model it replaces.
Under the hood resides a 6.0-litre twin-turbo engine that appears familiar but differs considerably from those in previous Bentleys.
Shared with the Bentayga super SUV, 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. The 467kW of power goes out via a new eight-speed ZF transmission.
Fuel delivery involves some intricate plumbing, combining port injection from the old car for more power with direct injection to ensure the W12 meets new emission regulations. The upgraded twin-scroll turbochargers virtually eliminate lag.
When cruising, cylinder displacement cuts out six cylinders to help with the claimed 16 per cent improvement in fuel economy. Bentley reckons on a range of 800km and, on our test of more than 600km though mountain passes and high-speed motorways, we averaged better than 13L/100km.
The transmission employs Porsche's double clutch set-up. The car's launch was postponed from late last year as engineers beefed up the gearbox to handle the engine's 900Nm of torque - on the road, it provides rapid, almost seamless shifting.
The surge of power feels virtually limitless. Despite its 2244kg, Bentley claims the Continental GT will get to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds on its way to 333km/h.
Portly it may be but in addition to the weight saved in the engine, the new Conti also drops 80kg through the use of aluminium and composites in the body. The combination of more power and less weight is immediately noticeable.
The Continental points into corners like no Bentley before and more like an Aston Martin Vantage or AMG GT. This is no doubt helped by the Dynamic Ride rear anti-roll suspension, shared with the Bentayga, and its three chamber air suspension, which gives the driver more leverage in the stiffness versus comfort battle.
Stopping's not a problem, either. In place of the previous model's expensive carbon ceramic discs are the biggest brakes on a production car - 420mm discs clamped by 10-piston calipers on the front and 380mm, four-piston jobs at the rear - as also used on the Lamborghini Urus.
The previous model had a fixed all-wheel drive set-up, with a 60:40 split rear to front. Today's GT is effectively a rear-drive with a clutch that sends torque on demand to the front wheels.
The front axle has moved forward 135mm not only for better weight distribution but also to give it a more aggressive look. The longer wheelbase (up by 110mm) and wider footprint (50mm) give the car its assertive stance without sacrificing height and headroom.
Maintaining the Bentley hallmarks of timber, leather and chrome, the cabin represents a radical departure from previous Bentleys. It feels lighter and more spacious than that of the Bentayga.
Ambient mood lighting includes razor-thin LED strips across the dash and down the doors into the rear where it imitates the exterior hips.
If buyers aren't content with just one timber veneer, they can specify two on the dash and doors, split by a chrome strip. A new 12.3-inch navigation screen is hidden behind a clever timber panel that rotates to show a trio of analog dials.
Bringing the Continental GT into the modern era is a raft of desperately needed driver aids such as head-up display, active lane assistance, traffic assistance, parking aids and reversing cameras.