Looks can be deceptive for new GT
BEHOLD the all-new Bentley Continental GT. New, you might ask? OK, it may not look very different to the previous model launched in 2004 but, under the skin, Bentley's latest Continental GT is an all-new car.
According to Ken Scott, a senior Bentley engineer who worked on the new GT, not a single panel is shared between the old and new model, with "only a handful of minor components underneath" carried over.
Scott says the decision to stay with a familiar look is deliberate, with customers equating the two-door coupe with the timeless design of the iconic Porsche 911.
Beneath its surface, the vehicle borders on revolutionary.
Panels for the front guards and boot lid are now made by heating aluminium sheets to about 500 degrees and shaping them using compressed air.
If some of the technology is new, the hardware is more familiar.
Under the bonnet is the same 6.0-litre W12 engine, which, crudely put, is two V6 engines sharing a common crankshaft.
Adding a pair of turbochargers to the mix will always make it a hairy-chested beast, but this time it's retuned for even more power and torque, jumping to 423kW at 6000rpm and 700Nm from 1700rpm, up from the old W12's 412kW and 650Nm.
There's also all-wheel-drive in deference to the car's torque and power — sent to all four wheels via a traditional six-speed torque converter — but, unlike the previous model's 50:50 front-to-rear-drive split, the new car has a 40:60 split to increase its appeal to keener drivers, despite the huge kerb weight and full luxury specification.
If you're wondering about rear-seat space, Bentley quickly points out the car is meant to be driven by its owner, not a chauffeur.
Inside, there's the full handmade complement of sumptuous leather trim with quilted stitching, timber panelling and lush carpets. Even the brake pedal and gear lever are gorgeous, machined-alloy items with Bentley's famous Flying B cast into them.
Despite the exclusivity of its price tag, there's evidence of Volkswagen's ownership of Bentley scattered through the cabin.
The most obvious is a touch-screen panel used to control the satellite navigation. There's also familiarity in the climate and entertainment systems.
As the last two letters of its name suggest, the all-new Continental GT is all about covering distance in supreme comfort and, where conditions allow, great velocity.
Launching the car in Oman, an oiled-up sultanate that borders the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Bentley was able to demonstrate both of these abilities to great effect.
The first clue to the comfort arises even before you've slipped the GT into gear. Close the door loosely and a robot silently pulls it in tight, sealing the vault, while an electrically controlled arm passes you the seatbelt.
Despite its all-paw grip, the Bentley lacks race-track handling. It's a bit slow to steer and there's not a whole lot of feedback for the driver. Tip it harder into a corner and the nose will ultimately run wide, using its tyres pretty hard.
The prototype cars we drove were also fitted with tyres that were not the preferred specification. Bentley says there was some mismatch in the way the suspension worked with the flexing properties of the sidewall on the tyres, which was most noticeable on niggling little short, sharp bumps.
Even with the air-suspension set at its softest mode, the optional 21-inch tyres hammered over smaller ripples.
We'd be opting for the standard 20-inch rims.
The twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine leaves a lasting impression.
There's very little turbo lag and once the six-speed auto picks up the appropriate ratio, the GT storms off into the desert like a fighter jet.
However, the GT doesn't feel quite as quick as its advertised 4.4 seconds to make the sprint from 0-100km/h. We don't doubt for a moment its 318km/h top speed.
Bentley ownership has always been about exclusivity and it doesn't look like changing. If you're keen and cashed up, the first batch will go on sale in the second quarter of next year with a price tag starting from $405,714 plus costs.