Best Bentley ever? We inspect the only 2018 Continental GT in NZ
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Name a car manufacturer that has stronger brand recognition than Bentley.
It's tough, isn't it. But that's testament to the British marque's adoration for tradition. Yes, maybe the Bentayga isn't pretty, per se ... but you'd never mistake it for a Nissan.
Bold haunches, distinctive yet delicate grill work, contoured surfaces, and a frequently generous drizzle of 'bling' have played a big part in Bentley design for quite some time. And the new Continental GT is yet another phase in this ongoing play.
The first of these new machines recently landed in New Zealand, launching last week to a bunch of Bentley faithful at Giltrap Group's continually impressive state-of-le-art Great North Road showroom.
The canapés and beautiful people are long gone; in their place are me and my camera — poised for a first in-person taste of new-gen Continental.
It sports larger dimensions all round, yet on first impressions seems somehow smaller than the previous model.
In part, that's to do with a shorter front overhang and a more streamlined nose. Digs in the bonnet and fender bodywork give the car a lighter demeanor up front, and set the tone for what's proven to be quite a popular restyle.
The headlights are remarkable. Like the taillights on the Lexus LC 500, they have a trick design that appears to almost go on forever. But unlike the Lexus, which adopts a sci-fi vibe, the eyeballs of the Continental achieve their look through a layered chopping and changing of crystal surfaces.
Truly like staring through the window to one's soul.
At the rear, perhaps the biggest change are to the taillights. Bentley have always maintained a 'elliptical' taillight shape, but they've always been buried behind a more square overall lens.
Having ditched the two-in-one taillights in favour of just the one oval taillight, the new car appears softer from behind. Note the exhaust pipes, which echo exactly the same shape.
The appearance of 'lightness' isn't just a visual thing. The new Continental is 80kg lighter than the last one, too. It's still 'big boned' no doubt, tipping the scales at more than two tonnes, but every kilogram counts in the race for fuel economy and justification of that 'GT' nameplate.
Performance numbers are here for those who want to whip out their graphics calculators and make nerdy comparisons. The only numbers we'll flash concern price. List price in New Zealand for a new one is $355,000 — though that doesn't include a few of the more 'integral' features.
We'll get to those in a minute.
The primary goal of the visit was to sit in the thing, and it was mission accomplished rather early. And as with the exterior, the interior leaves no doubt that you're sitting in a Bentley product.
The heft of the dash and center console cocoons you, leaving your eyes to wander over the stacks of dark woods, chrome and polished metals, and hand-stitched white-ish leather. This model comes with the Mulliner-spec interior. This is best reflected in the quilted leather on the seats and doors.
The words 'Bang and Olufsen' are embossed into the door cards next to a pair of potent looking speakers. Brushed metal sill plates on the door thresholds state proudly that the vehicle is "Hand crafted by Bentley Motors LTD, Crewe, England".
Yes, it's fancy. Faaaaancy.
The balance that brands like Bentley have to strike these days is the hard task of blending their love for traditional looks and materials, and the desire (nee expectation) for cars of this kind to come with more neat gizmos than Bill Gates' living room.
That's a tough task, and nothing epitomizes the struggle™ more than the Bentlinental's trick infotainment panel.
You will no doubt be aware of what the dash can do, but for those who aren't here's a reminder. At the push of a button ("SCREEN"), the central panel of the dashboard will spin on the spot to switch between showing the car's infotainment screen and a tasteful array of analogue clocks.
It is literally a balance between the old and the new.
Switch the car off, and the panel will rotate to a blank surface — one that perfectly blends in with the wood and piano black on either side.
In my haste to drink in as much of this interior as possible, no photos of this panel in half-cocked mid-rotation were taken. A shame, as it was quite an interesting visual. Hit 'SCREEN' and the panel would momentarily sink into the dash a few millimeters, before gyrating backwards to present the new panel. It would then slow, and the new panel would ease outwards to become flush with the dash.
The infotainment system itself comes with a lot of your 'standard' fare. But there are a few smart little extras. It controls your massaging front seats, mood lighting [pictured above illuminated in red], and a host of other things to play with that I could easily waste hours writing about.
Will these become a mechanical nightmare in the long run? Maybe, but it's a novelty that seems destined to be imitated by other manufacturers. Particularly as us journalists continue to whine and grizzle about how bad they all are at 'hiding' or 'integrating' their great big infotainment screens.
The downside? The twirling digital Toblerone is a $13,400 option.
Speaking of screens, there's another behind the steering wheel. Like other digital clusters in the segment, it can be configured to show the usual stuff like a speedometer, or more interesting stuff like the satnav.
Curiously, this Bentley's hasn't been configured to New Zealand yet, so it still shows that the car is sitting in Stoke-on-Trent where it was built. Funny.
Indeed, to sit in the front of the Continental is a more than pleasant experience. But what about in the back?
Well, it's not that bad. Those in the front will need to slide forward a fraction, but these luxo-coupes are rarely that commodious for those in the back so that's hardly a surprise. The two rear seats are lovely and wide, and can be accessed easily enough thanks to a wide opening.
All in all, the new beast appears to move the Continental name forwards in all the right ways — while simultaneously remaining anchored to what makes a Bentley a ... well, a Bentley.
We can't wait to get our hands on it.