Perfect contradiction: we drive the new Bentley Continental GT
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Driving the all-new Bentley Continental GT revealed this luxurious Grand Tourer to be a well-crafted bundle of contradictions.
Now into its third generation, the Bentley Continental GT is at once everything you’re expecting it to be, and also everything you’re not. It’s something of a contradictory car.
It literally wears its heart on its sleeve; especially in stonking W12 format (and more on this all-new engine in a bit), the Conti GT is every bit the “Grand Toure” designed to get its affluent enthusiast owners from one side of continental Europe (and other places) to the other in style and have them exit the car at journey’s end with a smile on their face and nary a crinkle in their polo shirt.
That it’ll jet its way across endless land masses at pace if required is also a given. The Conti GT has never been short on power, and the 467kW/900Nm mix on offer in the new one, assisted by two twin-scroll turbochargers, make this two-plus ton machine fairly fly, as experienced along the Autostrada in Italy and the Autobahn in Austria during the model’s international media launch last week.
Huge sections of the GT are hand-crafted, and that’s no marketing hyperbole; I really do mean “made by hand”. The diamond quilting in the seats and door lining involves precisely 310,675 stitches per car. Detailing inside the LED matrix headlights and the knurling on the metal dials and instrumentation is all influenced by the diamond shapes in cut-crystal glassware.
This all sounds very “Bentley-like” so far. So, where’s the contradiction? All this gentlemanly power, all this traditional elegance. And yet, the Bentley Continental GT is secretly a super high-tech car.
Just as the 10sq m of wood veneer inlay in every single car is sustainably sourced and carefully fitted by hand, just as every car features 2.8km of stitching thread, there are also more lines of software code in the Continental GT than in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner (more than 100,000,000 to be not exact).
The back-rear section of the car — incorporating those deep haunches behind the door apertures that give it its signature hunkered-down stance — is presently the largest single super-formed piece of sheet metal in all of automotive manufacturing.
That is quite an engineering achievement, as are the new GT’s enormous brakes, which are the biggest iron brake assemblies used on any production car and consist of 420mm front discs with 10 piston calipers and 380mm rear discs with four piston calipers. No ceramics? Bentley states it doesn’t need to bother when its iron engineering remains so solid and consistent.
You get the feeling, however, that it may be holding something back for the Supersports edition of the new GT that will surely eventuate.
Inside the cabin, a wide touchscreen (the same as featured in the new Porsche Panamera, reminding for a moment of Bentley’s parentage these days) sits inside a rotating section of dashboard.
At the push of a button, the high-tech 12.3-inch display (left) rotates away to reveal traditional analogue gauges or a blank facia extending the trad-look veneer. This component took two years of development work to perfect and features more than 40 parts, including two motors with individual high-precision gearboxes and cooling fans. So as to rotate through three sides, the unit has to retract slightly before spinning through to the next display option.
It’s a little piece of theatre that reminds you James Bond started life in Ian Fleming’s novels driving a Bentley. The firm’s present-day engineers don’t appear too keen to extend this clever feature to the numberplate housing at the rear of the car, however.
But sticking with the subject, when you think about it, the Bentley Rotating Display section is perhaps the perfect embodiment of Bentley in 2018. New technology incorporated with no compromise to traditional materials or attention to detail.
And believe me, when you sit in the Conti GT, the level of detail is unbelievable. More so than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Maserati GranTurismo or anything else in its class.
The Bentley also features digital instruments in the main binnacle for the first time.
Underneath the Continental GT’s sleek skin (it looks longer and lower than before, with sharp creases in the body work and much more made of the chrome swage line extending along the lower length of the car), there is even more new technology.
Bentley has developed a new engine, there is also a new gearbox, new suspension system and new 48-volt Dynamic Ride active roll-control technology present as well. Nothing has been carried over from the 2010-era GT.
An updated version of Bentley’s gargantuan 6-litre twin-turbocharged W12 TSI (the same as found in the Bentayga SUV) is paired for the first time with an eight-speed double-clutch ZF gearbox. The engine features cylinder deactivation technology so, when at high speed and low revs on the highway, six of the 12 cylinders will shut down, helping the luxury brand achieve better fuel efficiency and emissions score. Fuel economy of 12.2-litres/100km is cited, although not seen on the media drive through the fast lowlands of Europe and across the soaring Grossglockner Pass (Austria’s highest) on the Italian border.
The new Dynamic Ride system, however, was well-utilised on switchback roads teeming with motorcycles. This system controls ride comfort and lateral roll and really does contribute to making the Continental GT much more of a precise steer than you’d anticipate from what remains a big car (and it feels especially big after taking a wrong turn in a tiny Italian mountainside village and finding oneself hemmed in by ancient walls more used to witnessing the passage of equally-ancient Fiat Pandas). It feels grippy and flat through corners, and always with the ability to power out and on to the next curve, thanks to all 900Nm of torque being available from just 1350rpm with those new turbos constantly primed.
New for the third generation GT is also a Drive Dynamics Control system, offering a Sports, Comfort and programmable Individual series of settings for suspension, acceleration feel, gear-holding and engine character.
The car defaults to a “Bentley” setting that the company’s ride and handling engineers have designed to offer the optimum blend of everything. It works, too; although Sport was a go-to for certain sections of the media drive, on the big stretches where the GT could open its lungs and go for it, the Bentley setting offered an even match of throaty theatrics and wafty comfort.
That may sound contradictory but once again, those disparate attributes are everything you’d hope for from a Continental GT.