Just so we're all on the same page, let's quickly discuss the art form of the GT.
Grand touring, or as it should always be referred to, gran turismo, is the mastery of travelling great distance in speed, style, comfort and luxury, with at least four seats and room for a couple of overnight bags.
Luxury is the only real nebulous adjective used there, so in order to lift the haze, let me clarify things.
In regard to luxury within the cabin, I don't mean with night-vision cameras and an interior that has 50 options of customisable ambient lighting. I mean exotic materials, such as finely turned metal and wood, and a complete disregard for plastic or other faux, artificial materials.
Regarding luxury with the format, cars must be front-engine and rear-wheel drive to allow for a desirable amount of room in both the cabin and boot areas. They must also possess a gutsy engine, something big in torque, with a prominent yet not obnoxious soundtrack.
With regard to the ride being luxurious, do understand that they are not sports cars. They still do require some body control, however. On top of that, what's arguably more important is the ride quality and 'feeling'. The last thing you want is vagueness at night on a dark road, at pace, trying to make it to your chalet for a cheeky nightcap.
Bentley literally takes the gran turismo philosophy and follows it to a tee. It hasn't tried to reinvent the ideology or bring it up to date. None of that nonsense.
Just kick on with good old-fashioned GT motoring. Tally ho.
The car we're testing is actually the entry into the 2020 Bentley Continental GT range, which is the V8 model. Consider this your starting point for the wonderful world of Bentley GT cars. Cost of entry commences from $400,900, before delving into customisation options or the addition of on-road costs.
Our test car, discerningly specified into the realms of perfection, costs $496,208, again before on-road fees. Making up part of that $95,308 options bill are some important things.
Firstly, the wonderful hue that is Alpine Green. This particular colour debuted on the 1998 Bentley Arnage, and is offered on the 2020 Continental series as part of the "Bentley extended colour range". This is basically a list of cool colours that costs a lot to access. What's the damage? $11,969.
Other exterior options found on this car include a set of 21-inch black-painted wheels, with a contrasting bright machined finish. $11,668 worth there alone.
The last is the 'Continental Blackline' specification package. This takes the brightwork from the headlight surrounds, tail-lights, bumper inserts, grille and window surrounds, and does the obvious with them.
The total bill for playing dress-ups is $32,152. The price of a small hatchback, but that's the cost of vanity at this level. The $32K spend wasn't a complete waste. Take a look at how good this thing looks in this combination.
I do understand we're working with pretty good stock here, however. There are some things found with the Continental GT's styling that are hard to get anywhere else.
One thing that stands out is the pillarless design. No doubt a structural nightmare to deal with, given the deletion of the middle pillar required to pull it off. Worth the effort, nonetheless.
With all four windows dropped, you're left to peer through an unusually large gap, which in itself feels prestigious. The closer you dare to get, the more exotic it becomes.
From about two feet away, you begin to notice, and even smell, the large section of highly crafted 'Cumbrian Green' leather trim for the passenger compartment. Its sheer scale goes so far as to create a new element to the exterior, and introducing a new plane to its design.
The fact the car takes on a different look with the windows down is pretty sensational stuff.
Every other tiny detail on the outside follows this same vein of craft. The internals of the headlights are bevelled and cut with such precision as to shimmer like a fine piece of expensive jewellery would do. The detailing found on the brake callipers is also overly ornate and feeling rather olde-worlde.
Once you're done soaking up the exterior, you'll need a brief moment to do the same for the inside. This time, however, it's olde-worlde meets Silicon Valley.
Our test car was equipped with the Bentley rotating display. This is a must if you feel you're lacking some James Bond sophistication after choosing a Bentley over an Aston. For $12,505, Bentley will install a three-sided rotating centre dash piece with 40 moving parts, tolerances of just half a millimetre all round, and its own computer just to run the show.
The deftness of the movement is incredible. Once activated, the screen falls into the recess, rotates, then pushes itself back forward to square up with the dash. It does this while not clashing with those tiny gaps found on either side. I reckon you couldn't fit a credit card between the sides of the screen during the whole motion.
Again, precision is the name of the game here. Between that party piece, the 10 square metres of wood veneer skimmed from the same log, the artfully knurled metal switchgear, and acres of leather, there isn't much to bring down the fanfare from this cabin. It's also in a different world compared to something like an Aston Martin.
To those trainspotters imminent to whinge about the roof-mounted microphone being the same as found on Volkswagen and Audi products, and the side-mirror adjuster also being of the same ilk, take a hike. If you're concerned about such trivial details, then you're missing the point.
In saying that, I will raise a genuine concern about the claimed "sustainably sourced" dark-stained Burr Walnut trim in our car, and also its general lack of safety tech.
It's said to be 80 years of age yet "sustainably sourced". In the same breath, Bentley also mentions that its wood technicians scour and view "around 25,000 square metres of veneer during selection". Bear in mind, one car uses just 10 square metres.
I'm sure this isn't some odd English attempt at satire. So, based on that, I do not feel as if someone could procure a few thousand square metres' worth of 80-year-old wood, decide which one is best, and proceed to process it for a car, all in a manner that's 'sustainable'.
I'm not against the tradition. I enjoyed hanging out with trees that are three times my age. Just call a spade, a spade, though. Don't pretend it's ethically okay because of a few technicalities.
In order to get yourself low-speed AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and the like, you'll need to fork out $27,026 for the 'city' and 'touring' option packs. I understand most examples will be built per order, but instead make these options no cost. Don't slug someone near-on $30K for deciding to have some safety systems after already tipping on $400K or more.
With all that covered, we should dedicate some time to the basics. It's easy to get carried away with novelties with a car like this.
The seating position up front is low but feels right. Visibility ahead and to the sides is actually solid, given there's no large pillar in the middle obstructing your vision. Despite the bonnet looking like it is four metres long, the short overhangs actually result in it being easy to parallel park, as I found out.
As this is a 2+2, one must reside in the back at least once. Entry into the second row via the electrically sliding front seat is actually quite cumbersome, as the gap to climb through reveals itself to be rather small.
Once you're in, you instantly fall into a pew with a squab that's deeply concave and a seat-back that's significantly raked. You have to pull yourself out of it, if that gives you some impression of what it feels like to sit there.
Not that you'd want to exit anytime soon, though. It's comfy, there's plentiful glass to peer out from, head room is good, as is leg room, too. There's even a pair of USB charge ports to keep your device charged as you spam social media from the back of a Bentley, as you do.
As for what's more rearward from here, there's 358L of cargo space, which is enough for a pair of suitcases and a couple of trinkets, no doubt. If you fancy a touch of skiing, between the rear seats is a fold-out flap that enables longer goods to flow through into the cabin.
Once you're done exploring, then configuring your ideal exterior and interior combo, you're left with a final conundrum. Which power plant should grace your Bentley Continental GT?
I'd have a genuinely hard time picking between the twin-turbo V8 and the W12 engines. The W12 is a special motor, with a complex cylinder arrangement that isn't currently found elsewhere, but it lacks the motorsport pedigree of the V8.
Interestingly, the Bentley Continental GT doubles as the brand's racing car of choice. They compete in the GT3 class, and have had some recent success here in Australia, recently taking out the Bathurst 12-hour endurance race.
Aside from Bentleys making the coolest race cars ever, the GT3 employs a dry-sumped, hopped-up version of the 4.0-litre V8 as found in our test car. The noise they both make is awfully similar, as is the power produced, too. The race car makes "in excess" of 550bhp, according to Bentley.
To be precise, the road car makes 542bhp, or 404kW, and a strong 770Nm of torque between 2000 and 4000rpm. That latter RPM figure is important. In a classic Bentley fashion, this V8 retains the ability to give you a brutal flat line of torque curve in its midrange.
Get up and go from any speed, in any one of the dual-clutch transmission's eight forward ratios, is sensational. You could describe it as wafty, although not quiet. It emits a deep gurgling tune from its twin rear pipes.
Lifting off the throttle into overrun results in some burbles and chatter, but it isn't cheap-sounding or obnoxious. More a dignified, pleasurable soundtrack to what is an equally pleasurable car to drive.
The sporting credentials of the V8 go a long way to buying some kudos with me. It feels strange to be talking about penny-pinching with a car like this, but by the time you get both versions on the road, you're looking at a $30,000 saving by opting for the V8 model. That buys you a few nice things from the options list, if that'll help to twist your arm.
Choose what you may, and agnostic of such formalities is the way in which the Continental GT covers ground.
The way this car rides is pretty incredible. Bentley has stuck its new three-chamber-design air suspension units under each corner. Chock-full of ability, they have no issue in smoothing out road surfaces to a degree that's nothing short of exquisite. There remains some firmness, especially more so as you dial the wick up via the vehicle management systems, but it all remains tolerable.
Plus, you really do need some feedback in order to push around its 2165kg kerb mass via the performance that's onboard. Having a car like this ride akin to a Rolls-Royce is probably dangerous.
What feedback it does give is enough. Enough so as to not interrupt or burden the experience, yet remain communicative.
So, the ultimate GT car checklist?
- Demonstrates undeniable style? Tick.
- Offers an interior experience unlike many others? Tick.
- Delivers a contemporary amount of speed and performance? Tick.
- Room for 2+2 and a few bags? Tick.
- Overall, is luxurious in its demeanour? A large, big tick, with a red felt tip for good measure.
You can look at an Aston Martin DB11 for $382,495 before on-roads, or maybe a Lamborghini Urus at $391,968 also before on-roads. Neither one of those offers the true sense of luxury that a Bentley does, nor follows the GT car playbook in its entirety, either.
Park all that pseudoscience. There are only a few that are truly faithful to the proven gran turismo discipline, and only one that can be top of the pile. That would be the Bentley Continental GT.