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A more serious grand touring machine
Since the start of the recent economic downturn, a number of prestige manufacturers have experienced dips in sales figures and Bentley Motors has not been immune. Nevertheless, the legendary British carmaker—ably supported by the VW conglomerate—remains unbowed.
They have just released the brand new Bentley Continental GT, their second significant new model introduction of 2010 after the flagship Bentley Mulsanne. When the last-generation Continental GT debuted in 2003, it proved surprisingly popular—not because the grand touring coupe wasn’t exceptional, but because it wasn’t cheap.
Offered at around AUD$375,000 (excluding dealer & delivery costs), the 2+2 proved immediately popular with a wide range of wealthy clientele with a highly commendable 23,000 examples sold worldwide.
Seven years between new models is a long time, but in this case the wait is understandable. The Continental GT is not only a modern icon, it’s also largely responsible for changing the image of the brand from stodgy to sporting. (A small percentage of the population knows that Bentley won Le Mans in 2003, a much larger percentage knows about Bentley because of its top seller.)
While there must have been some hesitation in the design of the new model, they can now rest assured—the 2011 Bentley Continental GT is more striking than ever. The iconic shape is essentially the same, as are most of the key dimensions.
But the front track is wider, the rear track is wider, the front grille is lower, the hood is lower and the back features more sharp angles. These changes, combined with the standard 20-inch wheels, have given the Bentley a more aggressive attitude overall.
The message behind these changes has carried over into the car’s performance, which has improved due to three key factors: more engine, less weight, more refinement.
While the twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 engine of the original model was powerful (406 kW; 649 Nm), the new version is even more so (423 kW; 700 Nm). This is by no stretch a gargantuan difference, but when paired with the car’s 65-kg weight savings, it slashes the run to 100 km/h by two tenths to an estimated 4.4 seconds and boosts top speed by three markers to 318 km/h.
A quick blast along the desert roads of Oman proved that the new Continental GT represents a marked improvement. Peak torque rolls in at a very low 1,700 rpm with no sign of turbo lag whatsoever. The revised 6-speed automatic transmission shifts gears in half the time, giving the Bentley a distinctly racier feeling compared to the original (although it’s still no dual-clutch speedster.)
The top speed claim could not be verified—at 210 km/h, a message on the instrument panel warned that the tires weren’t properly inflated for such speeds. It turns out that the technicians had prepared the coupe for comfortable touring not edge-of-your-seat drag racing.
Traveling at this velocity was otherwise illuminating, though: It revealed that this Continental is very much superior to the last one in terms of steering, handling and driver engagement. The steering, for one, is more precise and direct. The calibration of the all-wheel drive system and the various driver aids is more finely tuned and more sporting—there’s no sense that these systems are ready to toss out the “electronic anchor” at the slightest hint of sideways motion.
The all-wheel drive system now features a basic 40/60 torque split (front/rear), which has carried over from the outgoing, high-performance Continental Supersports model. This is a more sporty setting that helps ensure the dreaded understeer found on some AWD vehicles never enters the picture. Of course, the traction control system varies the torque distribution if it detects wheel slippage at the back. There’s no question that the entire process of cornering in the Continental GT is more enjoyable than before.
The adjustable suspension system is much improved as well; the comfort setting on the earlier version just felt wobbly, while the entire range of settings now feels more composed which, in turn, helps to make the Bentley feel more planted, even at elevated speeds.
As an everyday driver, the Continental GT is definitely more than a little intimidating: It’s big, it’s fast and it’s expensive. Once you get used to the car’s dimensions—finding the corners is not easy—and its performance, things begin to fall into place easily. And the car is an automatic, so you can leave the paddle shifters alone and let the car do all the work—simple.
There are a few criticisms to note about the car. The Continental GT is a true 2+2 coupe, meaning that the back seat is suitable only for small children. The new version has gained 4.6 cm of rear legroom due to the redesigned front seats, but the space is still best reserved for children.
The front seats were also made lighter, in part by moving the seat-belt mechanism to the car’s B-pillar. This move has meant that, depending on your height and the seat position, you may find the shoulder belt slipping below your shoulder, not exactly the most comforting scenario. The only solution is to make the catch point on the B-pillar adjustable for height…and it’s not.
If you happen to be traveling two-up and you find the proper seating position, though, the Bentley represents a very fine way to go. The seats are sporty and supportive. The oddly shaped instrument panel gauges have been replaced by more legible, common-sense round dials. Wood, metal and double-stitched leather covers every possible surface—and the level of craftsmanship is absolutely peerless.
All things considered, the Continental GT is a more mature, higher-performing and more engaging version of its predecessor. As you’d expect, this grand touring coupe also happens to be more expensive—pricing now starts at AUD$405,714.29. Australian deliveries are expected to commence in June 2011.