There are few cars quite like the Bentley Continental that accurately capture the character of its parent company. Though the British marque has been under the wing of parent company Volkswagen Group for two decades now, its latest grand tourer blends Bentley’s fine craftsmanship and attention to detail with the German brand’s best technology.
Vehicle Style: Grand touring coupe
Price: $422,600 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 467kW/900Nm 6.0-litre 12cyl twin-turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 12.2 l/100km
Based on a new platform shared with the four-door Porsche Panamera, the Conti cuts a striking figure helped by reworked proportions resulting in a longer wheelbase, shorter front overhang, a longer rear end and bigger wheels.
Trademark touches have a modern edge – each wide-eyed main headlamp hosts 82 LEDs in a complex matrix with crystalline, diamond-like internal surfaces. While the original Continental was shaped by men with hammers, powerful rear haunches on the new machine are formed by superheating aluminium sheet, sculpting it with pressurised air and trimming the results with high-power lasers.
Rolling on 21-inch wheels and adjustable air suspension as standard, the big unit can be finished in 17 regular colours joined by an “extended paint range” and “full bespoke colour matching” inviting customers to have the car finished in any colour they imagine.
“Standard” isn’t a particularly useful word in the world of Bentley, which expects no two Continentals to be identical.
The official asking price in Australia is $422,600 plus options and on-road costs, which serves as a starting point to the single-car range. Our test example was fitted with €42,970 in options – an eye-watering $90,000 if you factor in luxury car tax – including a “Mulliner driving specification” with forged alloy wheels, new diamond-in-diamond leather interior quilting, embroidered Bentley emblems and more.
Our car also ticked “city” and “touring” boxes, bringing driver aids such as adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assistance, active lane keeping assistance and autonomous emergency braking, 360-degree camera and night vision systems, along with other extras including the new Bentley Rotating Display.
Inside the Continental’s cabin is a feeling of complete theatre. The dashboard appears elegant and traditional when you take a seat for the first time, framed by beautifully finished wood veneers bisected by a thin chromed strip. Prod the starter button and the central element rotates to reveal a high-resolution 12.3-inch touchscreen loaded up with Apple CarPlay, Google Maps and other handy features, before a poke of the Bentley’s “screen” button has the display tumble out of sight in favour of three analogue dials.
Bentley says it took two years to perfect a prism which features 40 moving parts tuned to tolerances little thicker than a human hair.
Exquisite attention to detail is evident everywhere you look.
A new treatment for aluminium trim presents as fine-patterned engraving inspired by Swiss watch surfaces, a treat for the eyes and fingertips inviting you to reach out and touch textured chrome throughout the interior.
Everything is real here – surfaces that appear to be leather, metal or wood are the genuine article – and there are near-limitless options for customisation.
Want to order a Wallabies tribute with golden leather, green piping and Australian eucalyptus dark wood trim? Go your hardest.
Light colours help brighten the mood inside a brooding coupe with narrow glass apertures dictated by the design department. Insiders say customers asked for a glass roof which the brand has not been able to deliver as yet. But owners are unlikely to feel let down by the Conti’s cockpit, which blends state-of-the-art tech with British craftsmanship in a magnificent fashion.
Plush front seats are available with 20-way adjustment along with heating, cooling and a massage function which makes them incredibly comfortable during long days in the saddle. Stereo systems include a standard 10-speaker, 650 Watt system, a mid-range Bang & Olufsen setup with 1600 Watts driving 16 speakers, and a range-topping Naim combination with 18 speakers and 2200 Watts of power.
There’s nothing so vulgar as carbon fibre in here, and the brand insists all wood trims are sourced from sustainable farms.
But that environmental focus doesn’t quite extend to leather-free interiors necessary to attract cashed-up vegan clientele common in Hollywood, as Bentley must use up to nine hides to trim the Conti’s cabin.
ON THE ROAD
For now, the only engine available is a twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 unit somewhat like a pair of turbocharged V6 units sharing a common crankshaft.
Thoroughly reworked for Bentley’s third take on the modern Continental, the engine is 30 kilos lighter than its predecessor despite the introduction of direct fuel injection and twin-scroll turbos.
Cylinder deactivation and stop-start systems help keep fuel use to a claimed 12.2L/100km of premium unleaded stretching well beyond 20L/100km when unleashed.
It’s hard to resist the Continental’s awesome 467kW and 900Nm outputs – particularly as the latter arrives at just 1350rpm. There’s a surging, relentless nature to the machine’s straight-line performance helped by a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission shared with Porsche. Comfortable around town and sharp when pressing on, the engine and transmission combination is good for a 3.7 second sprint to 100km/h and a top speed of 333km/h.
Though European autobahns were not quite the right avenue for testing the latter claim, we can suggest the Bentley offers serious punch at speeds which would prove problematic on Australian highways.
Double-glazed glass keeps wind noise to a scant minimum even as the coupe approaches escape velocity, and emergency fuel stops are required if you tap into its continent-crushing pace for too long.
Back in the real world, the new auto is a gem, as is Bentley’s new all-wheel-drive system which sends the majority of its torque to the rear wheels, transferring up to 17 per cent or 38 per cent of available torque to the front axle depending on whether you are using sport or regular driving modes.
Exclusive to Bentley, the enormous 12-cylinder motor serves up a rich soundscape including turbo effects to rival an asthmatic Darth Vader, a booming and percussive rumble on the over-run, and a smoothly soaring crescendo similar to a well-sorted six. The decision to run with Porsche’s PDK transmission was masterful, as was the addition of Audi’s high-tech electronically controlled anti-roll bars first used to keep the high-riding SQ7 performance SUV in check.
A choice of three drive modes – Comfort, Sport and Bentley, the latter a Goldilocks setting determined by its own engineers – tunes the chassis and drivetrain behaviour to suit your mood. Reworked air suspension lends a greater breadth of ability than before, both firmer and more compliant than its predecessor at either end of the handling spectrum.
Those clever anti-roll bars offer surprising poise, holding the 2.2 tonne coupe flat through the bends when you expect it to list like a yacht in a storm. Feeling smaller than it has any right to, the Continental proved impressively precise on Austria’s Grossglockner Pass by carrying plenty of speed in slippery conditions.
Whopping 420mm front disc brakes are tuned for comfort, perhaps lacking the initial bite you might find in a rival Aston Martin or Porsche. But that makes them easier to modulate around town, and there is still plenty of stopping power in reserve when you need it.
Trust the grip offered by 305mm-wide rear Pirellis and you’ll be rewarded with scorching cross-country pace. Pop it in comfort mode and spoilt passengers will have no idea what the car is ultimately capable of.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
This car could have easily missed the mark, arriving as a Teutonic tribute to a storied brand choking on techno overload. Yes, the widescreen digital dash is a little too similar to what you might find in a new Golf, the leather-heavy cabin and huge engine aren’t exactly environmentally conscious and more of the good stuff should be standard.
But there’s warmth to the Bentley you won’t find in a modern Audi or Porsche, a human touch made possible by the sheer craftsmanship and passion woven through every element of the car.
Bentley is right to say the new Continental GT is the best of its kind. Because this is the only one of its kind.
- Interested in buying Bentley Continental GT? Visit our Bentley showroom for more information.