UK Drive: The Bentley Continental GT is a sumptuous cruiser with punchy performance
What is it?
The Bentley Continental GT is a huge car – and not just in its proportions. It’s also one of the best-selling and most highly sought-after luxury cars in the market, and if it wasn’t for the model’s success, the British firm might not even be here today. Its importance can’t be underplayed.
Back in 2003 the original Continental was released, five years into Volkswagen’s ownership of Bentley. It brought sleek styling, a luxury cabin and became the ultimate waft-mobile. In 2019, the big coupe is well into its second generation, offering a couple of engine options – we’ve got the high-performance W12 model, with the kind of Top Trumps stats to make a supercar run and hide and an eye-watering £159,000 base price.
When this model replaced the original Continental, the changes were extensive – at launch, Bentley claimed the car 100 per cent new. The exterior is the most obvious update, sporting a familiar silhouette but with all-new details, while the engine is an overhauled version of the existing W12 unit.
The body work’s construction is also new, making it 80kg lighter than its predecessor, while the interior has been modernised with digital displays. There’s been further attention to the kind of details luxury brand customers want to see, such as improvements to the 15 different colours available on the GT’s upholstery and a new, intricate exhaust sleeve that reduces temperatures.
What’s under the bonnet?
Bentley has enhanced its existing 6.0-litre, turbocharged W12 engine and fitted it to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to provide suitably snappy gear shifts. Performance figures are naturally impressive – 626bhp and 900Nm of torque contribute to a 3.5-second 0-60mph time and a top speed of 207mph.
The firm says a combination of high- and low-pressure fuel injection improves refinement and lowers emissions, and a new dual-mass flywheel smooths out the power delivery.
The result is a glorious engine that manages to combine the ferocity you’d expect from such figures under acceleration with a fuss-free, calm and cosseting ambience. The exhaust note is aggressive but refined, like an expensive whiskey that you know is going straight to your head but glides down your throat like honey.
What’s it like to drive?
The first thing that hits you is how remarkably serene the driving experience is. It’s easy to forget there’s a whopping great W12 engine with supercar-scaring performance sat under that long, swooping bonnet.
Squeeze the throttle to get up to motorway speeds and you’re greeted by nothing more than a hum, before settling into a floaty cruise accompanied by hushed background noise that’s barely noticeable even with the radio off. Plant the throttle pedal into the plush carpet in comfort mode and you’re greeted by a great surge of acceleration as the GT effortlessly builds speed.
The ride is exquisite thanks to the new air suspension, ironing out imperfections in the road like they’re not there – if everyone drove Bentley Continental GTs, Highways England wouldn’t have to spend so much money fixing potholes.
Switch to ‘sport’ mode, though, and everything changes. Throttle response becomes immediate and suddenly that surge of acceleration becomes more violent – instead of riding a wave of torque you’re being barged into the back of the plush leather seat. The hum from the engine becomes noticeably more urgent and aggressive too, and the stiffened suspension does a great job of keeping the body in check on a winding road.
A nimble supercar would leave the Continental for dead in the corners, but this wafty GT would keep itself closer than it has any logical right to.
How does it look?
If you’re dropping a six-figure sum on a luxury car you want something with presence, and that’s exactly what the Continental has. It manages to marry aggression and elegance in a way that perfectly characterises its combination of serenity and crushing pace.
There are swooping lines across the top of the cabin that fall into the long bonnet, which features sharp creases to add definition as the front gently droops forward into the grille – that long bonnet makes it clear there’s a big, powerful engine hidden within. The large circular headlights feature exquisite details within the glass, while the sharp fins in the lower grille evoke a sportier image. The flared arches, too, make it clear this is a muscular car hiding stunning performance, yet the overall aura is one of purposeful luxury.
What’s it like inside?
As you’d expect from a Bentley, the interior is of the highest quality. The materials used throughout are some of the best you’ll find in the car industry, and the technology that’s included is suitably impressive.
The leather upholstery is as soft as any you’ll find, making long journeys a breeze – you might actually feel more refreshed than when you got in. This leather is used on most surfaces, so there are no unappealing plastics hidden just out of sight – it’s this attention to detail that makes the Bentley feel a step above the rest.
Meanwhile, the central touchscreen integrates perfectly into the traditional hand-crafted materials, making the Continental feel as traditional as you’d hope but as bang-up-to-date as you require.
However, one potential niggle comes from the use of generic Volkswagen Group parts in places. It’s most noticeable on the steering wheel controls, which are incredibly similar to what you’ll find on something like a Golf or Passat, as is the cruise control stick. Anyone buying a Continental who has one of these models for daily duties will certainly notice.
What’s the spec like?
As is so often the case in the luxury car market, despite the astronomical base price, it’s possible to tick option boxes that take the prices sky high. For example, the Continental GT starts at £159,000, but our test car was specified up to £207,000.
The priciest option was the Mulliner driving specification package at £8,095, which added 21-inch alloy wheels, quilting for the seat upholstery, sports pedals, and embroidered Bentley emblems, to name a few. Then there’s the £6,500 Naim premium audio system, £4,700 rotating display in the dash, and £4,500 for a special paint job.
For those who want the latest safety technology, our car also came with two packages totaling around £10,000, which included night vision, adaptive cruise control, a top-view camera and a head-up display, among others.
There’s no two ways about it – the Bentley Continental GT is a magnificent piece of engineering. From the moment you drop into the cosseting leather seats and find yourself cruising along in serene comfort, it’s clear that few cars would be better-suited to chewing up miles.
What’s more, it can pair this with the kind of pace that can make grown adults giggle like children, making it arguably the ultimate all-rounder.