Muscular British luxury on a grand scale
The original press drive for the all-new, 2019 Bentley Continental GT was slated for November 2017, in Barcelona, Spain. In an unusual move, Bentley pushed back the launch of the replacement for its new big coupe by six months. Why? The car wasn’t good enough.
Bentley engineers wanted a home run, not a double. Rightly so, for even in these SUV-crazed times when the Bentayga is Bentley’s best-seller, the handsome new Continental GT is the heart, soul, and face of the storied brand. Historically speaking, the previous generation of the heavyweight grand tourer is the best-selling Bentley ever, with nearly 70,000 units sold. The new one had better rock.
Fast-forward to the middle of May and the fabulous Kitzbühel Country Club tucked into the Tyrolean Alps. With the Continental GT now properly sorted, Bentley gathered a gaggle of North American motoring scribes to take the sharply tailored brutes on something of a mini grand tour. Our route ascended up into the incomparable Grossglockner High Alpine Road, descended to an airfield in Lienz, dropped into Sauris, Italy, and finally headed back into Austria—where a waiting chartered jet would fly us to Munich, Germany. Beats breaking rocks.
The new Conti rides on the Volkswagen Group’s freshly minted MSB architecture, shared with the second-generation Porsche Panamera. The “S” in the middle stands for standard layout, as in a front-engine, rear-drive layout. Given VW’s origins, there’s some irony that a Volkswagen standard layout puts the engine in front. The cynics among you (i.e., my Instagram following) will be quick to point out that the new Bentley is really just a two-door Panamera. They should have called it the 928, right? Wrong.
Quite wrong, actually. You would have to be familiar with Porsche’s big sedan to notice any shared parts. Luckily for you, I recently had my hands on two Panameras. The wheel-mounted paddle shifters and the lever to adjust the steering wheel are the Continental’s two most noticeable carryovers from the Panamera. Bentley was keen to stress that it’s been involved with MSB since its inception, and the carmaker did a great job of differentiating the Continental from its corporate cousin.
Starting with what’s under the hood: The familiar 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 is now good for 626 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque. This is roughly the same engine that made its debut in the Bentayga, though in the Bentley SUV it makes only 600 ponies. The engine block is also modified for Continental GT duty. Because a driveshaft to power the front wheels has to travel through the block itself, Bentley had to trim down one of the main bearings. In Comfort and Bentley modes, up to 38 percent of the engine’s torque can be sent to the front wheels. In Sport mode, that amount drops to 17 percent. Even more important, the dash-to-axle measurement has grown by 5.3 inches. Not only does that massively help the aesthetics, but the engine also no longer lives fully in front of the wheels, Audi-style. Understeer, as we’ll get to, is greatly reduced.
Bolted to that big W-12 is an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, a first for Bentley. It’s a modified version of Porsche’s PDK, aka Porsche Doppelkupplung. We might as well call it BDK. Remember how the Conti was delayed for six months? BDK. I’ve long maintained that Porsche’s PDK is the best dual-clutch transmission, period. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Although a dual-clutch offers many performance benefits, it can bring drawbacks in day-to-day use. At low speeds, it’s difficult to start smoothly from a dead stop, something that a torque-converter automatic does perfectly. Bentley is an elite luxury brand, and you can’t have your 1 Percent customers lurching away from a stop sign. The Bentley boffins felt they had to absolutely nail the luxury aspect without losing the PDK’s sporty essence. Those things take time.
From the front, the new GT might be the best-looking Bentley of them all. I still have a soft spot for the prewar Le Mans champs, but exterior designer John Paul Gregory deserves tremendous praise. If space aliens came to Earth and were told to pick the best-looking Bentley snout, Gregory’s design would win, tentacles down. The front and front three-quarters views are gorgeous.
The new Conti rides on 22-inch wheels, and even with a 112.2-inch wheelbase (the same as a Lexus LX 570), the car does look a bit stumpy. It suffers from the same fate that afflicts the otherwise great-looking new Aston Martin Vantage: The wheels are huge for the car. To my eye, it looks donked. A few more inches in the wheelbase would help. Also, the fender vent/chrome stripe combo that flows down the door to the rear wheel looks like a golf club, similar to the hockey stick that seems to be glued to the BMW 7 Series’ flank. The 9-iron applique notwithstanding, I love the mammoth rear haunches. Bentley nailed that part. I’m not crazy about the rear of the Continental, though. I don’t like that the exhaust tips are the same oval shape as the taillights. It comes across as a cheap gimmick—beneath the stature of a car like this. Childish, even. Round pipes would look much more mature. Overall, however, the new Continental GT is better-looking than ever.
Like the exterior, the new Continental’s interior is a big, sexy step forward. There are no obvious shared Porsche bits, save for the angle of the center console, but you have to be a super geek (hi, Mom!) to notice. And what a nice place it is to be. Seven cows gave their hides for each interior, which is sewn together with nearly 2 miles (3.2 km) of thread and 310,675 stitches. Should you order a new Conti, be certain to opt for the Côtes de Genève finish for the center console. Inspired by Swiss timepieces, the patterned metal is lovely and hugely preferable to the standard piano black finish.
The MSB platform is packed with electronic goodies, and—depending on how you configure it—can have as many as 92 ECUs on board. There’s a large 12.3-inch touchscreen, which controls everything from ride height to seat massaging intensity. This is an enormous improvement over the outgoing Continental. To call the infotainment system on the past car “dated” is a kindness. In the new version, the screen rotates away at the touch a button, in true luxury fashion. The screen is part of a three-sided piece that can then display either solid wood veneers or three fully analog gauges. Those gauges are so handsome (particularly the rotating compass), they make you question Bentley’s decision to go with digital main gauges. Bells and whistles are nice, but real luxury is visual peace and quiet.
So how does it drive? In both Bentley and Comfort modes, the car is sure-footed and comfy. Perhaps a bit too soft in Comfort, but that’s why the default mode is Bentley. With the three-chamber air suspension set to Sport and the standard 48-volt anti-roll bars arresting almost all body movement, I attacked Austria’s adventurous Grossglockner pass. By “attacked,” I mean I passed every other Bentley in our group, plus every other car on the road, and arrived at the coffee stop so early that the Bentley PR team wasn’t ready for me or my co-driver, Automobile’s editor-in-chief, Mike Floyd. In fact—and you better believe I’m bragging—we were informed that we arrived earlier than any other car from any of the other launches that preceded ours. Booya! As I was gobbling up the competition, I began to experience a familiar feeling. Nine years ago, I drove a Bentley Continental Supersports on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway. Passing cars was such a nonevent that I remember comparing it to a cat batting around a dead mouse. That Bentley, like this Bentley, ate up the road and all the cars it came upon.
With so much power, torque, and tire, plus all-wheel drive, the broad-chested Bentley ought to be quick and possess supercar passing power. But it was the handling—not usually a Bentley brand value—that impressed me most. When it’s in Sport mode, the Porsche Panamera feels like a four-door Nissan GT-R. The Bentley, with its more languid shifts and extra weight, feels like a truly excellent, well, Bentley.
Much like the original Continental Supersports, the new GT claims a curb weight of 4,950 pounds (2,245 kg), about 175 pounds (79 kg) lighter than the car it replaces (though manufacturer claims are almost always lighter than reality). Of note, the Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo weighs 4,727 pounds (2,144 kg). How does the two-door Conti, with its all-aluminum body, weigh more than a station wagon built on the same chassis? Well, there’s that 12-cylinder engine. Plus, the weight of all that sound deadening and the leather, wood, and metal in the cabin adds up. Those are the ingredients that help make a Bentley look and feel like a Bentley. What do you know: The lightened 2010 Supersports made 621 hp and weighed 4,993 pounds (2,265 kg). That car also happened to be the best Bentley I’d ever driven. Until this one.
Understeer, especially in Sport, has been reduced compared to the previous standard Continental GT. Not eliminated, mind you, but the combination of less weight in front of the front axle, less power being sent to the front wheels, and a chassis designed from the start to be sporty, makes the big luxury ship into something of a performer. Would I take one to a track? No—and no owner would, either. That’s not the point of the car. The Continental GT—as our Bentley minders told us approximately 9,000 times over the span of a single day—is meant for grand touring. Not much harshes one’s mellow as thoroughly as being stuck behind slow-moving peasantry. Mega-machines like this Conti eliminate that first-world problem. The handling is authoritative, purposeful, satisfying. The car is much more strongman than parkour, and that’s by design. Does it stay perhaps too flat, thanks to the quick-acting 48-volt anti-roll bars? A bit so, though the trick itself is impressive and makes the car feel quite unique in corners.
Bentley quotes a 0–60 time of 3.6 seconds. As the Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo (550 hp, 567 lb-ft or torque) did the deed in 3.0 seconds, I predict that the Continental GT will improve on its stated time. Sure, it’s a bit heavier, and BDK doesn’t shift quite as ferociously as PDK, but power is power. I’ll guess 3.2 seconds. Bentley doesn’t provide quarter-mile times, but with the Porsche wagon covering that span in 11.3 seconds, the Conti should do it in about 11.5. Top speed is 207 mph (333 km/h), though good luck verifying that. The closest we saw was 150 mph (241 km/h) or so. I should call special attention to the brakes. They are huge steel things, 16.5 inches in front clamped by 10-piston calipers, 15.0 inches in back. They never showed a hint of fade, which was doubly nice because Bentley employs side-to-side torque vectoring via braking. I’m generally not a fan of this performance strategy because, unless your brakes are incredibly stout, it induces fade. Not so here.
Starting at about $220,000 USD when the car makes its way to North America. Bentley dealers next spring, the new Continental GT is not for the proletariat. What other cars might 1 Percenters consider? The Mercedes-AMG S 65 Coupe stacks up well on paper (12 cylinders, 620 hp, 738 lb-ft of torque) and costs even more. But the S 65 never feels like it actually makes the torque it’s supposed to, and the transmission has always been (and remains) a letdown. Plus, because it’s rear-drive-only, Northeasterners will have to rely on the déclassé S 63. Only eight cylinders? The horror! Then there’s the 624-hp, 605-lb-ft Rolls-Royce Wraith, but you’ll need 10 additional pictures of Salmon P. Chase to get one, at a $317,000 USD base price. The Wraith is also RWD and therefore no good for the snowbound. Nor is it as quick. Aston Martin just launched the 630-hp DB11 AMR with a top speed of 208 mph (335 km/h), besting the Bentley in both power and Vmax. However, in terms of quickness and all-weather capability, the Continental beats up its British rival.
Handsome, muscular, a pleasure to drive and also to lounge in, the redesigned Continental GT is a strong update of Bentley’s icon. Finding faults with the car beyond its price point is an exercise in nitpickery. The Bentley team has done its job. The GT has been a good to great luxury car since it made its debut 15 years ago, and it’s only gotten better. It even has USB ports now! The Continental GT isn’t just class leading; in most ways, it’s class defining.
I’ll leave you with one last observation. Bentley’s PR team spent some time bragging about the knurling on the GT’s metal bits such as temperature knobs, radio controls, and paddle shifters. Stuff you can see. Yes, it helps make a wonderful cabin all the more delightful. When Floyd was driving somewhere along the border between Austria and Italy, I slipped my fingers behind the metal door handle. Also knurled. You can’t see it, but luxury is about things you can touch. With this Bentley, you get what you pay for.
|2019 Bentley Continental GT|
|BASE PRICE||$220,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.0L/626-hp/664-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve W-12|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,950 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||190.0 x 76.9 x 55.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.6 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Spring 2019|