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Super-GT packs Bentley-grade lavishness in a sportier than ever, all-new package

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Is it fair to define the Bentley Continental GT as a modern-day icon?

On the basis that rivals chiefly built in Maranello and Gaydon have persistently kept it from the top rung of Autocar’s road test rankings for super-GT cars, you could convincingly argue that it is not.

New GT keeps the broad chrome band that runs the length of the body and wraps around the rear bumper. Expect more hardcore derivatives to ditch brightwork for stealthy black instead.

Then again, few other machines at the pricier end of the spectrum have had such an overwhelmingly positive impact on their maker’s fortunes, and certainly not when that maker possesses the history, cachet and general pomp of Crewe’s famous automotive export.

Bentley was acquired by Volkswagen AG in 1998 but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Continental GT appeared with a 6.0-litre W12 engine at the head of a sumptuously appointed four-wheel-drive chassis. In the 15 years since, the car’s blend of opulence, performance and character has remained all but unrivalled, with the result that more than 65,000 have been sold worldwide.

For an idea of how sensational a figure that is, consider that last year only 186 examples of the super-luxury Bentley Mulsanne saloon were sold in Europe.

In replacing the mainstay of its range, it would seem that Bentley has sensibly erred on the side of caution. The cab-rearward stance remains, as does the basic layout, but they belie the fact that this car will transform what the marque offers its customers.

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There is substantial potential for some degree of autonomous driving, for instance, and a plug-in hybrid powertrain will at some point find a home in this Continental GT.

However, for us – and, we suspect, you – the appeal of this new model is far simpler to isolate.

If a flat-footed chassis shared with the ill-fated Volkswgaen Phaeton saloon hamstrung the old Continental GT, it is the fact that this fresh generation uses a platform common to only its VW Group sibling Porsche that gives us greatest hope.

Indeed, interiors to match Rolls-Royce’s and performance to worry Ferrari are almost to be expected of this car, but it’s the prospect of a truly engaging drive that has the potential to transform the Continental GT into a world-beater.



Bentley Continental GT 2018 Autocar road test review hero rear

Bentley spokespeople are quick to correct you if you ask exactly what the Porsche-developed MSB platform has allowed the company to do differently with this new Bentley Continental GT.

That’s because the MSB was a group-wide project with which key Bentley people were involved at the earliest stages, so it’s probably no fairer to say that the Continental is built on Porsche underpinnings than the Porsche Panamera is made on Bentley ones.

Tail-lights are significantly different from before and, as chromed-ringed ellipses, they echo the shape of the exhaust tips sitting directly below them.

Semantics aside, the new platform has allowed the two-door GT to grow slightly in every dimension but most notably between the axles, where more than 100mm has been added to the wheelbase.

The car’s monocoque is built from a mix of aluminium and high-strength steel and is dressed in superformed aluminium bodywork, except for at the rear, where a composite plastic bootlid features.

Under the bonnet, you’ll find Bentley’s familiar 6.0-litre W12 engine, recently re-engineered with new cylinder heads to allow both direct and indirect fuel injection and cylinder-shutdown variable-displacement running. It provides 626bhp and 664lb ft – a 44bhp improvement on the car’s direct predecessor and quite a lot more torque than even the outgoing GT Speed produced.

But critically, the new platform and transmission allow that engine to be carried 135mm further aft than it used to be relative to the front axle line. By Bentley’s own figures, fore-aft weight distribution improves from 58/42 to 55/45. We measured it at 54/46.

Downstream of the engine there is wholesale change too. Out goes the old GT’s torque-converter gearbox and Torsen-centre-differential-based driveline and in comes an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox with a dual-mass flywheel and a drive system that sends torque primarily to the rear axle but can divert just under half of it to the front axle when necessary.

Suspension is via the same three-chamber air suspension the Panamera uses, and Bentley’s chassis engineers claim it gives the car a ride and handling configurability that can be Mercedes S-Class-like at one moment and Porsche 911-like the next. Bentley’s 48V active anti-roll bars also feature.

The overall weight saving for the car? By Bentley’s figures, it’s 80kg. Not much in light of all that change, perhaps, because there’s quite a lot of new technology that has gone into the cabin; but it speaks volumes about what Bentley thinks its customers really want in their cars.

We weighed the car at 2295kg overall – still almost 400kg more than the Aston Martin DB11 V12 we weighed in 2016. So can any GT coupé with sporting ambitions afford that kind of penalty?


Bentley Continental GT 2018 Autocar road test review front seats

This is where the Bentley Continental GT’s identity as a luxury product, distinct even from many of its closest rivals, is forged. Bentley’s cockpit is a sensory treat of various layers and courses.

The mood it plays to is one of classic wood-panelled, chrome-trimmed, deep-piled, leather-bound opulence, so if you prefer avant-garde design to the look and feel of a vintage drawing room, it may not be for you.

The small, embroidered diamonds on each seat? Bentley says 712 stitches go into making each shape. We haven’t counted them, so we’ll have to take Bentley’s word.

Just don’t underestimate the car’s ability to wear away the reservations of even the staunchest progressive, with its sheer sumptuousness and appealing material authenticity.

A fully digital and configurable instrument panel replaces the last car’s analogue clocks ahead of the driver and it operates very much like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit set-up.

You can make it display analogue dials at full scale with centrally inset infotainment information, navigation mapping or live video feed from the infrared night-vision camera, or you can have that inset secondary display at larger scale in place of the car’s rev counter and water temperature gauge.

Press the ignition switch and the veneer in the middle of the dashboard rotates to reveal a 12.3in, retina-quality MMI display with impressive graphical sophistication and good usability. It is, the maker says, the largest touchscreen yet fitted to a Bentley.

From here, drivers can access sat-nav, DAB radio, vehicle settings and smartphone connectivity services. It’s an elegant system to behold, with crisp, clear graphics, and the switch between menus is made in a fluid, responsive manner.

If you prefer to travel without the distraction of a modern luxury car’s on-board technology, though, you can rotate the infotainment screen out of sight entirely and replace it with a panel of analogue instruments.

Our test car also had the range-topping Naim for Bentley premium audio system. At £6500, it’s a pricey option but, given its rich, sonorous sound quality, it’s certainly worth considering.

Making you comfortable ought to be high on any Bentley’s list of priorities and the Continental does that supremely well.

The 20-way bullhide leather front seats (heated and cooled, with massagers) are set slightly higher than the norm for a sporting coupé but are that way, you suspect, by design, giving you good all-round visibility – and they’re sufficiently cushioned and cosseting that you can spend hours in them without noticing the time pass.

Rear space remains tight for larger adults but fine for teenagers and kids in child seats – which is what you expect of a 2+2 – and boot space is big enough for a couple of large cases and a couple of smaller holdalls.

But it’s the richness of Bentley’s materials that really set the Continental apart: those polished metal interior trims and gorgeous wood veneers. The ‘diamond-knurled’ finish on the switchgear is a particular tactile highlight.


Bentley Continental GT 2018 Autocar road test review engine

Cars in this class put the ‘super’ in super-GT in various and interesting ways, and the Continental GT has relied principally on refined, longstriding luxury to do that thus far.

But when you feel the new car’s turn of speed – and hear the new-found edge to the bark of its W12 engine – you’ll begin to understand that change is afoot in how this car defines itself.

The manner in which this 2.3-tonne behemoth takes off will never cease to amaze me. There’s a huge amount of traction off the line, and that initial surge of acceleration is mighty.

No longer, you suspect, is Bentley willing to play second fiddle to Aston Martin, Mercedes-AMG or any other maker of big GT coupés in any comparison of bald acceleration.

And, for the time being, it needn’t.

On a slightly moist track, driving from all four corners and perfectly governed by its launch control system, the Continental GT needed just 3.6sec to hit 60mph from rest and less than 3sec to go from 30mph to 70mph through the gears.

It was quicker in both respects than the Aston Martin DB11 V12 we benchmarked in 2016, quicker than the Continental GT3-R tested the year before and within a tenth or two of the last Porsche 911 GT3 RS we figured, a car that’s 749kg lighter than the Bentley as tested.

The car’s acceleration never feels violent or savage, though, and remains more impressive for the kind of huge and assured mid-range torque that makes 2.3 tonnes of bulk seem inconsequential under power.

Even so, this accelerator pedal is one you squeeze rather than snap open, partly to avoid unleashing greater force from that engine than you really need, but also because there’s still a softness to the powertrain’s pedal response that rewards smooth input.

At high range, the engine revs more freely than it used to but still has a hint of laziness about its delivery above 4500rpm, the transmission upshifting automatically at 6200rpm even in manual mode. Be smooth, though, and the powerplant gives you supreme smoothness back, which is entirely the point.

The double-glazed Bentley Continental GT has first-rate cabin sealing (registering at a 50mph cruise 6dB less cabin noise than that of a DB11 V12) and a transmission so suave that you won’t miss the car’s old torque-converter ‘slushmatic’.

All up, this powertrain has a broader spread of abilities than any W12 Continental GT before it and typically long, fine cruising legs, but it’s still not as likely to hit exciting high notes as some of its rivals.


Bentley Continental GT 2018 Autocar road test review cornering right

The car devours millpond-flat dual-carriageway in Comfort mode, but with the gentle and cushioned ride to which Bentley regulars will be well used.

It can devour B-roads in the same mode and fashion, and without ever coming close to running out of body control, but it doesn’t feel much more meaningfully athletic or ‘sporting’ than its predecessor thusly configured.

The four-wheel-drive system enables remarkable traction and stability, although understeer dominates the limit handling through most corners.

The Bentley Continental GT also has a ‘Bentley’ driving mode. There is certainly a step up for the car, evidenced in terms of handling agility and body control. It’s the mode the car defaults to, and it’s the one most testers said they’d use for most journeys – with one or two preferring an à la carte Custom setting, mixing in either the softer suspension settings of Comfort or its weightier Sport steering settings, or both.

The greatest success of the adaptive suspension and active roll control systems is to so cleverly juggle and cradle the Continental GT’s body, and to put its various contact patches to work, that you’re hardly aware of the car’s mass, until you begin to approach the limit of grip at least.

There’s just enough heft in the controls and enough momentary pause about its initial steering response to make you aware that you’re driving a big car; a bigger– feeling one, certainly, than most GT coupés. But, on the road at least, the car’s grip level is high, its poise plain and its stability unflappable.

On the track, once you can approach the limit of adhesion, the car’s dynamic limitations become clearer; as does the fact that, technically upheaved or otherwise, the GT still doesn’t quite have the outright handling balance of a Aston Martin DB11 V12.

Despite weighing nearly 400kg more than the Aston Martin, the car is less than 2sec slower around the dry handling circuit but more than 5sec faster around the shorter wet track.

In slippery conditions, the car finds huge traction and grip and is balanced and composed. In the dry, though, with greater speed and lateral forces, that poise begins to fade and the car understeers – albeit predictably and manageably – at cornering speeds at which rivals probably wouldn’t. The car’s handling adjustability is clear, though.

In second- and third-gear corners, the drivetrain allows you to neutralise the car’s attitude with power or to develop a slide instigated on a trailing throttle. And you couldn’t do either with the last GT.

Back on the road, and in its firmer driving modes and admittedly only over sharper lumps and bumps, there’s just a hint of abruptness to the secondary ride. You could tune that out by reverting to Comfort mode, of course.

But it just goes to show that, where the ride and handling refinements of 2.3-tonne, 207mph Bentleys are concerned, even platform technology engineered with Porsche’s help doesn’t get you a free lunch.


Bentley Continental GT 2018 Autocar road test review Hero front

With a base price of £159,100, the Bentley Continental GT is £1200 more expensive than the Aston Martin DB11, whereas a standard Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupé will set you back a staggering £186,900.

Of course, in the world of super-GTs, those entry-level prices – if you can really call them that – are to be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, the sky really is the limit as far as personalisation is concerned.

GT values are strong enough to make one worth more than a Rolls-Royce Wraith after four years of ownership.

The car you see here has £49,905 worth of options, including a £6500 Naim audio system, a £4500 coat of Sequin Blue paint and the £34,800 First Edition specification, which adds a rotating display on the dashboard, mood lighting and the Mulliner Driving specification, which includes 22in wheels (although these weren’t fitted during testing), jewel-finish oil and fuel filler caps, walnut veneers and more besides.

As for depreciation, the Bentley is predicted to retain 56% of its value after 36 months, next to 52% for the Aston Martin and 37% for the Mercedes. It also outdoes the Rolls-Royce Wraith, which is forecast to retain 46%.


Bentley Continental GT 2018 Autocar road test review side profile

The sporting realignment of the Bentley Continental GT has got off to a fine start with this new 12-cylinder, launch-edition coupé.

It retains all of the tactile material lavishness, top-level luxury and first-order touring refinement we’ve come to expect from its maker, but it probably halves the gap that existed between its predecessor and the best-handling cars in the super-GT niche on driver appeal.

This superb luxury GT has added dynamism over its predecessor, but not enough to top the class.

The car’s towering real-world performance and all-surface stability will be big draws for customers who use their cars on a daily basis, but they come partnered with much better body control and cornering poise than existing GT owners will be used to.

But for one or two details, it’s hard to imagine how Crewe could have better delivered on this car’s dynamic brief. Granted, a couple of rival super-GTs nail that compromise of handling agility and involvement and touring comfort ever so slightly better.

Given the weight of opulent luxury it has to bear, though, the Continental GT has just come a remarkably long way as a driver’s car. We’ll be watching how much further it may yet come with interest.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Bentley Continental GT First drives