When presented with the chance to drive the new Bentley Continental GT, I calmly accepted and pencilled some dates into the diary. Inside, however, I was fist-pumping the air with excitement; for Bentley is a brand I truly admire, and have done so for many years.
Bentley Motors has actually been owned by the Volkswagen Group since 1998, but you’d never know. To the credit of the German owners, there remains an overwhelming sense of Britishness about the brand. And there should be too, with the majority of cars hand-assembled at the company’s factory in Crewe.
“There is not a squeak or rattle to be heard, which is remarkable for a hand-assembled car”
Bentley Motors limited was founded by W. O. Bentley in 1919. He wanted cars that were the final word in luxury, but with equally impressive performance. Which is why Bentley won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times between 1924 and 1930; an incredible feat considering the age of the company at that time.
At the time of writing we’re still in 2019 (just) and it’s been a very special year for Bentley: the company’s centenary. Every car built in 2019 has special centenary features, including special treadplates and special ‘Centenary Gold’ badges.
So on to the car I find myself behind the wheel of: a Continental GT. For me this car epitomises the Bentley pedigree; a perfect blend of luxury and speed. And this isn’t the ‘poxy’ 4.0-litre V8 either; I’ve got the 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 under the bonnet.
‘W’ may be an unusual engine formation – think of it at two 3.0-litre V6s joined together – but it’s perfect in this car. It’s a blissfully smooth engine; to the point that you barely know its running half the time. And yet it’s also a ballistic missile: with 635PS and a truly colossal 900Nm of torque. That’s enough to launch this car – which weighs 2,244kg incidentally – from 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 207mph.
A very clever four-wheel drive system puts the power down. It provides extra grip when the weather is against you, sending up to 38% of torque to the front axle. In ‘Sport’ mode, a maximum of 17% of torque is sent to the front axle, meaning the car feels rear-wheel drive; perfect for those looking for that ‘authentic’ sports car feel. Sport mode also opens up valves in the exhausts to create a more playful soundtrack, complete with raucous rasps and bassy burbles.
There are also ‘Comfort’ and ‘Bentley’ drive modes, and it’s the latter which I found myself in most of the time. It was the perfect compromise between a supple, forgiving ride and a willingness to fire you toward the horizon at short notice. Gear changes on the 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox are smooth in Bentley mode, yet it’s also not afraid to drop a cog or two to aid acceleration. Rich sporting pedigree aside, there is no escape from engine emission regulations. In addition to the usual start/stop technology the Continental GT features cylinder deactivation; which shuts down six cylinders under light engine load. Combined fuel consumption is 20.8mpg on the combined cycle, but this can be beaten on a long, leisurely cruise.
And long, leisurely cruising is where the Continental GT shines. Few cars can match the Bentley for comfort and driving pleasure over long distances. This is a car you would happily drive down to Monaco, not to mention how well you’d fit in when you arrived.
The interior on the Continental GT is a masterpiece; oozing luxury and built to the highest standards. There is not a squeak or rattle to be heard, which is remarkable for a handassembled car. There’s an unmistakable smell of leather as you clamber on board, which is hardly surprising given the extensive use throughout the cabin. Everything from the dashboard to the roof lining is finished in the highest-quality hide. Aluminium is also used liberally in the switchgear, which gives a solid and robust feel. The pièce de résistance is the optional rotating display – press a button and the multimedia screen spins round to reveal a set of crystal dials. Showmanship at its finest.
The Continental GT is a 2+2, which means you have two sumptuous sports seats up front, with room for two kids behind. That being said, the rear seats were more spacious than you’d expect. I could fit back there in modest comfort. Head room is fine once you sink into the rear seat, but the leg room is where the space is lacking. But simply having two rear seats puts the Bentley at an advantage over two-seater sports cars.
It’s a testament to the strength of the Bentley Brand how wide the appeal is for the Continental GT. Other than Range Rover, I can think of no other marques which appeal to the younger generation – sports professionals, ‘influencers’ and the like – while being equally desirable by company CEOs and even right up to members of the aristocracy.
But ultimately, a price tag of almost £160,000 – before you get to options – puts this out of reach for many people in society, myself included. But if I was in a position to buy one, would I? Yes, in a heartbeat. It’s tremendous.