Bentley Continental GT

Debut: 2018
Maker: Bentley
Predecessor: Continental GT (2003)

 Published on 4 Jan 2018
All rights reserved. 

Weight is not necessarily the biggest enemy to keen drivers, but weight at the wrong side is.

The last Continental GT was a mixed bag. It was tastefully styled and impeccably built, smelling British luxury yet offering German reliability. On the flipside, it was dull to drive – save the two Supersport models perhaps. The problem was attributed to its underpinnings, which came from Volkswagen Phaeton. That luxury limousine was a heavyweight, and so was the Continental GT. For a 2-door, 2-plus-2-seating coupe, even a luxury one, its 2.4 tons kerb weight was clearly over the top. Weight is not necessarily the biggest enemy to keen drivers, but weight at the wrong side is. The Conti employed a traditional Quattro 4WD system which put its engine entirely ahead of the front axle. Although the twin-turbocharged W12 was relatively short, it still needed to pack 12 cylinders and 6 liters of displacement, not to mention the turbos and cooling system. As a result, the car had always been criticized for all sorts of problems characterizing nose-heavy cars, i.e. understeer, pitch under braking, low cornering limit, wooden steering feel, stiff ride…

Having said that, the first generation Continental GT was a sales success. Bentley built around 5000 to 6000 cars a year, accounting for more than half the volume of the company during the period. In fact, it was so successful that Crewe needed only a mild refresh to keep it in production for 14 years.

I used to reckon Mercedes S-class Coupe as the world’s most beautiful luxury GT. Now Bentley has toppled it.

Naturally, for the second incarnation, Bentley keeps its best element intact: the beautiful profile. Again it combines sleekness with classical sculpture. Meanwhile, the details get more elegant. The front end is more sculpted, especially around the Jaguar-style headlamps. The mesh grille gets lower, wider but more formal. There are more chrome decorations at the sides, too. At the back, the tail gets even sleeker, while the oval taillights and exhausts look far more elegant than the old ones. I used to reckon Mercedes S-class Coupe as the world’s most beautiful luxury GT. Now the new Bentley has toppled it.

Inside, the new cabin has its design overhauled. Its dashboard is not quite as sculpted as the old one thus it is no longer that special. However, the craftsmanship and use of materials are still excellent, whereas electronic technology is markedly improved, expectedly. Above the center console is a 12.3-inch touchscreen. It is actually part of the 3-face rotary device, which can be transformed to a traditional wood panel or 3 analogue gauges showing insignificant information (outside temperature, compass and timer). It sounds flamboyant to me, but its target customers might love that. Ergonomics is improved by not only the touchscreen but also the sloping center console, which makes the controls easier to see and reach. Compared with S-class Coupe, the Bentley’s interior still looks more bespoke and expensive due to its heavy use of wood and chrome. It meets your expectation for what a British luxury car means. On the downside, the two rear seats are still suitable only to children or at most short adults for a brief ride, as it lacks both head and legroom. Fortunately, the boot is big, which is critical to a cross-country GT.

Compared with S-class Coupe, the Bentley’s interior still looks more bespoke and expensive.

The new car is almost the same size as the old one. Its body length is kept unchanged, though its gets 11mm wider and its wheelbase is stretched by 110mm, thanks to reduced front overhang. This new proportion is made possible by the switch to the Porsche-developed MSB platform, which is already used by Panamera. (BTW, Bentley is now managed under the Sport/Luxury group headed by Porsche, so a lot of components and development come from the latter.) The MSB has its front axle pushed forward by 135mm, so the engine sits closer to the firewall, and the front driveshafts have to run through the bottom of the engine sump. Weight distribution is therefore improved from 56:44 to 53:47 for the W12-engined model (the forthcoming V8 should be better still). As in Panamera, the new 4WD system uses a multiplate clutch to engage the front axle on demand, so in normal driving the car is largely rear-drive. Hopefully this will greatly improve the car's handling and feel.

Unsurprisingly, the car’s body-and-white chassis is built at Porsche’s Leipzig plant alongside Panamera. It is then shipped to Crewe for final assembly and trimming. The chassis is a mixture of steel and aluminum, while the entire bodywork is made of superformed aluminum sheets. The body-in-white is 80kg lighter than the old car's steel construction, while the whole car is 76kg lighter. Even so, it still weighs some 2244 kg, or 239 kg more than its arch-rival Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe 4matic. The Panamera-sourced suspensions consist of double-wishbone up front and multi-link setup at the rear, supplemented with 3-chamber air springs, continuous adaptive dampers and 48V motorized active anti-roll bars. Its technology is certainly state of the art.

The MSB has its front axle pushed forward by 135mm, so weight distribution is a lot improved.

The new W12 engine already debuted on the Bentayga SUV. It looks like the old one on paper, but it has some important new features, most notably cylinder deactivation (which shuts down half the cylinders on light load), direct and port injection and automatic stop-start. These help it reducing fuel consumption by 16 percent, although its CO2 emission of 278 g/km is nothing to be proud of, considering the similarly powerful S63 Coupe 4matic is good for 211 g/km. The W12 produces 635 horsepower and a mighty 664 lbft of torque from merely 1350 rpm all the way to 4000 rpm. It guarantees a top speed of 207mph, and 0-60mph can be achieved in 3.6 seconds. Although the lighter Mercedes is faster still against stopwatch, I wonder if anyone would feel the Bentley slow. Moreover, it follows the Panamera to adopt an ZF-built 8-speed twin-clutch gearbox instead of torque-converter automatic that almost everyone else in the luxury world employ. This should make it feel more responsive.

On the road, the W12 makes slightly throatier noise than the old one, but it is still not as musical as its V8 or V12 rivals on the market. However, it does feel torquey anytime, anywhere, thus the Continental GT is very quick in a straight line. Do we want a Supersport version? Well, it wouldn't hurt to have more power, but the emphasis should be shifted to better sound and less weight. At this moment, the Achilles’ heel is the twin-clutch gearbox, at least on the pre-production cars. Its gearshift is occasionally clunky or hesitant at low speed maneuvering. As Panamera has no such problems, for sure Bentley will have it ironed out through fine tuning before reaching production.

The Conti finally becomes a driver’s car, more like a big Porsche...

However, the most transformed is handling. Drivers of the old car wouldn’t believe how good it steers and corners. Although the car is undeniably heavy – you’d feel it if compare with Aston DB11, it is well balanced. Front-end grip is much enhanced. Understeer, roll and brake dive are much reduced. This is not only down to the better weight distribution but also the rear-biased 4WD. Even when the rear wheels spin, it will send only up to 38 percent torque to the front axle, or just 17 percent in Sport mode. As a result, the car feels a lot more agile and neutral on the road. The steering is less corrupted by torque thus feels more alive. On a wide open track, if you switch off stability control, you can even induce big power slide at corner exit. In short, the Conti finally becomes a driver’s car, more like a big Porsche than “the world’s fastest lorry”. Aston DB11 has tighter body control, higher agility and adjustability still, of course, thus it is the car to have if you prefer sport to luxury, but the Continental GT now seems to be more fun to hustle than the S-class Coupe. That is perhaps most important to Bentley.

Meanwhile, the better weight distribution, longer wheelbase and the presence of active anti-roll bars mean softer suspension setting can be used. Moreover, the 3-chamber air suspension widens its versatility, resulting in a superb ride comfort in "Comfort" and "Bentley" (normal) mode. The Continental GT is finally a true GT, one that can be fast and comfortable over long trips, yet capable to deliver respectable cornering prowess and thrills if you want. Most important, it ticks all the boxes customers care: style, luxury, build quality and sense of occasion. The only thing less outstanding is the W12 engine, which makes the forthcoming V8 more promising. Anyway, good job Bentley and Porsche! This is the most transformed car in last year.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features

Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Continental GT W12
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque + aluminum
4850 / 1966 / 1405 mm
2851 mm
5952 cc
DOHC 48 valves, DVVT
DI, cylinder deactivation
635 hp / 5000-6000 rpm
664 lbft / 1350-4500 rpm
8-speed twin-clutch
F: double-wishbone
R: multi-link
Adaptive air spring + damping,
active anti-roll bar
F: 265/40ZR21; R: 305/35ZR21
2244 kg
207 mph (c)
3.6 (c)

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