Crewe, Cheshire - Two doors. Four seats. A big, twelve-cylinder engine. Incomparable luxury, crisp styling and immense presence. What’s not to like about the third-generation Bentley Continental GT, revealed today ahead of its official world premiere at the Frankfurt motor show on 12 September.
We think 'WO' Bentley would approve. Almost a century ago, in 1919, he set out to build big, long-legged Grand Touring cars with just a hint of nasty hidden under the polished veneer and hand-stitched leather - and that’s exactly what this is.
The nasty comes from the latest version of Bentley’s long-running twin-turbo W12 TSI, with an upgraded engine management computer that makes 300 million software calculations every second to deliver a quoted 467kW and 900Nm, launching the new Continental to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds and on to a maximum speed of 333km/h.
It drives all four wheels via Bentley’s first dual-clutch transmission, theoretically an eight-speeder but in effect a six-speed transmission with dual overdrives, since terminal velocity is reached in sixth; the two top ratios are long-legged cruising gears.
A new active all-wheel drive system replaces the previous 40:60 rear-biased power delivery split; it defaults to rear-wheel drive under normal driving conditions, sending torque to the front axle as required for traction on treacherous surfaces or to steady the car during spirited driving.
An all-new 48-volt dynamic ride system uses hydraulic valves in the variable anti-roll bars - rather than in the dampers - to stiffen the suspension on the outside of a corner, completely preventing body roll while leaving the three-chamber air springs and shock absorbers free to do their job, which is soaking up unexpected bumps.
Not only does this give you a super-smooth ride even when you’re in a hurry, says the maker, keeping the wheels perpendicular to the road also significantly improves steering precision - an important factor in a car this size.
The new Continental GT’s elegant profile stems from old-school design principles; the engine has been moved further back in the chassis to centralise masses for taut handling, while the front axle has been moved 135mm further forward to extend and lower the bonnet line while reducing the front overhang.
The crisp, sharp edges of the power line flowing back from the headlights (which actually folds back on itself) and the traditional Bentley rear wheel-arch line are made possible by a process called super-forming, in which the aluminium blanks are heated to 500 degrees before punching, allowing the shaping of curves and folds so tight they would cause wrinkling and tearing of the metal if they were formed cold.
Bentley has previously used the technique for making front and rear wing panels, but this the first production car to have an entire body side made in one piece using super-forming. And, as any origami enthusiast knows, ultra-crisp folds make the panels stiffer, allowing the designers to save more than 80kg on the weight of the body-shell while still increasing torsional rigidity.
There’s a lot of Bentley DNA in the front treatment, emphasised by elegant all-LED headlight clusters with faceted reflectors, giving them a ‘jewelled’ appearance eerily reminiscent of upmarket 1960s toy cars (particularly the 1961 Corgi Toys Bentley Continental, No 224, in cream and apple green) that used faceted crystals to represent the headlights instead of silver-painted plastic inserts.
The rear styling, however, is all new, with a sweeping fastback down to a Kamm tail so elegant it could have been sculpted by Touring Superleggera of Milan, and oval LED tail-lights that exactly mirror the tailpipes below. Twenty-one inch wheels are standard, in a choice of two designs, with lightweight 22 inch forged-alloy rims and hand-polished finishes as options.
‘Diamond in diamond’ quilting
The digital infotainment system has an industry-first rotating display; at first glance there seems to be no screen in the middle of the dashboard, but when the start button is pressed, the veneered centre panel rotates to reveal a 31cm touchscreen - and when that’s not in use, it can rotate again to present three analogue dials showing outside temperature, a compass and chronometer.
The top of the dashboard is shaped to echo the wings of the Bentley badge, and it takes a skilled craftsman nine hours to cut and fit the more than 10 square metres of wood veneer that go into each Continental.
The 20-way adjustable seats have smooth centre panels to allow maximum efficiency for the cooling, heating and massage functions, while the bolsters have the signature Bentley quilting - but with a twist. Called a ‘diamond in diamond’ quilt, the outer diamonds are quilted, but the inner diamonds are embroidered for an extraordinarily soft feel.
The process isn’t as simple as it looks; it took 18 months to work out the precise alignment of each one of the 712 stitches that make up each diamond shape.