It’s not much of an exaggeration to claim the Continental GT changed the course of Bentley for the better. In the late Nineties and early Aughts, the company was a British also-ran, turning out rebadged Rolls-Royces at a snail’s pace and selling less than a thousand cars a year. Then, in the year 2003, the Continental GT burst onto the scene. Sure, it may have been built on the same platform as a Volkswagen sedan and built using mass-production techniques the Flying B had never dallied with before — but with styling that induced whiplash in passers-by, a 552-horsepower twin-turbo W12 under the hood and a price significantly cheaper than other cars boasting the Flying B, nobody gave a damn. Thousands who had the means flocked to dealerships buy it; millions more who couldn’t drooled with envy as they saw it pop up in movies, TV shows and music videos, a rolling symbol of style and success.
The second generation, which hit the streets in 2011, revised the same architecture to great effect, bringing greater luxury, improved looks, and a new V8 engine option that dropped the price and the power — albeit both to such a small degree than many wouldn’t have noticed. But the third-generation version, new this year, ditches the old bones for a new VW Group framework: the MSB platform, originally developed by Porsche for its second-gen Panamera. Between the Zuffenhausen-designed architecture, a host of new technology and an interior that’s more luxurious than ever, the newest Conti seems primed to be the best version yet. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, right?
The Good: Many cars with price tags closing in on the $200,000 mark feel a little bit obscenely priced at that figure. That, in large part, is because many of the cars on sale at that price are simply gussied-up versions of cheaper cars; a $233K Mercedes-AMG S65 isn’t 2.5 times as nice as a $92K S450, nor a $158 BMW M760i 1.8 times better than an $86K 740i. Not so the Bentley. Everything you see, smell and touch seems worthy of the house-sized pricetag, even before you fire up the engine and feel the thrill of its power.
Who It’s For: Anyone seeking the ultimate road trip car — the sort of machine capable of gobbling up hundreds of miles at a go with ease and leaving its occupants feeling Downy fresh at the end of the trip. (Well, anyone seeking that who doesn’t need room for more than two adults.)
Watch Out For: Road noise, believe it or not, if you opt for the biggest wheels. Granted, that’s only under the worst possible road conditions — think pavement more pockmarked than Edward James Olmos — but even so, it’s a little jarring to hear so a loud thrum in such a luxurious car. Bentley doesn’t believe in active noise cancellation; such technological trickery is beneath the brand. Yet even the geniuses in Crewe can only do so much about mitigating the impacts of 22-inch wheels with painted-on tires whacking against potholes and frost heaves, especially with more than two tons of mass pressing down on those four rims.
Review: Bentley managed to make some damn fine lemonade out of the lemons with the second-generation Conti GT; while it may have been able to trace its platform back to a VW that started development in the Nineties, it was still fairly entertaining to drive, especially in wilder trims like the GT3-R and Supersports. But with the change to a modern Porsche-designed platform, the car finally achieves the levels of athleticism it’s always deserved.
The Porsche commonalities extend beyond the basic framework of the car. The V8 engine beneath the hood, for example, is effectively the same as the one in the Panamera Turbo; the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox hooking the motor to all four wheels likewise has its origins in southern Germany. It’s a combination that proves stupendous in the top-shelf versions of Porsche’s largest cars, serving up autobahn-dominating acceleration anywhere from a dead stop up to sanity-questioning speeds.
Which is why it feels odd at first blush that those 542 horses and 568 pound-feet feel merely adequate in this car — or any car, for that matter. Then again, most cars don’t have this Bentley’s mass: this two-door weighs in at 4,773 pounds, about 300 more than a Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo station wagon. The V8 version is hardly slow — Bentley claims a 3.9-second 0-60 mph time, and that very much feels accurate. But after experiencing the infinite power of the turbocharged 12-cylinder version and its 626 horsepower and 664 pound-feet, the eight-pot feels a little…underwhelming. (Sadly, while those in other markets have the pleasure of playing with the W12 version this year, we in America can only choose the V8 for now.) Unlike the always-effortless W12, which feels more empowered than labored when you nail your right foot to the carpet, the V8 seems like it actually has to work to vault this bolide up to meteoric speeds.
It certainly sounds better than the 12-pot, though — all sturm und drang under heavy throttle, roaring and bellowing a battle cry that sounds like a punk rock Wookie. That engine also makes the eight-cylinder model a little lighter in the nose than the W12 version — which stands to reason, as the bigger engined-car weighs around 300 pounds more, with most of the added mass sitting closer to the front wheels than the back.
Still, those seeking delicate handling from their rolling leather cocoon are more likely to look to the likes of a top-shelf 911, a Ferrari Portofino or a McLaren 570GT. It’s involving, even entertaining when winding its way though curves, but never truly involving. On California’s Highway 1, it proved a little hard to place. (Partly, I admit, because I was trying to drive smoothly enough to keep my seasick passenger’s breakfast in his gullet while still pushing it hard enough to get a feel for it.) The car carried a ton of speed into each turn, way more than I realized, because it’s so smooth and effortless — until I was on top of the curve, realized how tight it was (and how large the car was), and dove onto the brakes harder than planned. This is a grande grand tourer, better suited to gentle curves you can wind through at highway speed.
Admittedly, the roads along the Cali coast might be the worst for this sort of car; they’re tiny things, with lanes thin as Kate Moss and curves like Botticelli’s Venus. Not helping matters, of course, are the overcrowded roads of the area, where cyclists and retiree-helmed RVs lurk behind every third turn. Given the circumstances, it was better to twist the knurled drive mode past the default “B” (it stands for Bentley, obviously, but feel free to tell the gullible it stands for “Beyonce”) to Comfort, allowing the car to relax along with its occupants. Left that way, it becomes an impeccable road trip companion, loafing along as fast as you dare in silence and comfort.
Design-wise, it’s a subtle yet significant break from older models, though most people probably won’t realize as such. The biggest change, proportionally speaking, is that it hangs its beak out far less than the older version, the front axle pushed forward several inches to create a much more aggressive stance than in the past. The new front end continues the Continental GT trend of growing one set of lights and shrinking the others, with the new headlights bringing crystal-cut glass and a spread of LEDs to the face. (Admittedly, the new look bears a stunning resemblance to those shocking close-ups of spiders, a fact you’ll likely never be able to shake from your brain now that you know it.)
In profile, the roofline has been stretched out into an elegant curve reminiscent of Art Deco streamliners; to the stern, the third-gen’s tail has been swept-back and sculpted to the point where it brings an unexpected delicacy to this mighty Bentley. Overall, it’s a look that’s unmistakably modern, yet clearly tied to the previous two models — the sort of design consistency few vehicles beyond the Porsche 911 have been able to pull off.
The interior is about as nice a place as you can imagine to knock out a few hundred miles on a whim, so long as you only have two adult humans to transport. The rear seats are better than those in many speedy two-doors, but they’re still tight for grown-ups; save them for when your dinner companions go a little too hard on the peeno greege and can’t drive their own car home. (You can always use them for storage, but with 12.6 cubic feet of trunk space, you likely won’t need to very often.)
Everything you touch feels designed to justify the car’s price, from the meticulously-knurled metal (with available Côte de Genève veneer) to the 10-plus hides of hand-stitched leather (taken only from bulls, because cows can have stretch marks) to the carefully-selected wood (all from the same tree to keep the grain consistent, and sustainably sourced to boot). Every car company takes quality seriously to some degree; Bentley is the only one I’m aware of with an entire page of their website dedicated to craftsmanship. It shows.
Porsche drivers will find the infotaiment screen’s dimensions and layout oddly familiar; they’re a redesigned version of the one found Cayenne and Panamera. Should the similarity prove a disconcerting reminder of Bentley’s attempts to save money, however, the Continental GT lets you do something the Porkers don’t; opt for the Bentley Rotating Display (a $6,270 option), and at the press of a button, the screen flips and rotates away to be replaced with either a smooth sheet of veneer or a trio of analog gauges. The whole effect is rather like the revolving license plates on James Bond’s old Aston Martin DB5 — albeit with a sensitive high-def touchscreen in lieu of a sheet of tin. A gimmick? Sure. But one that’ll delight you and your passengers on a regular basis.
Verdict: Elegant, athletic and luxurious in equal measure, the Bentley Continental GT is the sort of vehicle that defines what a luxury car should be. If money’s no object and you don’t mind the wait, it might be worth holding out for the 12-cylinder version in 2020 — but the V8 version is a delightful choice all on its own.
2019 Bentley Continental GT V8 Key Specs
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8; eight-speed dual-clutch transmission; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 568 pound-feet
0-60 MPH: 3.9 seconds
Top Speed: 198 mph
Bentley hosted us and provided this product for review.
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