The 2019 Bentley Continental GT is the third generation of the automaker’s two-door grand tourer, a car that practically defines what Bentley stands for. “The GT is the very essence of our brand,” says Mark Del Rosso, President and CEO of Bentley Americas. Though slightly outsold last year by the new Bentagya SUV, the Continental GT is still very much Bentley’s bread and butter. So much so that dealers have been holding deposits from dedicated customers for years in advance of the car’s reveal. The Crewe-based team had the not-so-insignificant task of not only creating a car that satisfies loyal Bentley buyers but create something that broadens appeal to new ones, all while setting the benchmark for what a luxury grand tourer should be. No pressure, right?
The Good: The luxury of it anall is incredibly satisfying. Knurled knobs and switches feel weighty and purposeful; everything that isn’t meant to be heavy is supple to the touch. There’s something about knowing the stitch count of your likely customized diamond-quilted leather that’s oddly gratifying. (310,675 stitches, for the record.) Superb sound baffling goes a long way to keep outside noise from harshing the vibe. This is only matched by the 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12 centerpiece. It has 626 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque to give up, which it does willingly, and very low in the rev band.
Who It’s For: The older affluent crowd who see a winner and sticks with it. The Continental has a very solid customer base that recognizes the Continental’s consistency. Dutiful in its role as a usable status symbol, current customers are sure to re-up once this car is available in the spring of 2019. However, with the Bentayga now in the same showroom, newer Bentley buyers might stray away from the Conti.
Watch Out For: For all the good derived from the W12, the exhaust note is the most disappointing. Its timbre isn’t as low and syrupy as you’d expect, judging by the looks of the car. It’s something out of mind for most of the journey thanks to the sound baffling. The car isn’t a screamer, and though it can be coerced, it’s just better to let the Continental make a statement in other ways. Also, the optional rotating display: this takes the 12.3-inch touchscreen and fits it to a tumbler that will rotate the screen away to either show more veneer or three (admittedly lovely) analog gauges. It’s fun luxury theater that will be used in a handful of demonstrations and then forgotten about quickly.
Alternatives: The Mercedes-AMG S-Class Coupe, particularly the S 65, which brings its own 12-cylinder engine to the party. A more elegant and significant threat to the Bentley’s Grand Tourer title would be the Aston Martin DB11 V12.
Whether or not you’re new to the brand, there’s a certain expectation for any Bentley, particularly one as ubiquitous in luxury crowds as this one. The Continental GT has been the go-to car for the affluent for so long, it’s almost too familiar in certain circles. It’s for good reason, too, as the Continental has held up its end of the bargain of being a versatile daily driver that delivers a premium luxury experience since its debut in 2003. This latest iteration doesn’t disappoint in that regard, and with its upgraded looks, it’ll probably be a while before people get used to it.
The latest Conti largely retains the general footprint of the previous generation, but a shift to some of its proportions have brought forth changes in its visual character. The front axle moves 135mm forward, giving the GT a shorter front overhang and a longer, level hood (or “bonnet,” in this case), making for a more graceful profile. It wears the signature Bentley face of the matrix grille and large, jewel-like headlamps, but new Continental is higher and wider across the front for a more dominant presence. This is complemented by meaty haunches at the rear that meet with the fastback slope at new, simplified lip-shaped tail lights. All told, it’s a visual package that has a bold presence, and thanks to the “superforming” process of its aluminum body, the Continental GT’s curves look muscular, not bulbous.
The contemporary Continental awaited me in Kitzbüehel, Austria, where we would take a vivacious drive through the Alps and into northern Italy. It would be a journey befitting a grand tourer: mountain hairpins, rural backroads, and stretches of motorway to feed to a hungry 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 engine.
Right from the start, the luxury experience takes hold in the Continental GT, and sitting behind the wheel feels like donning a tailored suit. The interior is replete with luxury appointments like diamond quilted leather, diamond knurled switches fitted with bronze inserts, and ten square meters of veneer that’s taken nine hours of craftsmanship to implement. The center console has an optional aluminum surface machined in Côtes de Genéve, a pattern familiar to those who know their Swiss watches. It’s all so lovely, you’d be compelled to rebuke occupants from touching things if it all didn’t invite tactile indulgence. Of all the expectations this Bentley is burdened with, its interior is the highest, and it meets it effortlessly.
If interior luxury is the highest expectation, then ride comfort and performance jockey for second place. Built on an all-new chassis and saddled with a new powertrain, the new Continental endeavors to surpass its predecessor in both. Each takes advantage of the Bentley Dynamic Ride system, a series of 48-volt actuators that can react in 0.3 seconds to counter body roll. It all rides on three-chamber air suspension and, depending on the setting, the Continental can absorb bumps like so much plush carpeting. Even in its most stiff, sport-ready setting, the ride is never remotely harsh.
The W12 under the bonnet is eager to serve up generous portions of power, proving to be the Continental’s defining feature. 664 pound-feet of torque is in play at just 1,350 rpm, which will easily push your head back into the embroidered headrests. Bentley’s claim of a 3.6-second 0 to 60 launch and 207 top speed is all the more impressive considering the car’s weight. Unladen, the Continental weighs a hair under 5,000 lbs, so wide open throttle on the Autostrada feels like being strapped to a runaway steam engine. 420mm, 10-piston front brakes make sure the Bentley stops as fast as it goes. With all that said, the Continental is surprisingly adept at corners. Entering the mountain switchbacks, I could really feel the Bentley’s heft, but active torque vectoring and an electronic center diff made rounding the repeated hairpins a much more manageable endeavor. It won’t eat a sports car’s lunch, but it’s far from a letdown. It very much reminded me of the Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe, where its mass was very palpable. The Continental was inexplicably capable, but you had to put the work into it, though it delivers a far smoother experience by comparison. The eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox – a Bentley first – is also a significant plus, making incredibly smooth, near seamless shifts throughout my Alpine horseplay. It’s fun to flick through in manual, but it’s surprisingly capable on its own, which I don’t say flippantly. There were a couple instances where I was about to initiate a gear change, only to have the Conti react a fraction of a second faster. This is a nice thing to be surprised by.
Verdict: Its very safe to say that the new Bentley Continental GT ticks all the boxes a generational progression requires: sharper looks, improved performance, and an overall FOMO-inducing level of refinement. The Bentley faithful will certainly upgrade, though it’s difficult to say how many new customers it will bring to the brand. It’s a gentleman’s car, but a gentleman who’s still eager to demonstrate his virility. The traditionally older cigar-chomping customer will fit seamlessly in its classical luxury appointments while a younger buyer will probably wait for a “speed” edition and forcefully insert carbon fiber throughout, as previous patterns have shown. To each their own, but whoever indulges in the new Continental GT will be thoroughly satisfied. It’s a crowd used to getting exactly what they want, and the Continental GT absolutely delivers.
What Others Are Saying:
• “True to its name, the coupe is perhaps the truest grand touring car on the market — comfort happily married to speed.” — Jason Harper, Autoblog
• “The long-travel throttle allows for meting out all that power precisely, but once the engine comes alive, it’s an absolute rocket.” — Jake Holmes, Motor1
• “Don’t get me wrong, the Bentley likes to rev, and at full-throttle acceleration is nothing short of ferocious, but it tends to sound more like a blown six rather than the more meaty V12 growl.” — Anthony Crawford, Caradvice.com.au
Engine: 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W12 TSI
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch
Horsepower: 626 Horsepower
Torque: 664 ft-lbs
Weight: 4,947 lbs kerb weight
Top Speed: 207 mph
0-60: 3.6 secs
Alex Kalogiannis is a freelance automotive writer and editor based in the New york area.
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