Bentley’s latest Continental GT Gets More Macho, Yet Remains Suave

By Lee Pang Seng

THE BEST gets even better and you have to believe that when it comes to the Bentley Continental GT. Late last year, the third generation of the Continental GT was introduced to the Asia-Pacific region, namely Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia.

Sarah Simpson, Regional Director of the UK and Asia Pacific of Bentley Motors, said then: “The Bentley Continental GT is a model that we are immensely proud of and since the first generation was launched in 2003, it has become our most successful model in history.” Designed, engineered and handcrafted in Crewe, Britain, the third-generation Continental GT is said to combine spirited, focused performance with handcrafted luxury and cutting edge technology to create ‘the finest Grand Tourer ever produced’.

That should give you an idea of what it means to be the best although our impression of the Continental GT as the best was gained in 2012 or six years ago; that was when we first drove this luxury Continental GT in Singapore in the same manner that we subsequently put the sporty BMW M3 and M4 through its extreme pace in Portugal in 2014.

It might be a two-tonne Bentley luxury sportster but when driven at a very robust pace, the Continental GT would keep with the best of them. Our re-acquaintance with the Continental GT in its latest edition was however less exciting than our Singapore experience as it was on public roads in Australia, or Brisbane to be precise. Past drive experiences there had told us to be highly wary of the Australian traffic police.

Nevertheless, our route covered some remote country roads and our pace car leader gave us the opportunity to gauge its dynamic quality through some tight and winding stretches, albeit all too briefly. Before we delve into its dynamic merits, we would highlight the technical aspects of the latest Continental GT. Although some significant changes were made, the basic body profile was kept largely intact with key characteristic traits retained but in an evolved form.

At a glance, one might not notice a very different Continental GT but significant changes have been made to imbue this premium Grand Tourer the contemporary aura that its proud owner would most probably appreciate. Power is key and Bentley continues to focus on the three aspects of the Continental GT body profile to underline this aspect.

They include the sharp power line that flows from the front wheels, the ‘muscular haunch’ and the sloping roofline; thus forming the foundation from which the exterior design team ‘sculpted’ the latest Continental GT. A significant change is moving the front axle forward by 135mm to extend wheelbase to 2850mm, leading to a ‘rebalancing of proportions’ and achieving a more athletic stance through the shorter front overhang and a longer bonnet. Bentley believes the end result is a car with ‘graceful muscularity’ that hints at a greater sporting potential.

It was also pointed out that the interplay between the car’s smooth, curvaceous shapes and the very sharp edges is based on Bentley’s new ‘fuselage surfacing’ philosophy. To strike an example, the 1934 Spartan Executive aircraft is mentioned as a perfect one, with both new and old being seen as graceful and powerful in its respective form.

In this instance, the muscular haunch is very much the striking example of the very sharp edges. This key design element is a continuation of the one on the previous Continental GT but heightened in dramatic visual form to remind one of a lion waiting to pounce on its hapless prey. Adding to this graceful stance are the new headlamps inspired by the cut-crystal of the finest glassware to provide that power-studded illumination.

The similarity in looks are misleading if one were to take the aerodynamic efficiency into detail. Work in the wind tunnel has indeed led to a more slippery body in channelling air efficiently as Bentley gives the factor of aerodynamic co-efficient (Cd) of the new Continental GT as 0.29 (compare that to the previous Continental GT Speed’s 0.31).

The Continental GT’s exterior panels are all aluminium ad crafted with ‘incredibly’ sharp undercut lines and flowing surfaces through Bentley’s Super-Plastic forming technology, which was originally developed to create muscular fenders. Bentley says no other car company in the world could deliver exterior styling in such precision and that the new aluminium body side is the largest ‘Super-Formed’ panel in the automotive industry.

Shapes are created by heating the aluminium sheets to more than 500 degrees Centigrade before air pressure blows the sheet over a mould. Each piece is then cut to shape by a high-powered laser. The extensive use of aluminium and the other mix of lightweight but strong materials for the body is said to reduce weight by 85kg over an all-steel body.

And with the new body comes a new engine; this is the W12 TSI that takes over from the previous W12 TMPI power plant. Basically, Bentley has chosen to continue with the W12 engine or a vee-six configuration per side, angled at 72 degrees to each other. The angle of the vee-six cylinders for each side is narrower at 15 degrees to allow for a more compact engine overall. This double vee-six configuration explains the ‘W’ in engine description.

Designed, developed, tested and hand-built in Crewe, the new W12 TSI is hailed as the most advanced 12-cylinder engine in the world and combines high-pressure direct fuel injection with low-pressure port injection. It sees a similar bore of 84m but a shorter stroke of 89.5mm against 90.2mm (for the W12 TMPI) to displace 5950cc from 5998cc. Newly crafted pistons are the order to handle the higher compression ratio of 10.5:1 (from 9.0:1 previously).

Fuel feed to the 12 cylinders is now via two parallel twin-scroll turbochargers with direct intercooling. The turbochargers are built with integrated exhaust manifolds and turbine speed sensing to allow the engine to optimise turbo performance for maximum efficiency. With the twin-scroll design, there is minimum turbo response time (meaning less or no lag) and Bentley says maximum torque is available in less than a third of the time in the previous Continental GT.

With more efficient engine management control, the output is higher at 467kW (635PS) at 6000rpm and 900Nm peaking very early from 1350rpm and holding till 4000rpm. Compare that to the W12 TMPI’s 460kW (625PS) at 6000rpm and 800Nm at 2000rpm. There is also cylinder deactivation (for six cylinders) and the engine runs in this mode in gears three to eight, below 3000rpm and up to 300Nm torque output for better fuel economy and lower CO2 (carbon dioxide) emission. A stop-start system is now standard. The new engine might have more features but it is 30kg lighter than the W12 TMPI.

How does all that translate to outright performance? You are right if you expect the new Continental GT to be even faster than the predecessor, which is the natural course of progression. It accelerates to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds while the previous Continental GT Speed covers that in 4.2 seconds and we believe it would be faster too in the 0-160km/h sprint (the previous model does that in 9.0 seconds). The new Continental GT has a higher top speed too at 333km/h (330km/h).

Another contemporary change is how the engine output is channelled to all four wheels. In the previous Continental GT Speed arrangement, engine power was channelled by a permanent four-wheel drive to the four wheels on a 40:60 basis but could apportion 85 per cent of power to the rear wheels or up to 65 per cent to the front as and when the situation called for it.

The new drivetrain sees an active all-wheel drive that could apportion up to 38 per cent of torque to the front wheels in two drive modes – Bentley and Comfort – and up to 17 per cent in Sport mode. The new transmission system also sees a dual-clutch gearbox although the number of gears – eight – is retained in the ZF unit.

In suspension design, Bentley appears to stick with the tried and tested four-link aluminium double wishbones in front and aluminium trapezoidal multi-link at the rear for the new Continental GT. What seems new though is the three-chamber air suspension with continuous damping adjustments based on the drive modes selected.

Now that we have updated you on the technical details, we would go back to our winding road drive impression as we headed towards Byron’s Bay to the south of the Gold Coast. The Comfort mode was best enjoyed in city drives as the car glides over bumps with the least of annoyance. The Continental GT we drove were running on the optional bigger tyre sizes although they remain the Pirelli P Zero series, with the front being 275/35 ZR 22 and the rear being 315/30 ZR 22 tyres.

For the winding roads, we chose the Bentley mode initially and found the feedback on steering direction somewhat vague, especially for the higher speeds that we driving the Continental GT through a corner. Selecting Sport mode raised our confidence in driving the car faster through the corners as we could feel the directional input better and was in control to enjoy the higher level of vehicle dynamics. It was a far cry from our Singapore experience six years ago but we believe the new Continental GT would rise to the occasion grandly if put through the same hot pace.

Perhaps the more important part of the new Continental GT is the continuation of the opulent and exclusive ambience of the interior. Bentley describes the cabin as ‘a journey through exquisite materials with remarkable tolerances – leather, wood and chrome align with dimensions measured down to the tenths of millimetres’. Having enjoyed this luxury before years earlier, we continued the journey with equal delight.

Of course, there are new elements as well that add on to the pleasure of being in such a prestigious car. One of them is the centrepiece of the new interior, which is an optional item, called the Bentley Rotating Display. It’s a three-sided feature that rotates at the touch of a button to reveal a 12.3-inch main touchscreen, a panel with three ‘beautiful’ analogue gauges – for outside temperature, direction based on the cardinal points of a compass and stopwatch - and a ‘perfectly aligned’ piece of wood veneer.

As is the norm for such super premium cars, you could have the interior upholstery customised to your preferences. What Bentley wanted to impress on us was the ‘perfect geometric patterns and the use of colour accents that is prevalent throughout high fashion and in the work of the tailors of Saville Row’.

An example of this use of geometry is the new ‘diamond in diamond’ quilting technique that was introduced. It features lines of stitching surrounding the squares of ‘precise’ embroidery, each one containing 712 individually-angled stitches. “A new knurling surface – tolerance to 0.1mm – brings beauty and functionality to the main haptic controls and the new optional patterned finish to the centre console – Cote de Geneve – is taken from Switch watchmaking.” The brochure explains it all.

And we lapped it all up during our Brisbane drive. Although we didn’t partake in any night driving, we were introduced to the interior being illuminated by 12-colour customisable mood lighting.  Being only 0.8mm thick, the strips of lighting are so thin, it’s virtually invisible when turned off.

What we have described here is merely scratching the surface of what the new Bentley Continental GT is all about. We have no doubt the owner of such a car would have the pleasure of discovering the extensive range of equipment and enjoying the exquisite details that come with the Continental GT. That’s automotive exclusivity at its finest.