First Drive: Bentley Continental GT

Measuring the success of a car is possible in all sorts of exacting numerical methods, but there is a lot to be said for how it plays in the hearts and minds of the public. The news that a second-generation Bentley Continental GT has arrived might come as something of a surprise, but not as much of a surprise that the original version reached its seventh birthday. In automotive terms that is a long time, but in the luxury GT market it is unquestionably a compliment.

A discerning buyer comes as standard at this end of the market, so keeping them on side means improvements in every area, starting with the exterior. A single glance might not spot a particular change, but that it looks sharper and more taut – mission accomplished in that case. It’s achieved by a host of detail changes from nose to tail. A more rakish angle to the front grille, new bumpers and jewel-like headlamps similar to those on the Mulsanne saloon all play their part, but the use of a production technique called superforming allows sharper creases on the front wings and the bootlid. The result is a shape that is familiar but more impressive, like a best friend that’s spent six days a week in the gym.

There’s more of the same on the inside. Like any Bentley worth its name the cabin offers the height of luxury. Leather and wood are all present and correct but with the kind of colour and finish options that allow the creation of something truly personal. Better still are the detail changes. A slicker touch screen system makes short work of operating the sat-nav, which itself is improved and offers features such as Google Maps and the ability to navigate via geo-tagged images. The centre console is cleaned up too, upping the class factor despite it already being an impressive place to be.

Underneath the elegant bodywork there are yet more improvements. The basics remain the same: a mighty twin-turbocharged W12 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission to marshal the power and a four-wheel drive system to get it to the road, but it’s the detail changes that matter. The engine now puts out 567bhp, up 15bhp on before with a similar increase in torque thanks to efficiency improvements. Quicker shift times from the gearbox as well as the ability to double downshift helps to squeeze the maximum performance from the engine, while the torque distribution of the four-wheel drive system is now biased 60/40 towards the rear. It might not sound like much, but the combined effect is both positive and effective.

The first thing you’ll notice however is that the Continental has lost none of its ability to waft along gracefully. Sink into the new, lighter seats, start it up and the engine fires with a brief snarl of revs for settling into a barely-audible rumble. Slot the transmission into Drive and the GT sighs into motion, pottering over bumps despite running on 20-inch or optional 21-inch wheels. Driven like this, as most examples will be for most of their lives and it’s hard to believe it is capable of nudging 200mph, but this is a key part of the car’s appeal and Bentley has been careful not to sacrifice it in the name of a sharper driving experience.

Tapping into the more dynamic side of the GT takes only a moment. The new touchscreen system allows the driver to sharpen the response of the electronic dampers, while the transmission offers a Sport mode as well as full manual control. With 6.0-litre of capacity and that pair of turbochargers instant and substantial urge is on offer. Push the pedal to the floor and the GT pulls relentlessly – only the impressive levels or refinement shield you from just how fast this car is: 0-60mph is despatched in a scant 4.4 seconds, with 100mph coming up in only 10.2 seconds, which is genuine supercar pace.

There’s pleasure to be had through the bends too. The detail tweaks help to build confidence in the car, with the strong brakes hauling down this large car from great speeds. Turn into a bend and the steering response is sharper and clearer, the car settling much more readily into the turn. Squeeze on the power and the rear bias keeps it all in line more easily too, and this car can be hustled with remarkable speed and a lack of drama.

If there’s one thing the Continental GT lacks it is true rivals. No-one else offers quite the same mix of performance, luxury and style in such an alluring package, and although this is a comprehensive refresh rather than an all-new take on the idea, the GT is better than its already-superb predecessor in every respect.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Bentley Continental GT, £135,760
Engine: 6.0-litre petrol unit producing 567bhp and 516lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving all four wheels
Performance: Top speed 198mph, 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds
Economy: 17.1mpg combined
Emissions: 384g/km of C02

By Matt Joy

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