by Adam Lynton
After buying Bentley at the end of the 1990s, the VW Group invested billions into the brand, giving it the necessary tools to properly compete for millionaires' money. The first "modern Bentley" was born soon after with the introduction of the Continental GT in 2003, which has gone on to be the driving force behind the marque's established role as one of the world's leading luxury carmakers with over 70,000 sold globally since it launched 16 years ago. The first Conti GT was an instant success and the new model needs to have the same impact.
Having spent four glorious sunkissed days with an Orange Flame example in London recently, it's hard to see what more Bentley could have done to improve the uber-luxe coupe. However, with SUVs dominating car buyers' thoughts and competitors from Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche delivering equally compelling six-figure cruisers, the new Bentley Continental GT has its work cut out.
2019 sees the introduction of the third-generation Continental GT. While the exterior may look remarkably similar to the old one, it really is all-new, with new Superformed aluminum bodywork - an industry-first - underpinned by the Volkswagen Group's MSB architecture, a base shared with the latest Porsche Panamera. Under the sheetmetal is a new 6.0-liter W12 engine and a mild-hybrid 48-volt electrical system, the former an advancement of the engine found in the Bentayga SUV. Lighter and more technologically advanced than before, what hasn't changed is Bentley's dedication towards crafting the most luxurious GT car on the market.
Blink as the third-generation Continental GT sails past and you'll almost certainly be none the wiser that you'd seen the all-new third-generation Continental in the flesh, so subtle are the changes to the exterior styling. But look a little closer and you'll see the aluminum bodywork is wrought with sharper creases thanks to a new process of Superforming, while the overall shape is a little sleeker, a little slimmer, and a little more sporting than before.
The Bentley meshwork grille is finished in chrome by default, as are the surrounds of the windows and the full-LED matrix headlights, elegantly cut to mimic a whiskey glass. However, should you wish, these can be finished in black, which also changes the finish of the fender vents and the character line running down the flanks of the Continental's bodywork. Filling the large arches are a range of wheel options measuring 21 or 22 inches in diameter. Our tester stood on a set of 21-inch five tri-spoke alloys, while a cleanly sculpted rear end houses dual-chrome tailpipes integrated into the rear diffuser.
Riding on the VW Group's MSB architecture, the Continental GT's wheelbase has grown by 4.1 inches to 112.2 inches in length, while the body itself has grown by just more than an inch at 190.9 inches overall. At 76.9 inches wide and 55.3 inches in height, the third-generation Continental GT is almost identical to the outgoing model. With new aluminum bodywork and a new platform, Bentley engineers were able to shave more than 200 lbs from the old model's mass, but despite this, the Continental still weighs in at 4,947 lbs, balancing it in a 55/45 front/rear weight distribution.
You'll find a choice of 17 standard hues available when selecting the exterior color of your Continental GT, provided you're the kind of person willing to choose something commonplace for your luxury GT. There's the usual Black Sapphire and Azure Purple, or if you're a traditionalist, British Racing Green 4. In the case of our test unit, it was lit up in a blaze of Orange Flame - a £4,500 GBP (around $5,600) option - highlighting the sharp creases vividly in changing light conditions. Of course, if you like something a little more bespoke, you can ask Bentley to custom-mix you almost any color you'd like, or you can select from one of more than 90 hues including the specialized Mulliner choices like the Golden Khamun, Light Windsor Blue, or St James Red Pearlescent. It's the latter we love, but there's truly no one color that stands out above the rest, and anything from Kingfisher Blue to Monaco Yellow looks spectacular on the Continental's shapely body.
Being a continent-crushing super-GT has always been the M.O. of the Continental - as it was back in 1953 when the Continental badge first graced the R-type Continental coupe, the fastest four-seater in the world in its heyday. The third-generation Continental GT lives up to the standard set by its forebears delivering a 0-60 mph sprint of 3.6 seconds, 0-100 mph in 7.9 seconds, and a top speed of 207 mph. The numbers are remarkably similar to those of the old GT, despite increases in output to 626 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque, but with nearly 5,000 lbs of Bentley to haul along, the figures are no less impressive. Power reaches the tarmac at all four corners thanks to a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system while an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox sourced from ZF handles things in between. With less weight than before, more power, and a better weight balance, figures on paper may be comparable, but the Continental GT now handles with more composure and finesse.
Until such time as the Continental GT V8 arrives as a 2020 model, just one engine services the needs of Continental buyers. The 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 engine may be similar in size and configuration to the old engine, but it's actually all-new. An advancement of the motor found in the Bentayga SUV, in the Continental it develops 26 horsepower more with total outputs of 626 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque, which it sends through a ZF-sourced eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, shared with the Porsche Panamera, to a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system.
In case you're in any doubt, Bentley says the new engine is the "most advanced 12 cylinder engine in the world." It has a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers, can switch between high-pressure direct and port injection, and can deactivate six cylinders all in the name of efficiency. Not that owners will notice or particularly care. What they will enjoy is the mountains of torque available from just 1,300 rpm all the way to 4,500 rpm and the deep, distinctive sound of twelve cylinders in action. The eight-speed is the epitome of effortless while also featuring launch-control, a snapshot of the new GT's breadth of capability, from consummate wafter to Armani-clad hooligan in the time it takes to slam one's polished brogue to the metal.
All four wheels are driven by the specially-tuned gearbox, the first-ever dual-clutch in a Bentley incidentally. Rear-wheel drive is the default although up to 38 percent of the torque can be shifted to the front if slippage is detected unless driving in Sport mode in which case it drops to 17 percent.
The chiseled, athletic styling of the new Continental GT is not just for show. This is a real athlete of a car, underpinned by a monstrous powerplant and the 48-volt Active Roll Control system, which manages the suspension (that now utilizes three-chamber air springs instead of two) and active anti-roll bars that keep the heavy brute perfectly placed and balanced. Despite being front heavy, Bentley has moved the front wheels 135 mm forward and shifted the massive engine further back improving weight distribution. 55% of mass now sits on the front wheels, compared to the old GT's 58%.
It also glides around corners like a sports car half its size thanks to the brilliant brake-based torque vectoring introduced on the old Supersports model. When entering a corner, it slows the inside rear wheel and when exiting it holds the inside front. The result makes cornering a joy, turning in with ease and existing with buckets of power. Pirelli P Zeros (275/35 front; 315/30 rear) provide plenty of grip and report pavement imperfections through the electric steering rack.
And when you need to stop, Bentley has fitted ventilated cast-iron brakes - the largest discs you'll find on any passenger car at 16.5/15 inches front/rear - that combine with 10-piston calipers for the front and four pistons at the back. The huge anchors do a wonderful job of keeping the 626-hp W12 in check.
As you'd expect, the Continental GT eats up the tarmac like The Rock on cheat day, but even when highway cruising there's a constant sense of connection to the car making for a more involved driving experience. Different driving modes of Comfort, Bentley, Sport, and Custom can be selected via the rotary controller, altering engine, transmission, suspension and steering response, but not to any large degree. Bentley was our default setting, as this is the one Bentley thinks you should use. Regardless of what mode you're in, the mountains of readily available torque and sharp-shifting gearbox enables you to instantly spring forward and keep going until you decide to let up on the throttle. The engine note, however, is all bass and no-frills and it could do with more range to provide drivers with a constant reminder of its capabilities.
If you're one of the fortunate few who can afford a Continental GT, you're unlikely to care about how much fuel it uses; you're also likely to employ someone to fill it up on your behalf. Needless to say, a 6.0-liter 12-cylinder is a thirsty beast, even if it can deactivate half of its cylinders under light throttle loads. The EPA is yet to release gas mileage estimates for the Continental GT, but Bentley claims a combined 20.8 mpg on the European WLTP standard and a driving range of 411 miles.
Pretending to be a typical Bentley owner, I wasn't paying any attention to fuel economy but did notice the gas tank draining at an alarming rate. Bentley classifies its economy numbers from Low to Extra High, ranging from a mere 12.7 mpg to 24.1 mpg. Having spent most of my time in London traffic and on Greater London B-roads, I was doubtless on the low end of the spectrum and suspect most owners that daily drive the GT will be making frequent stops to the gas station.
There are few places that evoke a sense of luxury the way a Bentley cabin does. There's no one item that gives it that sensation, either, but it's the way a hundred functions all mesh into one cohesive unit, from the oily nature of the dials to the soft click of every button. Every one of the 15 standard hide colors on four gorgeously upholstered leather seats looks bespoke, as do the nine choices of veneer. Other cars of this ilk may look luxurious, but the Continental feels uber-sophisticated, cosseting the occupants in a lavish environment as timelessly classy as it is loaded with the latest technology. Standard 12-way adjustable power seats are lounge-like in their level of comfort, with massage functionality and 20-way adjustment available to complete the experience. But it's the Continental's available rotating center display that's the true party-piece - a three-faced system that swaps between a 12.3-inch infotainment screen, a cluster of three analog instrument gauges for an old-world look, and a clean sheet of uninterrupted veneer to make you feel like a secret agent.
Our tester also came fitted with the Mulliner Driving Specification package, a £8,095 GBP ($10,000) option that takes the luxury up a level by adding quilting to the seats, 'diamond-in-diamond' embroidery, indented leather headlining, embroidered Bentley emblems and sports pedals. Essentially an aesthetic upgrade package buyers could live without, what they shouldn't miss optioning is the Front Seat Comfort Specification (£2,650 GBP) that provides ventilation and massage functions - the least a discerning Bentley buyer deserves.
There is a real sense of symmetry and proportion in the Continental's cabin. The chunky gear selector and knurled control dial have the same buttons and controls on either side of them (albeit performing different functions), a small clock sits between two vents and the organ stop controls, and the six shortcut buttons below the rotating dial use the same number of letters on each side of the central 'OK' button: SCREEN (6), PHONE (5), NAV (3) on the left, CAR (3), MEDIA (5) and SOURCE (6) on the right. This is no accident and typifies the attention to detail that puts Bentley in a different league to mainstream luxury automakers. The fit and finish are also exemplary, better even than what you'd find in an Aston Martin DB11.
From the front seat, everything looks and feels special with a wonderful combination of cutting-edge tech and handcrafted elegance. Bentley doesn't provide data on legroom but what we can tell you is that there's plenty in the front and just enough in the back for kids or small adults. Front headroom of 40.1 inches and rear headroom of 36.7 inches gives you an idea of the coupe's rearward slope, but nobody will be hitting their heads on the leather headliner.
The front seat glides forward at the touch of a button to make room for rear-seat passengers. Once ensconced, a feeling of elevated tranquility settles over passengers. Connecting to the world outside from the perfectly-formed bubble is achieved by dropping all four windows, providing one large opening on each side and plenty of fresh air to waft through the cabin, ideal for when mooching around town. With the Front Seat Comfort Specification, the front seats come with adjustable headrests, cushion length and side bolsters, as well as the aforementioned ventilation and massage. Ambient mood lighting and illuminated treadplates are optional extras that heighten the cabin experience.
Buyers can spec their leather upholstery in 15 different colors, with five different configurations split between one or a combination of two hides. But these are no ordinary hides. Bentley hand-picks herds from farms in Northern Europe situated high above sea level, ensuring they are free from insect bites and thus the leather free of blemishes. Colors include Burnt Oak, Cricket Ball, and Porpoise, and can be matched with a selection of nine veneers with single or dual finish, including Tamo Ash, High-Gloss Carbon Fiber and Crown Cut Walnut. Finished in Brunel (dark blue) with Liquid Amber veneer (derived from the American Red Gum tree no less), our tester's interior was more conservative than the brash exterior.
Quilted leather seats and the diamond-in-diamond embroidery on the door casings and rear quarter panels should really come as standard but alas, buyers will have to spend more on these elegant upgrades. The orange contrast stitching and embroidered Bentley emblems are also optional extras, as are the deep pile overmats. Our tester was missing the diamond knurling, a beautiful finish that can be applied to the bulls-eye vents, controls and clock bezels. An optional 'Cotes de Geneve' finish for the center console normally reserved for high-end watches is another option buyers should consider.
The goal of any self-respecting GT car is to carry a couple of people across a vast distance in the utmost comfort, with the ability to provide enough storage for a weekend away in the Rockys, or your beachfront mansion in Malibu, or wherever else you may decide to vacation for the weekend. With 12.6 cubic feet of trunk space, the Continental GT fits the bill perfectly, offering up enough space for a weekend away in a deep, square configuration. Hands needn't get involved either, as the Continental can be optioned with a hands-free trunk lid. But that's where it ends, as the seatbacks don't fold. Not quite the master of practicality, then, and with plush carpets, you'll want to be careful what you stick in the trunk anyway.
Internal storage space is practical, but not necessarily abundant. The center console has a slim pocket on either side, as well as two large cupholders, while the storage bin beneath the armrest is large and practical. The glovebox is decently spacious, too, but the door pockets are fairly slim and limiting in their shape. With only two seats in the rear, there's an armrest/storage console between the two perches with a pair of cupholders.
In true Bentley fashion, the Continental GT is awash with technological advancement. Full-LED matric headlights feature high-beam assist, the air suspension is fully adaptive, and the seats are 12-way power-adjustable, with the option for 20-way ventilation and massage enabled seats. The steering wheel can be heated, as can the windscreen, while on the technological front, the Continental GT can be outfitted with adaptive cruise control, wireless device charging, a head-up driver display, the Bentley Rotating Display, and even night vision - the latter displayed in the digital instrument cluster. A panoramic sunroof adds additional ambiance, as does the optional mood lighting. Adding to the range of driver assistance features is Bentley Safeguard Plus, while also available are 360-degree cameras, traffic sign recognition, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, and pedestrian warning.
The rotating display is the main talking point of the new Continental's interior with the 12.3-inch infotainment display dominating the dashboard when it's not being hidden away. It's sharp and easy to intuit, with physical buttons below it providing useful shortcuts. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, steering wheel controls can be used to control most functions, while a configurable virtual gauge cluster and head-up display keep you constantly informed.
A 2,200-Watt Naim sound system is a £6,500 GBP ($8,000) option that features 18 speakers in elegant surrounds and two shakers providing an aural quality only a true audiophile will appreciate. A Bang & Olufsen is a 1,500-Watt system with 16 speakers that doubtless does an equally good job at providing a high-quality sound, as, we're sure, does Bentley's standard audio system.
The Continental GT hasn't been part of any recalls, but as it was only released earlier this year, it's too early to pass comment on future reliability. But Bentley has a reputation to uphold, so you can bet should anything go wrong they'll move heaven and earth to make sure they sort it out. New cars are covered by a three-year/unlimited mileage general warranty, which is matched equally with a comprehensive roadside assistance program.
As is the case with a number of low-volume, high-end vehicles on sale in the US, neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has evaluated the Continental GT for crashworthiness. But high levels of safety equipment ensure that despite the lack of a rating, safety is guaranteed.
In addition to four standard airbags - dual front and front side airbags - high-performance brakes with ABS and EBD, and advanced traction and stability control systems, the Continental GT is endowed with a number of advanced safety systems. A standard rearview camera can be upgraded to a 360-degree system, while the LED matrix headlights boast automatic high-beam assistance as standard. Adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, pedestrian warning, reverse traffic warning, and even a night vision camera are all available to bolster the safety standards.
Bentley has made the latest iteration of the GT sportier, more fluid, considerably quicker and by our eye, better looking. With competitors like the Aston Martin DB11, Porsche Panamera, and Mercedes-AMG S65 breathing down its neck, the Continental GT had to take a huge leap forward. While the Crewe-based carmaker has done wonders maturing the two-door grand tourer, it's simultaneously given it a more youthful appeal. Despite its popularity with rappers and star athletes, the average age of a Continental owner is 53. With its new fitter, leaner look, impressive performance both in a straight line and on challenging stretches of road, combined with cutting-edge tech and ultra-fine luxury details, thirty-somethings with money to burn should be all over the new Bentley Continental GT. Cruise in style, take a 1,000-mile road trip, have an early morning riot on country roads. It has multiple personalities, with a breadth and depth of capability that only a handful of cars can match.
If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can't afford it anyway, but the Bentley Continental GT is priced from $200,000 in the US before the addition of taxes, registration, licensing and destination charges, or before you go anywhere near the options list which can easily see prices soar to nearly $300,000. Our tester was priced at £205,015 (around $250,000), £45,915 ($55,000) of which were options.
By default, the Bentley Continental GT is a standalone trim, but at launch, buyers can choose from either a standard Continental GT or the Continental GT First Edition.
As standard, every Continental arrives with 12-way power-adjustable heated seats, LED matrix headlights, adaptive air suspension, multi-zone climate control, and a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen with HDD navigation, two SD card slots, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi streaming, Apple CarPlay, Sirius satellite radio, built-in Google StreetView navigation, and a 650-watt ten-speaker surround sound system. But in true Bentley fashion, almost every facet of the Continental GT can be upgraded.
The First Edition equips some of these upgrades as standard, like the Bentley Rotating Display, First Edition badging, and bespoke interior appointments. The First Edition also includes the Mulliner Driving Specification, which sees the model ride on 22-inch polished black alloy wheels, while the interior upholstery features bespoke diamond-in-diamond quilting on the seats, door panels, and rear quarter panels. Also included are the City and Touring specifications, which add a full suite of driver assistance features including advancements like night-vision.
There's an almost infinite number of ways in which you can specify a Continental GT, with numerous packages and standalone options with which to make it your own.
The Front Seat Comfort Specification upgrades the front seats to include 20-way power adjustment, ventilation, and massage functionality, while the Touring Specification adds functionality that includes lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, night vision, and a head-up display. The City Specification adds another layer to these systems with a top-view camera, traffic sign recognition, pedestrian warning, reverse traffic warning, auto-dimming mirrors, and a hands-free trunk lid.
Two audio upgrades are available for the Continental GT - a 1,500-watt Bang & Olufsen system with 16 speakers, or a Naim 2,200-watt system with 18 speakers.
The Bentley Rotating Display is a classy way to embrace your inner spy, while more simplistic options like the panoramic glass roof and diamond knurling effect on the interior chrome trim make the Continental feel even more luxurious.
Aside from the First Edition, which throws in certain optional extras as standard, there's only one Continental GT with a single engine option (a V8 is coming for 2020) and one transmission. But with the amount of options available, buyers will have a fine time configuring the GT.
Go all in on the options and buyers could be adding 50% to the base price. At a minimum, we'd opt for the Rotating Display, and add the Touring, Mood Lighting and Front Seat Comfort Specifications. The City Specification is worth considering for the top view camera and hands-free trunk opening alone, while the Mulliner Driving Specification would also be hard to ignore. From the extensive list of exterior upgrades, the panoramic glass roof would be the only option we'd think hard about, and we'd save a few grand by ignoring the high-end sound systems. However you look at it, buyers should be ready to pay at least 30% more than the base price.
If you can afford one, you can probably afford them both, but for the discerning multi-millionaire, the Rolls-Royce Wraith is the Continental GT's most natural rival. Both feature large-displacement twin-turbo 12 cylinder engines with more than 600 hp, but Bentley's 664 lb-ft significantly trumps the Rolls' 605 lb-ft. Despite this, performance is nearly identical, despite the fact that the Wraith only drives the rear wheels while the Continental boasts standard AWD. There's little separating them from a quality and technology perspective either, both loaded with luxury and innovation. What does separate them is size, with the Wraith being substantially larger than the Continental GT. It has more interior room, more trunk space, and crucially weighs 400 lbs more than the Bentley. Because of its lighter weight and more compact size, the Bentley is the driver's GT car, while the larger Rolls-Royce will appeal more to those who place comfort above all else. Considering the Bentley is already about as luxurious as it gets, we say why not have your comfort with a dose of agility? For us, the duality of the Bentley means it's the better pick between the two.
The S-Class has always been synonymous with luxury, and in Mercedes-AMG S65 guise, it's the pinnacle of what can be achieved using not-so-humble S-Class bones. With its own 6.0-liter bi-turbo V12, the S65 develops 5 hp less than the Bentley while producing 74 lb-ft more torque. It sends these outputs purely to the rear wheels. Both are ultra-stylish, but the S65 is more practical with a larger trunk and marginally more interior space. It weighs less, too, 130 lbs less, which should make it more dynamically talented. Yet both perform on par with one another in this regard. The Bentley is a little more refined, though, while the AMG-badging on the S65 means they've engineered it to be a little more hardcore. It's a close battle between the two, but where the S65 falls drastically short is in terms of interior luxury; it simply can't match the feel of the Bentley, or the exclusivity. With the two both priced at over $200,000, we'd happily forego the additional torque of the Merc in favor of the opulence and brand cachet of the Bentley.