The very name “Bentley Continental GT” is exciting, arousing and exotic, and in the 1950s it was emblazoned across some of the most beautiful looking GT cars known to man. And then in 2003 this legendary moniker was reborn, attached to the very first car that Bentley produced after it was taken over by Volkswagen.
It is no surprise then that the all-new 2018 Continental GT is a very big deal for Bentley. Totally re-engineered to the point where Bentley claims it is now 100 per cent brand new, this time it shares its underpinnings not with a humble VW but with the latest Porsche Panamera.
In order to dictate exactly the parts they were going to end up with Bentley’s engineers were involved with their counterparts at Porsche throughout the car’s development. That has made a huge difference to the quality of the end product.
While the heart of the Continental GT is still a thundering 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12, featuring the same capacity as the previous W12, this is actually a brand spanking new engine that even has a different firing order. Once again power is directed to all four wheels, but this time by a similarly fresh (for Bentley) eight-speed dual clutch gearbox, as used in the Panamera.
The W12’s outputs are predictably earth shaking. Maximum power is 626bhp at 6,000rpm while maximum torque is a whopping 900Nm that sits on a plateau from 1,350 to 4,500rpm. Combined with a launch control system this is enough to fire the 2,244kg GT to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 333km/h, with 0-160km/h taking less than nine seconds. Despite weighing 76kg less, the new GT is still a heavy machine, but is now even more seriously rapid than before.
However, if anything it is the chassis and suspension that represent the biggest forward steps. Here Bentley claims their new car is not only more comfortable but, crucially, also a lot more sporting in its intent. It is no surprise that the parts sharing with Porsche has contributed towards this.
The shift in basic philosophy penetrates deep into the GT’s engineering layout. For starters the big W12 engine now sits around 150mm further back in the chassis, which makes a huge difference to the cars dynamic balance.
The suspension is by double wishbones in front, and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, with a three-chamber air suspension unit at each corner and active dampers. Electronically controlled active anti-roll bars are driven by a 48-volt electrical system able to apply massive instant torque for real time roll control. Together, these elements provide the new GT with vastly more ride and handling control than before - to a point where “it almost doesn’t matter how heavy the car is because we can control everything so much better this time” says Keith Sharp, the GT’s chief chassis engineer.
The brakes are almost the biggest of any production road car, with 420mm steel ventilated discs at the front, and 380mm ones at the rear. Only the larger and heavier Lamborghini Urus with its 440mm front ceramic discs has bigger stoppers.
While the new GT is still 4WD, the way it deploys its power and torque is radically different from its predecessor. You get to choose how the 4WD system works by scrolling through three set menus; Comfort, Bentley and Sport. You can then further tailor these settings to your individual needs by venturing deeper into the drive menu and selecting the Custom function.
In Comfort mode up to 38 per cent of the torque goes to the front axle, which essentially makes the GT feel like a regular 4WD car. In Bentley mode the car starts to feel a touch more sporting, with a little more torque going to the rear axle, a corresponding step up in damper control, and more incisive throttle and gearbox mapping. It feels sporting but also supremely refined, with light but hyper accurate steering, and a lovely sense of balance to the ride and body control.
The new GT also feels properly rapid in Bentley mode. This comes about partly because it manages to disguise its vast weight so effectively, just as Sharp claims, but also because the responses from the engine and gearbox are so keen. The way the car summons its energy with such effortless efficiency really does need to be experienced to be believed. It feels every so slightly Veyron-like in the way it sucks in the horizon and deposits you so instantly upon it.
While the sense of acceleration the GT produces is total, the sense of suspension and ride control it displays is also extraordinary. As is the way the new dual clutch gearbox operates, which is simply brilliant. Thus, while its implied speed is real, the Bentley mode also delivers a delicious sense of serenity to the way the GT glides across the landscape.
Lag from the W12 engine also doesn’t seem to exist as far as I could tell on this pre-production test car. Basically the GT goes, and goes very hard indeed. But it is not until you select Sport mode and drive it on a track that you can fully appreciate how far Bentley has gone with the GT this time.
In Sport mode only 17 per cent of drive goes to the front axle, and everything else - dampers, throttle, gearbox, exhaust - is set to deliver maximum sporting thrills. And in Sport mode the new GT feels quite a lot like a full blown sports car, displaying an agility that is hard if not impossible to associate with its vast kerb weight. Although you can’t quite throw it around like a BMW M3, it is actually not too far off from delivering that kind of agility.
And if you turn the ESP off, as Bentley insisted I should on track at Anglesey, it will do things that you will find hard to believe. You want great big 100 metre power slides from a Continental GT? No problem, sir, just press the right buttons in the right order and you can smoke the 22-inch rear tyres to your heart’s content.
And yet at the other end of the scale the new GT is more comfortable and more refined than ever on the road, with one of the best equipped, high quality looking and feeling cabins of any car at any price.
Significantly, it also looks around 10 times better than before in the metal, with real Marilyn Monroe style presence as it glides past you on the road. For a shade less than £160,000 in the UK (or SGD$289,401 accurate as of 3rd January 2018), the new Bentley Continental GT, which goes on sale in March, is the best car of its ilk in the world right now.