Bentley Continental GT
Price: $427,900 (V8 S)/$431,300 plus on-road costs
On sale: Now (deliveries start September)
Engine: 4.0-litre V8 twin turbo petrol/6.0-litre W12 twin turbo petrol
Power: 389kW at 6000rpm/434kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 680Nm at 1700-5000rpm/720Nm at 1700-5000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, AWD
Fuel consumption: 10.5L/100km/14.1L/100km
"Luxury doesn't change, it simply evolves."
At least that is true of the Bentley Continental GT. First launched in 2003, the Continental GT revived the British brand's sporting heritage by being a true grand tourer – luxurious and rapid.
The British brand has enjoyed a golden age under the wing of the Volkswagen Group, and the Continental GT (and the GTC convertible) is the ultimate representation of that. The Continental accounts for half of the brand's sales and even the introduction of the Bentayga SUV won't dent its popularity.
Bentley Continental GT W12 video reviewThe British grand tourer gets a mid-life makeover. To the untrained eye there is little that has changed since 2003 because the design has gone almost unchanged even with the introduction of the second generation model in 2011.
Now for 2015 comes the latest evolution, subtle tweaks to the exterior design, interior technology upgrades and an increase in under-bonnet performance are designed to keep Bentley at the top of the luxury car heap. The changes include a new front bumper, slightly smaller grille, more pronounced front fenders which include a vent with a metallic 'B' badge, new boot with a more aerodynamic trailing edge and a new rear bumper.
Grand Tourer: The Bentley Continental GT W12 Photo: SuppliedThere are also new alloy wheel designs, in 20 – and 21-inches. Inside there are new seat trims on selected models, the option of a more ergonomic steering wheel and metal finish on the gearshift paddles. There's also LED lighting for the cabin and a new storage space in the rear that can charge iPads and other electronic devices. And in a nod to the evolution of Bentley customer's, in-car wifi is now available. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine that powers the 'entry-level' GT V8 and GT V8 S models is unchanged. It produces 373kW/660Nm in GT V8 model and 389kW/680Nm in the V8 S.
However, there have been changes to the crown jewel in the Continental range – the 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine. In the range-topping models, the unique W12 has been upgraded to produce 434kW/720Nm (up from 423kW/700Nm), while the GT Speed model retains the same 467kW/820Nm output.
But the biggest change for the GT W12 is the introduction of cylinder on demand technology, so it can run on six-cylinders when full power isn't required. It doesn't turn it into a fuel-miser though with the W12 consuming 14.1-litres per 100km in the regular model and the GT Speed rated at 14.5L/100km. The V8 models use a relatively impressive 10.5L/100km. Both engines are mated to the same eight-speed automatic transmission which is carried over from the previous car.
In fact the rest of the car's mechanicals remain unchanged so there isn't a dramatic shift in character when you hit the road in the updated Continental. Bentley chose to launch this new range in northern Norway, taking in some of the most demanding (and picturesque) roads in Europe including the Trolligsten Mountain Road and the Atlantic Road.
It was an ideal environment for the Continental GT, showcasing its ability to eat up large distances while keeping the occupants relaxed. The GT W12 makes particularly light work of the stretches of open road, where its big engine is able to cruise along at speeds that would make most cars laboured.
With the full 720Nm of torque available from as low as 1700rpm and all the way through to 5000rpm it pulls with ease. Bentley says the engine provides "effortless performance" and it's hard to argue with that assessment. It also disguises the sizeable mass of the big two-door, four-seater. Or at least it does until you come to a corner.
For the most part the big brakes pull the car up with little trouble but repeated heavy braking, such as coming down the hairpin-infested Trolligsten Mountain Road, exposes some minor fade.
But the biggest problem with the GT W12 is actually the GT V8 S. While the smaller 4.0-litre V8 may offer less power, with 389kW and 680Nm it can hardly be called underpowered.
And what it loses in power it compensates for with less weight, as the engine weighs approximately 30kg less than the W12. That's a significant amount of heft to remove from the front end of the car and it becomes noticeable once you start throwing the V8 S at some corners.
It changes direction quicker than the W12, reacting faster to inputs from the nicely weighted speed sensitive steering, which makes it feel like a more dynamic Grand Tourer. The ride quality in both cars is sublime on smooth roads, with the suspension capable of soaking up the minor bumps in the road to leave the occupants isolated. However, in order to endow the car with its dynamic prowess it is quite taut and with the big alloy wheels larger bumps in the road can jar the ride, which does detract from the pampering experience of the otherwise beautifully mostly hand-crafted interior.
The adjustable suspension allows you to alter the firmness of the ride between a pair of 'Comfort' and 'Sport' settings. Unless you take it your Continental to the track the two Comfort options are the ones to stick with. The Continental GT remains one of the best Grand Tourers on the market, but it should be an impressive car given prices have increased to $427,900 (plus on-road costs) for the V8 S and $431,300 (plus on-road costs) for the W12; an increase of approximately $22,000 over the old model.
Ultimately these latest changes to the Continental GT don't alter its character, but they have evolved it to something better.