The Bentley Continental GT is a modern classic. This is the car that turned Bentley from a niche builder of brutish, old school gentleman’s conveyances into a honed, modern luxury goods manufacturer, able to build anything from a GT car to a royal limousine. This transformation was brokered by Bentley’s then-new owners, the Volkswagen Group, and the GT embodied the shift from traditional methods to modern, platform-engineered production. Like all the best brand rebirths, the original design team behind the Continental GT adeptly fused the marque’s best qualities with modern materials and technologies. The original GT arrived in 2003 and was substantially overhauled in 2011. Never, however, has the car been given a complete ground-up makeover.
Despite the masterful synthesis of old ideals and thoroughly new underpinnings, VW’s might and muscle was never far away, however, Detractors pointed out the various shared components – everything from engines to in-car entertainment – and lamented that character of Volkswagen’s various marques was little more than a skilful exercise in branding. Bentley has taken that criticism to heart with the all-new Continental GT. Yes, there are shared bits, most notably with the current generation Porsche Panamera saloon. Bentley is keen to point out that 82 per cent of this car is unique to Bentley, and you’d have to be especially churlish to complain about that invisible 18 per cent. What’s more telling is the scale; the Panamera is a massive four-door, four-seater. The GT is a classic 2+2 coupe. Bentley is still working on a different scale to everyone else.
The Bentley Continental GT
First impressions are overwhelmingly positive. The original car was never svelte, but used scale to create presence, with Bentley citing the lorry-like ‘Blower’ supercharged Bentley racecars of the interwar period as a precedent. Like a chunky mechanical watch or thickly starched cuff, Bentleys often convey a very traditional ideal of masculinity. The new car is no smaller than its predecessor, but the edges have softened and there’s a more fluid, feminine quality of line, particularly around the rear. Here, oval lights sit within a neatly creased rear treatment beneath a flowing fastback-style rear deck. The rear wheel arches are more pronounced than before, with shorter overhangs at front and rear giving the car a more dynamic stance.
One place where Bentleys have traditionally excelled is in their interior, with space and time to indulge in craftsmanship and quality that mass-market cars simply can’t approach. In the past, this combination lent itself to rather archaic arrangements of switches and dials – ambience rather than ergonomics. The new car ratchets up the technology, with a unique rotating central dash element that switches seamlessly between conventional dials and a flat screen information display. The quality of materials and finishes are peerless, inviting you to jump in and ratchet up the miles to some suitably sybaritic location.
We’ll drive the Continental GT in due course, and explore some of the marque’s legendary performance. Suffice to say it won’t be lacking, with the launch cars containing a heavily version of the flagship W12 engine and lightweight materials and components being used wherever possible. Ultimately, the GT range will consist of a convertible, a V8 and – most importantly of all – a hybrid version. All have the potential to dent the big Bentley’s brutish image, increase the brand’s unisex appeal and – in the case of the hybrid – make another important step towards the electrification of luxury.