This Bentley is a GT in the purest sense
Mark Smyth drives the latest Continental grand tourer in the year the brand celebrates its centenary
The B4407 is one of the roads loved by British motoring mag testers and it’s easy to see why. It is a single-lane road that meanders over the Welsh hills from Ffestiniog to Ysbyty Ifan (don’t ask me, I can’t pronounce it either) for just under 16km. It is very much like those pristine pieces of single-lane tarmac you see in Rally Deutschland, but with fewer trees and more sheep.
It’s also not much wider than the new Bentley Continental GT, so it’s important to place this 2,187mm wide, W12 wielding piece of handcrafted grand tourer carefully. Get everything right on the B4407 and the Conti comes into its own. Granted, the road is probably better suited to something smaller, lighter and more nimble, like a Porsche Cayman or a feisty little hot hatch, but the Conti loved every metre of it and not surprisingly so did I.
I’d picked the car up from Bentley head office in Crewe, in northern England, the day before after chatting with the brand’s head of interior design Darren Day. His insight into the intricacies of the interior design allowed me to admire the cockpit in which I was so comfortably positioned even more. There’s workmanship here, real workmanship, the kind that takes years to learn and even more to master.
A major talking point is the rotating infotainment screen, which contains hundreds of components to make sure it works perfectly every time. Before pushing the start button, it’s a piece of perfectly matched wood, but fire up the twin-turbocharged W12 and it rotates silently to reveal the infotainment screen.
Not knowing the roads yet, the navigation map was the best option, but on longer stretches you can push a button and it will rotate again to show three elegant dials. These dials represent driving (outside air temp), luxury (compass) and performance (lap timer).
Day put it perfectly when he said: “What’s luxury about pixels? Same 1s and 2s as in a Renault Duster. If you don’t have a screen in the middle you get back to beauty and architecture. People make a thing about their infotainment, but no-one with an architect-designed house says come and look at my telly.”
Everything lines up perfectly, everything feels premium to another level. Yes, there are some Volkswagen Group bits (that infotainment system is from the Porsche Panamera, some of the buttons on the steering wheel are Audi) but even those have had the Bentley treatment. As I learned from my chat with Day, there really is a story behind every part of the Conti GT.
But back to the drive. After leaving the Crewe head office, the first task was to negotiate traffic and head to the A5 which meanders into north Wales. This is a GT, so it has to be able to do the daily grind if you so desire and then stretch its legs when the road allows. Can’t fault it here. The commute was relaxing, the sound system superb and the driving position excellent. The GT sounds great too, being calm in traffic but bellowing when you open up the throttle.
The navigation took some odd routes to an overnight stop, but even on the occasional farm lane, the three-chamber air suspension kept things smooth while the active all-wheel-drive system minimised the occasional wheel slip on slightly more slippy stretches. It’s a rear bias setup, with just 17% of power being pushed to the front wheels in Sport mode, but this increases to up to 38% in Comfort or the de facto Bentley mode.
And it stops well too, which is essential when you come over a hump to find a sheep wandering around or a farmer on a quad checking the fences. In spite of a hefty kerb weight of 2,244kg the ventilated discs with 10-piston calipers up front and four-piston at the rear, bring you to a stop quickly and with almost no drama.
Visibility is decent for a coupe but even more impressive was the forward visibility courtesy of full LED matrix headlights. They pierced through dark tree-lined roads and beneath low-lying fog and proved to be invaluable on multiple occasions.
I could go on about technology and craftsmanship, but there is a real heart to the Conti GT and that’s the W12. Bentley is working on alternative drivetrains for the future because of course it has to, like every other automaker, but while it’s still possible, experiencing the performance of a W12 is something else.
That 6.0l twin-turbocharged W12 motor pushes 467kW and 900Nm through an eight-speed dual clutch box. On paper it’s impressive enough, but when you tap into the power available, it seems relentless in the way the Bentley launches forward and just keeps on going.
The GT badge is sadly overused these days, often for models that are anything but a GT to the purist. Not so with the Continental. It’s muscular but elegant, refined and yet occasionally raw. It commutes effortlessly, but also shines on narrow, twisty driving roads that it simply relishes. It’s a GT in the purest sense, luxurious but sporty. I suspect WO Bentley would like it very much.