2015 Bentley Continental GT review, test drive
6th Jun 2015 8:00 am
The Flying B’s continent-crushing grand tourer gets a bit more bling and an updated engine for 2015.
What is it?
Bentley’s most affordable model and its most popular one by a huge margin, and unsurprisingly, a car that accounts for 50 percent of all production – and no, that doesn’t include the Flying Spur sedan. We’re talking only about the two-door coupé and convertible, a range that’s now swelled to eight models – a combination of four engines and two body styles. They have all just been given a facelift, and we’ve headed to the picturesque Atlantic Road in Norway to sample them all.
Customers have always loved the look of the Continental GT since the 2003 original, and so, visual changes over the years, including when this second-generation car was introduced 2011, have never deviated from the same basic shape. Likewise now, it retains the big rectangular grille, huge LED-ringed main beams flanked by smaller auxiliary lights, strong lines, pronounced rear haunches and that very purposefully sculpted rear. New for this facelift, however, are a larger, more aggressive lower air dam at the front, and new chrome air vents on the flanks in the shape of Bentley’s ‘Flying B’. There’s more chrome down the sides of the car and even a new strip that wraps around the rear bumper to help enhance the car’s width. Finally, the sportier models – the V8 S and the Speed – get a new rear diffuser. There are also a few more paint, wheel and upholstery options available. And ever a treat to behold on the Continental GT are its gigantic 16.5-inch front brake discs, with their massive calipers, that almost overwhelm the 20-inch wheels.
The interiors are as welcoming as ever, with their two-tone seats covered in the plushest of leather, huge slabs of wood in the dashboard, and switches made of knurled and polished metal. And you have to just love the way a motorised arm extends forward to ‘hand over’ your seatbelt when you get in, before retreating to its niche beneath the rear window. If you look really hard, you might find a button or two that vaguely resembles one you’d find on an Audi, but let that only be an indicator of the tech that’s hiding behind it. The touchscreen system is showing signs of age now, but its layout is clear and classy, and now also incorporates onboard Wi-Fi that works with up to four devices simultaneously.
What’s it like to drive?
The four engine options available – all twin-turbocharged with an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive – are the 500bhp V8, the 521bhp V8 S, the mighty 626bhp Speed and the classic W12. It’s this last engine that’s been given an upgrade this time around, with a bump in power from 567 to 582bhp, while torque from the 6.0-litre motor has gone up by 2kgm to 73.42kgm. Can you feel the extra power? Not really, and we’d need our testing equipment to tell you if it performs any differently. It now also gets cylinder deactivation (or Variable Displacement, as Bentley would like you to call it), which shuts down six out of the 12 cylinders when you don’t put too much stress on the engine. The result, Bentley says, is that the W12 can now manage around 640km between fill-ups, which if true, is pretty amazing for a 2.2-tonne petrol car. Of course, this cylinder-shutdown tech was always available on the V8 models, but interestingly, it’s not available on the range-topping W12 Speed. In practice, the transition from lowered displacement to firing on all cylinders is rather seamless in both engines, as it should be in a Bentley.
All the motors are more than capable of hurtling the big B along at a heady pace, although there’s no escaping the fact that the W12 cars do it far more effortlessly than the V8s. The 4.0-litre V8 does get one back by sounding a lot nicer though, and while you have to coax a roar out of the W12, a bark from the V8 is only ever a slight blip away, especially in the S. Speaking of which, the steering feels heavier in the V8 S than any of the others, and similarly, the air suspension, even in its softest setting, is firmer than the others at their sportiest. You might think this would have been true of the W12 Speed as well, but it isn’t. The 626bhp flagship is just as supple and easy to steer as the ‘standard’ cars, and its powertrain packs a silken wallop that truly belies its titanic proportions and weight. As its name states, the Continental is a GT or Grand Tourer, so handling is never going to match up to an out-and-out sportscar, but it feels supremely secure and planted on the road. It is, however, very wide, so if your grand tour finds you on narrow roads, you’d best be wary of oncoming traffic.
Should I buy one?
The Continental GT delivers pretty much all that its well-heeled customers are looking for. Not only is it ruthlessly good at delivering its velvety smooth yet extremely potent performance, it’s also got all the luxury and equipment you could ask for, and it’s big enough to be reasonably practical too. It also looks really good, with incredible road presence, a lot of bling, and that all-important Winged B on its nose – which is what buyers will really love. Which one should you choose? We wouldn’t have trouble recommending any of them – the V8 is immensely capable for an ‘entry level’ variant, the improved W12 seems a great all-rounder, there’s the V8 S if you want a little more by way of dynamics, and the Speed is just the ultimate all-encompassing expression of the GT. Whatever your choice, the new Continental range is a great blend of real-world performance, supreme luxury and red-carpet bling.