After eight years on the market, and an array of special editions, the Bentley Continental GT has finally gone in for its first redesign. But German powers that be at Bentley (the British marque is part of the Volkswagen Group) are loath to fundamentally change a car that has been such an undeniable success, as the Continental is the first Bentley ever to sell in significant numbers. The result is that the 2011 Continental GT doesn’t stake out new ground but instead seeks to enhance the existing formula.
So, even though this car wears all-new sheetmetal, at first glance — or even second or third glance — it doesn’t really register as new. Bentley has decided that this is the Continental GT’s signature look, and it’s not going change but it instead will evolve. Although you may not be able to put your finger on exactly what’s different, the new version does come across as more handsome, particularly in person. It’s almost like an idealized version of its predecessor. With a more skillful treatment around the headlamps; crisper, more defined body creases; and an elongated side window glass area, the new car also better reflects the classic ’50s Continental coupe.
Looking good is a Bentley’s first prerogative, and the new Continental GT does that better than the previous car. A Bentley should also look like something special inside, and this one does that as well, from the minute you open the heavy door and get the first whiff of that hide-stuffed interior. It probably helps that this example was upholstered nearly wall-to-wall in pale yellow leather (the hue is called Magnolia), its flamboyance kept — just barely — in check by contrasting medium gray accents. This is not a color combo you’ll see in a Toyota.
Aside from looking exotic, the yellow interior also has a practical benefit in that it brightens what otherwise could be an oppressive cabin, with its low ceiling, raised beltline, and a nearly horizontal backlight. This is particularly an issue for back seat passengers who, although they have a bit more knee room than before thanks to slimmer front seats, still had better be short. If you’re thinking you’ll put adults in back with any regularity, you really should be looking at the Flying Spur sedan instead.
From behind the wheel, the new Continental GT is almost an exact replay. The mechanical package is little changed — the suspension is massaged, the all-wheel-drive system is tweaked for more rear bias, and the deep-voiced twelve-cylinder engine provides a bit more torque. Will you feel the new Bentley’s 143-pound weight loss? Not likely, since the car still tops two-and-a-half tons. But with 516 pound-feet of torque at the ready, the car’s tremendous mass certainly doesn’t slow it down.
Speaking of slowing down, one unique driving characteristic of this car is the action of the oval, B-embossed brake pedal; its long, springy travel is unlike most modern cars’ but somehow seems exactly right for a British luxury car. The same goes for the throttle action. There’s no jumpy throttle response here; a long travel allows graceful starts, but bury your foot in it and you’ll never feel that the Continental’s reaction is languid.
In fact, the speed with which this massive coupe rushes forward makes wherever you are suddenly feel smaller. New York City’s northern suburbs, where I live, sure felt that way whenever I dipped into the Continental GT’s deep power reserves. This is a car that wants space. Space to allow you to mash the throttle for more than a few seconds at a time. Space to let you wind the big W-12 up the tach. Space to feel the rush of scenery pass by at the easily attainable triple-digit speeds. None of that is much changed from the way the Continental GT has always been. Mass, torque, and speed are very much a part of this car’s formula. The 2012 version continues to play those same strengths.
Base price: $192,495 (+ gas guzzler tax)
Price as tested: $211,640 (+ gas guzzler tax)
Standard equipment: 567-hp twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive dampers, power trunk lid, full-leather interior, 8-speaker sound system, real-wood-veneer trim, audible parking aid, keyless entry/ignition, navigation system, 10-way power front seats, heated front seats, power tilt + telescoping steering column, LED running lights, dual-zone automatic climate control,
Options on this vehicle: Naim premium audio system $7015, convenience package $4140, 21-inch painted 7-spoke wheels $3110, chestnut wood trim $1595, ventilated and massaging front seats $820, emblem stitching $595, sunglass case $550, trunk carpet $520, two-tone leather trimmed 3-spoke steering wheel $420, deep pile overmats $380
Key options not on this vehicle: Mulliner Driving Specification package, carbon-ceramic brake rotors
Fuel economy: 12/19 mpg (city/highway)
6.0L twin turbocharged W-12
Horsepower: 567 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 5750 rpm
Curb weight: 5115 lb
9.5 x 21-inch wheels
What’s new? Redesigned for 2011, with all-new sheetmetal and a new interior. Most running gear carries over.