First Look: 2011 Bentley Continental GT

Bentley’s iconic shape?
Is the Continental GT for Bentley what the 911 is for Porsche-an iconic shape that is only massaged, never fundamentally altered? The cars’ owners seem to think so, and Bentley has apparently taken those sentiments to heart, in the first redesign of its bestselling coupe.

A careful evolution
The new Continental GT, which will have its public debut at the Paris auto show and which goes on sale early next year, hews closely to the design of the previous car. Dirk van Braekel, Bentley’s current design chief, did the original Continental GT; Raul Pires, Bentley’s head of exterior design, shaped the new car. Although it looks like a virtual copy, every body panel is new. Many of the familiar lines and creases have been sharpened for greater definition. The window opening is shallower and longer, as the beltline is slightly higher. The car is wider, with rear fenders that are set further out from the body, but overall height and length are the same.

Inside, the design changes again are evolutionary. The dash features a large touch screen, and the console adds cupholders. Switching from seat-mounted belts to traditional belts (with automated presenters) allowed for slimmer front seatbacks, increasing rear legroom by nearly two inches, but it’s still a tight fit for adults.

Increased output
Mechanically, there are no major hardware changes-at least not at launch. The Continental GT is again powered by a 6.0-liter W-12 engine driving all four wheels. The engine’s output increases from 552 to 567 hp, with torque bumped up from 479 to 516 pound-feet, parsed out by a six-speed automatic transmission. Bentley claims the new Continental GT will get from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds (down from 4.6 seconds), while top speed remains 198 mph.

The Continental’s all-wheel-drive system moves to a rear-biased (40:60) torque split. The all-aluminum suspension has new uprights, the track is wider, and the steering has been recalibrated. The car is 143 pounds lighter overall, and Bentley predicts a minor increase in fuel economy, from 10/17 mpg to 12/19 mpg (preliminary estimate). As to the new car’s driving character, project leader Paul Jones promises, “the agility of the Continental GT Speed with a better ride than the standard car”.

A second engine option
A bigger change, however, is coming. Late next year, the Continental GT will add a second engine choice: an all-new 4.0-liter V-8. Although the V-8 is being developed with Audi, it, like the W-12, will be built at Crewe. Bentley isn’t ready to talk about output (expect to hear more at this spring’s Geneva auto show), but the company promises a 40 percent reduction in emissions. Bentley bosses insist that the 4.0-liter won’t be an entry-level model, and that the V-8 and the W-12 will be positioned side-by-side.

A cohesive showroom
Also side-by-side, at least in the showroom, will be the new coupe and the current GTC convertible and Flying Spur sedan, which aren’t due for their redesign quite yet. Perhaps that’s another reason for the evolutionary styling.

“We felt we had to be very cautious,” says van Braekel. Indeed, a new coupe that looked dramatically different would make its sedan and convertible siblings look old. Instead, the new Continental GT advanced the family look, but does it carefully.

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