First Drive: 2011 Bentley Continental GT

In our recent drive of the outgoing, first-generation Bentley Continental, several of us expressed the desire, perhaps naïve, that the new Conti GT might have its engine in a different location than in front of the front axle. What, did we think they were going to wedge that W-12 into the back seat? Silly us. There's simply no getting around the fact that the Conti GT has been, and will continue to be, a short-nosed car that's packing a lot of hardware into a very small space. And, as Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, Bentley's patrician chief, explains, if they were to mount the engine on top of the axle, the car would have a very high center of gravity.

Wait, we said, when the all-new, twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8 arrives in late 2011, surely it will weigh significantly less and therefore constitute much less of a lump hanging off the front end of the car, right? Not so fast, advises Bentley's longtime chief engineer, Dr. Ulrich Eichhorn. "Our W-12 is already one of the lightest and most compact twelve-cylinder engines in the world," he tells us during the global media preview of the new Conti GT. "The 4.0-liter V-8, which we are developing with Audi, will not weigh that much less."

To drive and enjoy the new Conti GT, then, is, as before, to accept the fact this is not some sort of Ferrari 458 Italia, with a high-revving, naturally aspirated V-8 tucked well behind the front axle and down toward the firewall. This is not a sports car; this is a grand touring coupe, and what a grand thing it is.

The W-12 is certainly grand. The Bentley guys are enamored of torque, not high revs, and although the last Conti GT wasn't lacking for it, Eichhorn's team massaged the 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 for another 37 lb-ft, for a total of 516 lb-ft. Horsepower is up marginally as well, to 567 hp. To access the endless stream of lag-free torque, all you have to do is mash your right foot, grab the beautifully stitched steering wheel, and hang on. Sure, there are steering column-mounted shift paddles, but they're too far away for easy grabbing. Yes, you can shove the gearshift lever to the right, into a plus-or-minus gate, and shift for yourself that way, but such efforts seem largely superfluous. The reason you have a car with maximum torque available all the way from 1750 to 5200 rpm is so you can just mash-and-go.

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How come it is OK for Bentley to build "an opulently appointed supercoupe that can comfortably carry four people,"but the BMW X-6 is "something so frivolous, so at odds with itself, so patently ridiculous (they're calling this a coupe?) just seems like blind, raw hedonism?"Not very consistent of you.
If it ain't broke, just make it look new. Can't argue with that.And I'm glad to see Bentley isn't trying to be all things to all people. There is certainly a market for big, heavy, torquey luxury cars.

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