First Drive: 2011 Bentley Continental GT

Which we did repeatedly in the stunning canyons just off the coast of the Gulf of Oman outside the capital of Muscat and on long, empty, undulating strips of freshly laid blacktop in the Sharqiya Desert. The ZF gearbox, like that of the outgoing Continental GT Super Sports, is now capable of double-downshifting from, say, sixth gear directly to fourth. Shift times, Bentley says, are half what they used to be, 200 milliseconds. We found the shifts to be reasonably crisp and direct, but it was possible, especially at higher revs, to get the box to hiccup for a split-second. The eight-speed automatic that will be fitted to the twin-turbo V-8 in a year will be a welcome addition to the Conti spec sheet.

The Conti GT chassis and suspension designs carry over, as does standard all-wheel drive, but now the torque split is 40 percent front, 60 percent rear, versus 50:50 before, and it's possible for 85 percent or more of torque to be shuffled to either axle. "We use open differentials at both the front and rear axles," explains engineer Eichhorn, "but four-wheel traction control is actually superimposed over all that. If, say, the wheels on one side of the vehicle are on ice, you can easily drive away." The GT is perhaps a little easier to oversteer than before, also, although easily corrected, as we learned while lapping some empty roundabouts on the mountain roads south of Muscat near Bentley's host hotel, the Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa. The hotel is owned by the same guy, Rashad M. Al Zubair, who has the sole Bentley dealership in this emerging tourist destination, the third-largest nation on the Arabian peninsula.

Eichhorn beams when describing the weight loss that he and his team were able to achieve in the new Conti GT. "Most car lines, through additional equipment and other changes, tend to gain a bit of weight each year during their life cycle," he tells us. "But we are quite happy that we were able to make the new GT 65 kilograms [143 lb] lighter than the outgoing car." Bearing in mind that the Continental GT coupe still weighs a rather portly 5115 lb, we will join Eichhorn in celebrating this marginal but still significant weight loss, which was made possible by:

  • New front seats, which ditch the last car's bulky built-in belts in favor of B-pillar belt-presenters and which have spaces sculpted into their backs, thus providing nearly two additional inches of rear-seat legroom in the process. Savings: 77 pounds
  • Lightweight chassis components: Savings: 18 pounds
  • The front fenders and the trunk lid are formed of aluminum using a new, high-temperature stamping process that allows bigger, lighter panels. Savings: 11 pounds
  • Various and sundry other shavings here and there, even though, as Eichhorn says, "the track is now 40 millimeters [1.6 inches] wider, the tires are one inch wider, and we now offer 21-inch wheels."

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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