By Design: 2019 Bentley Continental GT
Little big car
The news release on the Bentley Motors website says "The long wheelbase and short nose lend the car a sense of dynamism, even when viewed at a standstill." If you believe that, you're a great deal more gullible than you should be. It's going to be a good long while before the long hood and tight passenger compartment ceases to be the most desirable look for front-engine performance cars. Look at the last Packard V-12 roadster from 1939, and you know it's powerful and fast with no need for a vulgar chrome insignia on its flanks telling you how many cylinders are under the hood.
Apart from the copywriter's unconvincing hyperbole, this is an extremely attractive little coupe. Or at least seemingly so, because there's nothing little about any German-era Bentley Continental. They're big cars, and even the least powerful of any built since Volkswagen AG took over is an impressively fast, capable conveyance for four people who will be transported in both comfort and style. But because of that stumpy front end and the giant 22-inch wheels on this new Continental, you get the sense of a tight, compact coupe—more Porsche than Packard. Which, when you think about it, is not a bad thing. Both P-cars are worthy of emulation, and Bentley's native history is validation enough for anything the firm might do today, whether it conforms to our proportional preconceptions or not.
I find the rather wide (as compared to all the finer trim pieces on the car) chrome band on the side to be both inappropriate and poorly executed, skewed off-datum as it is. But that's the only part of the styling that clashes with the Bentley tradition of understated quality. From Vanden Plas bodies of the Cricklewood cars in the '20s to coachbuilt bodies of the first Rolls-Royce Bentleys, there has always been some reserve in shapes and detailing of cars carrying Walter Owen's name. I am particularly pleased by the subtle undercuts beneath each important styling line. It works well everywhere, but it's especially effective on the rear fender indication.
What is unequivocally superior about Bentley design today is the interior work. The execution of every single bit of wood, leather, metal, and plastic is faultless in the current generation. Bentley volumes are many times higher than they ever were in the era of the British Empire on which the sun never set. So it is not astonishing that buyers outside the land of rising damp might want to see bright orange paint on their Bentaygas and Flying Spurs. That each and every model can be customized to buyers' exact requirements means every potential Bentley owner can be assured of personal satisfaction as well as astonishing performance and unquestioned prestige. Even if they don't really look like they're going fast "when viewed at a standstill."
1. It takes a lot of confidence in your precision manufacturing capability to position the gas cap door to cut through complex surfaces. Nice work.
2. The now-traditional small outer lamp is nicely placed on the front of the outer fender surface in such a way as to generate a profile line perfectly recalling the shape of "Olga," the prototype R-Type Continental from 1951.
3. A complex inner lamp generates an inner bulge that fades away in a short distance, again a sensitive, respectful evocation of a long-term Bentley morphology.
4. The hood centerline peak is slightly more prominent than aesthetically desirable. A flatter line would have been better.
5. Tradition, modernity, evocation of racing Bentleys in the '20s—the grille is everything it should be on a 21st century Bentley, including the centerline rod.
6. If there is anything a bit questionable on the front end, it would be these angled arms, seemingly more at home on an Italian supercar than on a historically inspired design.
7. The huge corner openings are not philosophically out of place, but you wonder about their gigantic size.
8. Another almost-subliminal indication of the size of the Continental is its door handles, too low on the body side for a small coupe, ergonomically correct for this one.
9. The bottom of the sill droops just a bit before the rear wheel, making the rising chrome strip and the suggestion of a wedge form even more incongruous.
1. The most interesting aspect of the Continental's body surfaces is the indentation below each styling line, most notably the rear fender profile line.
2. The mirrors are enormous, thus making the whole ensemble look like a small, nimble coupe. It isn't. It's a big car—very fast but nothing like a Lotus.
3. The relatively short hood also makes the car look smaller in photographs than it is, and it's antithetical to the recent Mercedes-Maybach's hood, which seems twice this long.
4. The wheel design is interesting in that the bright rim is discontinuous, each of five segments starting with a blunt end that doesn't touch the rim.
5. After looping toward the center, the bright strip becomes part of the rim, tapering to this sharp point just before the next segment.
6. There should be symmetrically opposite wheels on each side of the car, but there are not. This tightest bend of each spoke segment should point forward and not back as it does on the right side of the car. Driver's side wins here.
7. The huge open area of this 22-inch wheel provides a great view of the enormous brake discs.
8. This hokey chrome bit with its ostentatious cylinder-count announcement suggests the German owners have no comprehension of traditional British understatement. Too bad.
9. The rear of the V-section chrome strip is crimped flat to cross the flat flange around the wheel opening.
10. This crisp line derived from the outer end of the exhaust outlet is comprehensible.
11. This parallel crisp line above the trim strip, derived from no other feature, is not.
1. Camera lens distortion, sure. But these mirrors are really, really big. Good for safety but not for scale.
2. This little separator allows the main door glass to go down. The same constraint existed on the R-Type long ago.
3. Bentley has legitimate access to the Rolls-Royce air-conditioning outlets as seen here. Notice how elegantly the chrome trim beneath the wood aligns with the outlet rib.
4. Almost a novelty in this age, the steering wheel is simply round, with no humps, bumps, or surface-material changes. On the other hand, the hub is definitely off-center. But it looks good and looks like it would feel good.
5. Wood use is discreet and quite welcome.
6. In the age of giant Tesla tablets, the GPS screen seems like a transplanted smartphone face.
7. The organ stop A/C flow controls are another Rolls-Royce carryover idea.
8. These A-pillars are really excessive, blocking far too much view. Bentley should be able to engineer something as strong but not as wide.
9. The center console seems a little too traditional—cluttered and confusing.
10. The "Chairman Mao" diamond quilting is unpleasant and looks cheap to me, though I know that there's a lot of skilled work that goes into making the seat covers and door panels.
11. These round speaker covers could be made less obtrusive, but perhaps the metal presentation is considered more upscale.
12. This small control panel looks like a mistake. It hangs below the rest of the trim piece, which is elegantly smooth on the cockpit's passenger side.
1. In this view you get an even more notable sense of the atypical undercut fender profile line.
2. The roof profile line is emphasized by an undercut down to the transverse roof panel.
3. Although the backlight surface is relatively large, the blackout panels painted on the inner surface reduce the transparency to about half the total glass panel area. It's odd but not uncommon these days.
4. There is a big drop between this spoiler edge and the tapering roof, another element of the surface undercuts prevalent on this coupe.
5. The trunklid is really small, giving the impression that loading baggage will be an unpleasant chore. Presumably even golf bags will fit, pointing out the overall apparent
6. The very fine chrome trim around the taillights is nicely proportioned …
7. … as is the slightly thicker license recess trim.
8. … whereas the horizontal exhaust outlets are symmetrical, a much nicer shape.
9. Notice the lamp outline sags a bit as compared to the upper profile, which is very pure …
10. The two flat sections of the chrome strip really should have been left off. The main thrust of the V-section trim pieces would have been preserved without breaking up the wheel opening.
11. In publicity pictures, the B at the wheel hub is always presented as though it were on a weighted center, such as a Rolls-Royce or a car sporting dubs. Let it go.