KITZBUHEL, AUSTRIA – The hills are alive with the sound of music, but this isn’t Julie Andrews doing the singing. Instead, a 5,000-pound British grand touring coupe is belting out a glorious, 12-cylinder baritone tune, its siren song echoing across the picturesque valley. The 2019 Bentley Continental GT has some serious pipes—two ovoid tipped ones, in fact—and we’re more than happy to let any Austrian within earshot hear the roar emitting from them.
The new, third-generation Continental GT finds its voice from the hand-built masterpiece that is its 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W-12 engine, which is rated at 626 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque—numbers that would have blown everyone away a decade ago but now almost seem commonplace. There is nothing common about this super coupe, however. This is a member of the House of Lords—a proper British motorcar that does its touring in grand style, one that nods to Bentley’s past all while embracing the brave new automotive world.
While the hulking Bentayga, the SUV that Bentley simply had to build, is the storied marque’s new hotness, the Continental GT is its modern-era heart. The assembled officials who spoke—and we spoke with—during our first go with it used words like “honor,” and “crowning achievement” to describe how they felt about working on the new car. Indeed, the Conti GT was a phenomenon when it first hit the market back in 2003. It quickly became a gotta-have-it machine for rappers, Hollywood hotshots, and the nouveau-riche, with some 70,000 having been sold in all. It’s a car that came to define what a new Bentley could be, a shining example of how the German knowhow and engineering of the Volkswagen Group could coexist with the legendary British craftsmanship and motoring expertise housed in Bentley’s ancestral home of Crewe.
We’re getting a taste of how far that relationship has come as we power the Continental GT into yet another tight hairpin along a stretch of the Großglockner pass, a spectacular alpine route that cuts across jagged, fog-swathed peaks and deep canyons covered with lush, snow-packed forests. Experiencing this kind of mind-blowing scenery at speeds fast and slow is what touring is all about, and the Conti has little problem navigating the road’s numerous switchbacks, slick roadways, and myriad elevation changes.
After passing through the pass, there is absolutely zero question whatsoever in our minds that the new Continental GT is an eminently more capable car dynamically than the outgoing model thanks to a number of key updates, chief among them a move to from the aging D1 platform to the VW Group’s MSB component set—a far more rigid underlying structure with greater packaging flexibility that also underpins the Porsche Panamera.
Its suspension—aluminum double wishbone up front and multi-link at rear—is a proven design that’s further augmented by Bentley’s Dynamic Ride control system. Powered by a 48-volt mild hybrid setup, Dynamic Ride is designed to improve steering feel, overall handling, chassis response, and grip. Its key feature is its ability to electronically activate anti-roll bars that can shove as much as 959 lb-ft of torque against the forces of lateral evil.
Further ride and handling improvements include an updated air suspension with new three-chamber shocks that hold 60 percent more air and a Bentley first: an electronically controlled active torque vectoring system. Utilizing a center differential with a multi-plate clutch, it normally sends all available torque to the rear wheels, but can deliver up to 38 percent to the fronts when the system deems it necessary. You want more torque vectoring? Of course you do. The Continental GT is also fitted with a brake-vectoring setup pioneered on the outgoing GT3-R and Supersports models that can move torque from inside to outside wheels depending on the grip conditions it senses.
In case that wasn’t enough, Bentley’s Drive Dynamics Control also allows the driver to select Comfort, Bentley, and Sport modes, or you mix and match the throttle map, steering feel, spring stiffness, damping, and engine note to individual tastes. The different modes essentially act as electronic guideposts for the Dynamic Ride and torque distribution systems.
Over 200 miles or so of taking on challenging and often foggy mountain passes, lollygagging through postcard picture mountain towns, blasting through tunnels, and rolling deep across rain-slicked motorways in Austria and a tiny slice of northern Italy, we felt totally in control of the Continental GT at all times.
There is no getting around that this is still a big and heavy car at 4,947 pounds and we were a bit spooked when the roads got super narrow, but it is some 130 pounds lighter than before and flat and confident under hard cornering. It’s also ferociously fast, with 0-60 coming on in 3.6 seconds, and feels every bit of that. And it’s one of the newest members of the 200 Club, with a top speed of 207 mph.
The big coupe’s handbuilt W-12, a similar version of the mill found under the hood of the Bentayga, serves up a table-flat feast of torque (25 percent more than before) from just 1,350 rpm to 4,500 rpm. It also has cylinder shutoff and can run with six pistons firing. Engine power is routed through another Bentley first, an eight-speed dual clutch transmission. While a version of it also shifts gears for the Panamera, calibrating the dual clutcher specifically for the Continental GT was a focus for chief engineer Bob Teale and his team.
“An interesting journey, the gearbox,” said Teale with typical British understatement of how much work was put into creating an experience that would not be jarring or lead to any tip-in at low speed gear switches, but at the same time be instantaneous and snap off shifts when you put your foot down or aggressively downshift. (You want to launch hard from a stop, stand on the brake, rev it let off and floor it. Impress your friends!) From our limited time behind the wheel, it seems the brief was nailed.
When you want to see how Teale’s team did with the more dynamic tranny setup, turn the diamond-patterned metal dial into Sport mode, and the gears hold fast longer as its exhaust gets its mean-mugging backpressure baffle on—you can even hear it a bit through the Conti GT’s double-glazed glass and sound insulation of its cocoon of a cabin. Steering feel didn’t seem to change all that much when switching modes, but no matter—it is well weighted and you never feel as though you’re waiting for the wheels to turn in as the electric power system starts doing its thing.
When we were on a high speed blast and suddenly hit a go slow zone, the GT’s brakes—the biggest iron units ever fitted to a Bentley at roughly 16.5-inches in front with 10-piston calipers clamping down on them—hauled it down with authority and without a bunch of clutch and grab in the process.
The steering wheel you’re turning is a stitched up, leather-clad unit, part of a cabin that many heifers gave up their hides to swathe. Bentley has been continuously ramping up its interior fit and finish, claiming that more than 310,000 stitches are needed to cinch up all that leather. Wood veneer options kick up the impression of luxury and are a main customization touchpoint. Another interior cue Bentley officials are particularly proud of is the diamond-in-diamond stitching pattern that reportedly took 18 months to perfect. That’s a hell of a lot of sewing classes at Crewe.
One of the coolest (or kitschiest, depending on your opinion) features of the cockpit is a rotating center stack element that either displays the 12.3-inch infotainment screen, showcases a trio of analog gauges, or extends the wood veneer. It’s a neat party trick. The only slight demerit to us inside is the piano black area around the gearshift. The buttons are well arranged, but it sort of stands out sore thumb like. Overall space inside is more than adequate for driver and passenger (not so much rear passengers, although it’s not quite a jail back there) and its 12.3 cu-ft of cargo space is decent). If you want to massage, heat, cool or otherwise adjust your seats 20 ways to Sunday, you can. You can also bathe your ears in sound up to a staggering 2,200 watts of power through the optional Naim stereo setup.
As for how the new 2019 Bentley Continental GT has evolved exterior wise, we’ll defer to our esteemed automotive design editor Robert Cumberford. From his recent By Design column on the car: “There’s nothing little about any German-era Bentley Continental. They’re big cars … But because of that stumpy front end and the giant 22-inch wheels on this new Continental [21-inchers are standard], you get the sense of a tight, compact coupe.
“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. … 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.”
So yeah, he liked it well enough, and it has evolved into a more aggressive, but also more elegant looking package. There are some plastic trim bits though—a little disappointing for a car in this stratosphere.
Prospective U.S. customers are going to have to wait almost a year to get their hands on one, which is too bad. By the time that happens, Bentley will have already begun rolling out the inevitable V-8, plug-in, and myriad high performance variants. There will be plenty of options to be sure, but from our first taste of it, this is an ultra-luxury coupe worthy of singing praises about.
2019 Bentley Continental GT Specifications
|ON SALE||Spring 2019|
|ENGINE||6.0L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve W-12/626 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 664 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,500 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||14/22 mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H||190.9 x 86.1 x 55.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.6 sec|
|TOP SPEED||207 mph|