2012 Bentley Continental GT: Evolves for Next Model Year
Written by David Schmidt
Muscat, Oman – Driving an extreme luxury car in this most progressive of Arab countries somehow seemed appropriate. The country has always had ties to Britain and still does. The very modern sultan has created a large network of very good highways. So in the middle of the country there are plenty of remote areas with great roads and virtually no traffic. This Bentley Continental GT is the second generation of the model and is slightly bigger, although it weighs about 130 pounds less. It’s a sporty four-passenger coupe, staying in the same segment of premier luxury coupe.
The changes to the vehicle aren’t radical. In surveys of existing members, the looks were well regarded, so it has evolved into something similar, but updated. The new car is more aggressive looking, with more boldness to the lines. The shoulders are heavier and more accentuated, and underneath the wheels plant the car firmly on the road. The lines of the side and roofline still flow gracefully to the rear.
The Continental GT has a wider track and comes with 20” wheels standard and with 21” wheels available. In addition to the wheel being bigger, the tire is as well, rather than using a tire with a narrower profile. This is a bespoke tire, built specifically for this car by Pirelli.
If there was a complaint about the previous design it would be that the car was just too pretty. Now there’s more masculine presence without adding bulk. Inside the car is pure luxury. Everything you touch feels good with everything seems to fall to your hand. The cockpit has a very traditional look and feel, thanks to the wood and leather. However the technology and infotainment is absolutely up to snuff. As this is a coupe that can really hold four adults comfortably, the stereo system provides great sound throughout the car. There’s even an upgrade system available.
One thing previous owners said about the GT was to fix the navigation system. It wasn’t up to par for this expensive car and Bentley has done so. The navigation system is easy to use and allows for overlays of Google satellite maps so the screen shows actual terrain features.
Just to insure you know this is a British system, after turning on a major highway the cultured English “voice” told me to continue on this road “for a long time.” Not kidding, it really said that. Bentley’s German owners wanted to get rid of such whimsy, but the verbal responses were burned into the hardware. It’s my favorite feature of the car.
Well except for how much fun it is to drive something that tops out at 198 mph. Bentley places each of its models on a line between performance and luxurious comfort, and the Continental GT leans towards the spirited side of that equation. It is so easy to cross the line between driving and cruising and back again. The Continental GT is easy to drive well, with great acceleration and massive torque and the all-wheel drive system is now weighted 60/40 towards the rear. It’s powered by a W12 engine, basically two V6 engines joined side-to-side. Although it’s the same basic Volkswagen-designed engine as in the previous model, the W12 is still assembled by hand in Bentley’s factory in England. The 6-liter engine produces slightly more horsepower. That would be 575 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque, thanks to twin turbos jamming massive amounts of air into its six liters of volume. The power gets to the road through a shiftable six-speed ZF automatic transmission. It shifts up and down so fast that I found it did the job better than I did when I left it in the Sport mode. The new generation of Continental GT has more electronic technology to assist the driver in keeping control. It not only extends the point where that control goes away, but smoothes the approach to it, making the car more consistent as it nears that border. So this active suspension lets you drive more aggressively if you wish, but still have a greater margin of safety.
The steering is delightfully precise for a car this big with wheels so large. You turn in and the car follows the wheel but without feeling “darty.” Bentley’s Dr. Ulrich Eichhorn, member of the board for Engineering, has years of endurance racing experience and explained where that feeling comes from. He said it is because the rack-and-pinion steering system giving you the same amount of steering change for each equal increment of steering input. That gives a very consistent response, which coupled with a great on-center feel, means minimal steering input, making for more comfortable driving.
Very large cross-drilled and ventilated disk brakes are mated to match the go power with stop power. They haul this heavy car down from speed with alacrity. We drove into the middle of Oman on roads that were almost empty Having been these were a good place to test the Bentley’s capability, we proceeded to do just that. On the twisting and hilly sections, I quickly discovered that I was braking too early – as the car fools your experience by slowing as if it were much lighter. That meant pushing further into the corner, at higher speeds than you’d expect with a car this size and weight.
Engine noise brings a powerful rumble to the 12-cylinder refinement of this car. Coming through the middle of those corners, this rumble became a roar as the power just seemed to flow to the four wheels with an ever-building force. You could just hammer the accelerator coming out of the corner and let the active suspension sort it all out. If, however, you gently but firmly increased the pressure on the accelerator, the powertrain became your friend. I learned not to take my eyes from the road to see how fast I was going coming out of the corner. The speed as I exited the corners was a little too thrilling.
You simply don’t expect this from a car this big, with so many goodies and such opulence. Yes, it should be fast enough for footballers, but sexy enough for their wives. All that means weight, and a necessarily comfortable ride. Thanks to electronics, the powertrain and suspension can fill both needs. Not at the same time, naturally, but depending on what the car senses.
Its personality, when you’re sitting behind the wheel, is solid, calm and responsible. But if you push it, the car seems to edge up in capability as you demand more from it. The Bentley Continental GT is the car that turned the company around and created a new niche for Bentley. It’s the bestselling Bentley, and they expect to make 3000 a year of the new generation. The starting price is $289,900 in the U.S., and will go on sale in late February or early March.
There is a V8-powered model coming later in the year, and although it will be prices a bit less than the W12, it probably won’t give up much performance. Bentley wouldn’t talk any numbers, though other than it’s a 4-liter twin turbo motor.